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The Attachment Theory,
How Does Attachment Anxiety Develop ?
While it is easy to blame ‘bad parenting’ for all our relationship woes, it is not quite as simple as that.
Attachment : Nature Or Nurture ?
Are your most essential qualities and behaviours determined by your genetics or learned ? This is the
most enduring debate of our times.
The modern scientific view is that the capacity to behave in a specific way is genetic, but experiences
will determine how, when, and whether these capacities are engaged.
As attachment is about how distress is managed, the answer would lie in how often distress is
experienced, and how it is expressed lies in the genetic factors, but the responses to stress are
modified by learning and experiences. Thus, how an infant develops an attachment style is mostly
Early relationships with parents and caregivers certainly do shape what you expect from and how
you participate in later relationships, and specifically in romantic attachments. You develop a
blueprint of how you interact in adult relationships, how you seek comfort or push it away, how you
trust or don’t, and how you approach any situation that could be perceived as a conflict.
However, other relationships and circumstances in your formative years, as well as later relationships
also play a big role.
Early Childhood And Adolescence
‘No other dyad can reanimate one’s earliest attachment relationships the way an adult romantic
relationship can’ (Stan, 2014).
Attachment Theory Explained
Everyone has a deep yearning to belong, in some form or the other. You know that the quality of
your relationships has an impact on your feelings of contentment and happiness.
When you find yet another relationship in the graveyard and wonder about the repetitive patterns
that led to this, it is time to find some insight into these patterns and where they originate.
John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, developed the original theory of emotional attachment styles,
in trying to understand the intense distress suffered by infants separated from their parents (Fraley).
He postulated that the distress was an adaptive response to being separated from the primary
caregiver : the person that protects, provides support, and cares for them. This influences emotional
regulation and personality development.
The fundamental question asked is : is the attachment figure nearby, available and attentive ? The
infant would display distress symptoms until the attachment figure became available again or get
worn down and fall into despair.
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Bowlby postulated that these behaviours were present from ‘cradle to grave’ and believed the
categories to be fixed.
Mary Ainsworth developed testing methods to verify this, called the Strange Situation Protocol. She
identified three styles (secure, resistant, avoidant), and the results of the infants’ behaviour are
summarised in the table (Ainsworth, 1964).
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