Research shows that young children develop one of three attachment styles to their parent, or main caregiver. This affects the way they attach to their partners in adulthood. The three types of attachment are:
1. Secure attachment
- Securely attached children become upset when their caregivers leave, and are happy when they return.
- When frightened, they seek comfort from the parent or caregiver.
- Contact initiated by a parent is readily accepted by securely attached children; they greet the return of a parent with positive behavior.
- Although these children can be comforted by others in the absence of a parent or caregiver, they clearly prefer their parents to strangers.
- Parents of securely attached children tend to play more with their children.
- They react more quickly to their children’s needs and are generally more responsive to their children.
- Studies have shown that securely attached children are more empathetic during later stages of childhood. They are also described as less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature than children with ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles.
- As adults, those who are securely attached tend to have trusting, long-term relationships
- Other key characteristics of securely attached individuals include having high self-esteem, enjoying intimate relationships, seeking out social support, and being able to share feelings with others.
2. Ambivalent attachment
- Children who are ambivalently attached tend to be extremely suspicious of strangers.
- These children display considerable distress when separated from a parent or caregiver, but do not seem reassured or comforted by the return of the parent.
- In some cases, the child might passively reject the parent by refusing comfort, or may openly display direct aggression toward the parent.
- They never know whether they can trust their parent to be there for them in time of need.
- As adults, these individuals often find it hard to get close to others. They constantly worry about their partner not genuinely caring about them, reciprocating their feelings.
- This leads to frequent breakups in relationships as they doubt their partner’s love, and he or she often seems cold and distant to them (even though, objectively, this might not be true).
- These individuals feel especially distraught when a relationship ends. They feel rejected, abandoned, and often unwanted and unloveable.
3. Avoidant attachment
- Children with avoidant attachment styles tend to avoid their parents and caregivers.
- This avoidance is especially pronounced after a period of absence.
- Although these children may not overtly reject attention from a parent or caregiver, they do they look for comfort from or contact with them, either.
- Children with an avoidant attachment show no preference between a parent and a complete stranger.
- As adults, these individuals tend to have difficulty with intimacy and close relationships.
- They do not invest much emotion in relationships and experience little distress when a relationship ends.
- They often avoid intimacy by using excuses (such as needing to work long hours).
- Research has shown that these adults are also more likely to engage in casual sex.
- Other common characteristics include a failure to support partners during stressful times and an inability to share feelings with their partners.