Types of attachment

Types of Attachments and Separation Anxiety

The main types of attachments are:

1. Secure
2. Avoidant
3. Ambivalent/Anxious
4. Disorganised

The optimal type of attachment we are all aiming for is a secure one. This is one in which the child is confident that the parent will meet their needs as they have been proven to be met time and time again. The child will demonstrate that they feel secure in the attachment by exploring the world and engaging in play. They will come back and ‘touch base’ with their parent/caregiver then head off to explore again. When the parent leaves, the child will protest (either by crying or trying to get closer to the parent physically) but it will not be ‘desperate’ as the child trusts that the parent will return – they just don’t like being separated. When the parent returns, the child will calm quickly when comforted and will resume playing normally.

An avoidant attachment type may present as isolated but ‘doesn’t care’, overly independent, feel omnipotent, be sullen and openly oppositional in a passive aggressive way. The parenting style that usually accompanies this attachment is one of a distant parent or one who is disengaged from the child. The child subconsciously believes that their needs probably will not be met.

Even when the parent is present, the child will display little or no interest in playing with them and will prefer to play with objects over people. They appear emotionally distant. When the parent or caregiver leaves or returns, the child will show hardly any signs of distress, and appear indifferent. The child may even try to avoid contact with their parent.

Ambivalent/Anxiously attached children may appear openly angry and defiant, destructive (with things, people or pets), don’t/can’t give and receive affection unless they want something (manipulative intent) and can be dangerous and impulsive risk takers. They may also be overly clingy, have a ‘fawn’ people pleasing/superficially compliant presentation or be openly destructive if told ‘no’. The parenting style that usually goes hand in hand with this attachment is one of inconsistency – the parent is sometimes sensitive but sometimes neglectful. The child cannot rely on their needs being met.

The child does not appear to feel secure even with their parent present and will become very distressed when the parent leaves. When the parent returns the child does not calm easily and may even show anger towards them and won’t re-engage with playing.

A disorganised attachment can present as a variety of symptoms or a mixture of anxious, avoidant and ambivalent all rolled into one, swinging between them for no apparent reason. The child can appear depressed, angry, completely passive or even unresponsive. The parenting style that results in this attachment is extreme, erratic and frightening, it can also be extremely passive or intrusive. The child is extremely confused with no strategy to have their needs met. This attachment is extremely damaging for a child.

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