When you make your way through life, and often into your adult years, you probably don’t think much about how your childhood experience may leave a lasting impact on your life. However, according to leading research around attachment theory, those experiences we have in our most formative years can impact nearly every aspect of our lives.
For those who struggle from increased feelings of anxiety and depression, digging deep into their past for potential attachment issues that may have begun as children can be a key method for unlocking the root of problems. Those who may have experienced childhood abuse and trauma may find that their struggles with depression or anxiety can be traced back to those early tragic moments.
As a San Luis Obispo psychologist, my passion is to help individuals not only find hope and healing from their day to day suffering, but also understand the science behind the various treatment plans I offer. Let’s break down the current knowledge behind attachment theory, and how you can use this wisdom to move toward true healing.
Understanding Attachment Theory
For many years, counselors, therapists, and psychologists alike have agreed that the close and intimate relationships we build with family and friends are responsible for helping us grow into the adults we will one day become. With attachment theory, we look at the specific types of attachments that are formed with our early caretakers, and identify whether or not the security of these attachments have led to positive outcomes.
First introduced by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the early 1960, attachment theory looked at how separation anxiety and insecure attachment impacted children and showed how their adult relationships and personality were shaped. The study discovered that children who built strong and caring relationships early were able to form stable relationships later as adults. Interestingly, these adults were also better at regulating their emotions, and showed less struggle with mental health problems. But some who were not so fortunate developed insecure attachments as is described below.5
Four Childhood Attachment Styles
If children are unsuccessful in building strong attachments early, they are more likely to struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and more. For those children who experience abuse and trauma, the outcomes can be even worse.
Understanding the four types of attachment styles often helps my patients better understand how their past is impacting their present condition.
1. Secure Attachment
Secure attachment is the best outcome of the four possible types. Though children with secure attachments may have experienced fear and anxiety at separation from their loved ones, the understanding that they would soon return built a foundation of trust and hope. This secure attachment allows for adults to have a base feeling of safety and security later in their lives, and can aid in building strong, trusting relationships that allow for the sharing of deep emotions and feelings.
2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment
Children who experience insecure attachments may discover that they feel a need to prove the strength and legitimacy of every relationship that they have as adults. This can lead to feelings of being anxious and untrusting in their relationships, as well as having others describe you as possessive or pushy.
3. Avoidant Attachment
Some insecure attachments can lead to an avoidance of intimate relationships with other individuals. This kind of childhood trauma can lead to subconscious fears of rejection or increased defensiveness in relationships. Those who find themselves on the end of the spectrum in avoidant attachment will often desire independence in relationships, fearing that letting their guard down around others may lead to pain or suffering.
4. Disorganized Attachment
Many clients that I work with in the area of childhood abuse and trauma are victims of a disorganized attachment. Here the parent is chaotic and causing the child to feel extremely unsafe. Adults who experienced disorganized attachment in their early relationships will find their adult lives filled with avoidance that verges on isolation. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and an inability to bond with others in ways that lead to a healthy, fruitful life.
As a psychologist in San Luis Obispo skilled in working with individuals suffering from issues as a consequence of their attachment experience, I can work with you to move toward healing and greater freedom. Feel free to contact me today to learn more about how your attachment experience is impacting your life.