Attachment Theory Explained


I’m sure by now you’ve heard something somewhere about attachment styles. Maybe even seen the four squares in a self-help book at some point. But what is it actually? 

Let’s dive in.

Attachment theory is a psychological framework that helps us understand the dynamics of relationships between individuals, especially between infants/children and their caregivers. Developed by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s and further expanded by Mary Ainsworth and others, attachment theory posits that early experiences with caregivers shape a person’s expectations, beliefs, and behaviors in relationships throughout their lifespan.

A Basic Breakdown of Attachment Theory

Attachment Styles

 Attachment theory categorizes individuals into different attachment styles based on their early experiences with caregivers. The primary attachment styles are:

  • Secure Attachment: Individuals with secure attachment feel comfortable exploring their environment and seek comfort from their caregiver when needed. They trust that their caregiver will be responsive to their needs.
  • Anxious/Preoccupied Attachment: Individuals with this attachment style often worry about being abandoned or rejected by their caregivers. They may be overly dependent on their partners and seek constant reassurance.
  • Dismissive/Avoidant Attachment: Individuals with this attachment style avoid emotional closeness and may appear emotionally distant. They may have learned to suppress their needs for attachment.
  • Fearful-Avoidant Attachment (or Disorganized Attachment): Individuals with this attachment style have a mix of anxious and avoidant tendencies. They may desire closeness but fear intimacy due to past experiences of rejection or trauma.

Internal Working Models

 Attachment theory suggests that individuals develop internal working models based on their early interactions with caregivers. These models influence how individuals perceive themselves, others, and relationships. For example, individuals with secure attachments tend to have positive internal working models, believing themselves worthy of love and expecting others to be reliable and supportive.

Influence on Relationships

Attachment styles influence how individuals approach relationships and cope with relationship-related stressors. They shape communication patterns, conflict resolution strategies, and emotional regulation techniques.

Impact of Early Experiences

Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of early caregiving experiences in shaping attachment patterns. Responsive, consistent caregiving typically leads to secure attachment, while inconsistent or neglectful caregiving can result in insecure attachment.

Continuity and Change

 Attachment patterns are often established in early childhood but are not fixed traits. Individuals can develop more secure attachment styles through positive relationship experiences, therapy, and self-awareness.

woman hugging her lover

All in all, attachment theory provides a framework for understanding how early relationships influence individuals’ beliefs, behaviors, and emotions in relationships throughout their lives. It highlights the importance of secure attachments for emotional well-being and interpersonal functioning.

If you and your partner need support learning about your attachment styles and creating more secure ones, reach out, we can help.