You may define attachment as a bond between two people that makes them want to stay together forever. People build this bond with their primary caregiver in their first months of life. The attachment types we develop from this point on guide us emotionally in our later relationships.
Psychoanalyst John Bowlby has devoted his life to studying attachment between children and parents. He believed that the process is set in motion soon after birth. However, the first concrete bond between a baby and its caregivers is not formed until the baby is about 8 months old.
Later, Mary Ainsworth identified and classified 3 attachment types:
- Secure attachment: the child feels comfortable and safe within the relationship. He knows that if he cries, his parents will respond. He can explore his surroundings with the knowledge that he has a safe place to return to. If he’s feeling nervous, he’ll look for his primary caregiver.
- Insecure-avoidant attachment: The baby learns that his ability to elicit reactions in other people is limited. Because of this, he will not express himself quickly (or strongly).
- Insecure-defensive (ambivalent) attachment: sometimes someone shows up when the child cries and sometimes not. He is not sure who his primary caregiver is. Sometimes he knows, sometimes he doesn’t. This makes him feel insecure when it’s time to face the world. He does notice that he can provoke a reaction in people to a certain extent, but also ‘understands’ that this effect is very unpredictable.
Through attachment we develop our first ideas about what exists and happens around us. This is internalized to a deep level. Unless we later learn other patterns, this will be the way we relate to those we love.
Can you change attachment types?
As we said before, once the first band is formed, we try to reproduce that pattern in the future unless we find ourselves a different pattern. But as powerful as this model is, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to keep repeating it forever. Nor does it mean that you cannot learn something new.
The first bonds created are very important because they create the opportunity to develop a secure bonding type. This ensures the physical, social and emotional health of the baby. However, sometimes babies are not able to bond with someone in a healthy way. That means they will have to do this in the future, with their peers or romantic partners. The image they have of relationships will then undergo a (necessary) development.
So it is possible to change suture types. To do this, you must form new relationships that show you that the bond, trust, or relationship with the other person is not meeting your expectations.
The importance of attachment throughout life
Internalizing attachment types that empower our relationships and make us feel secure makes us feel secure within our relationships. We will have people close to us that we can be honest with and trust. They can also help us on a deeper level by improving our communication skills.
It’s much easier to form healthy relationships if you’re not used to anything different. If your first learned attachment type is unhealthy (and therefore unsafe) it can be difficult to change it later. In fact, if you want to help someone change their patterns, you’ll have to be extremely patient. If you want to change your own, you will have to spend time and resources on getting the necessary resources to do so.
Consequences of suture types
Once attachment types are established, they turn into so-called “self-fulfilling prophecies.” In other words, if you have the feeling that you live in an unsafe world, you will always notice particular things that confirm this hypothesis. Ultimately, you need less and less tangible evidence to believe your own beliefs. Then you will start to behave according to this expectation, and you will end up in a vicious circle. In addition, if you don’t trust others, it becomes more difficult for others to trust you in turn. It is also possible that people with bad ulterior motives are more likely to label you as an ‘easy target’.
The parents or otherwise primary caregivers bear the responsibility of forming a baby’s first bond. They should — as far as possible — work towards a secure attachment type. At a later age we are each responsible for the relationships we have ourselves. We need to analyze them and make changes if necessary. As impossible as it may seem at first glance, change is achievable.