Attachment Styles

Understanding attachment styles

What is attachment styles?

Attachment styles – or attachment classifications – are among the ways by which people connect. According to attachment theory - something that was pioneered by psychologists like John Bowlby, among others – attachment styles are shown by different children as they mature depending on wide-ranging factors, such as local culture. The developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth built on the ideas of thinkers into attachment theory that had come before to come up with a classification system. In the 1960s and 1970s, she pursued ideas relating to what she called strange situation protocol and noted that – generally speaking – there were four kinds of responses that growing children showed with their attachment to their parents and others. Her work focused on younger children and their interactions with their primary caregiver, usually - although not exclusively – their mother.

What are the different attachment styles?

According to the work of Ainsworth and others researching the topic, there are four classifications. The first one is called secure attachment. This is seen as the most advantageous form when infants feel secure that their emotional needs are being met. The next is anxious-ambivalent attachment, followed by anxious-avoidant attachment. These are attachment styles that mean the child can feel anxiety, for example, when they are separated from the caregiver or, in the latter instance, that they want to sometimes avoid their caregiver altogether. Finally, disorganised attachment is the fourth classification which means the child shows no signs of attachment behaviour whatsoever.

How can you tell which attachment styles apply to you?

Attachment styles developed in childhood can have a significant impact on the way people deal with their most personal relationships in adulthood. It can, for example, play a part in sexual relations with others as well as the way we interact with children in the role of caregivers and parents. In most cases, people will undertake a psychological test – commonly in the form of a questionnaire – which, when answered honestly, will offer a good insight into which classification applies to you.

What practical applications of attachment styles are there?

In many countries in the West, attachment theory – and the various styles that go with it – have been used to help develop social policies, especially those focused on infants and toddlers. In terms of socioemotional development theory, the four attachment styles play a big part in current research. Bowlby argued that this area of psychology should be invoked when dealing with family disorders.

How do attachment styles relate to criminology?

Criminologists have often referred to the four attachment styles to identify people who may show signs of criminality in later life. In some cases, they have been able to demonstrate that poor attachment behaviours in early life can lead to an increased likelihood of committing domestic violence, for example. Some research indicates that the majority of sexual offenders have a similar attachment style, too.

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