What is Attachment Theory? Explanation Of Bowlby’s 4 Stages

Attachment theory is focused on the relationships and bonds between people.

Between people, particularly long-term relationships, including those between a parent and child and between romantic partners. British psychologist John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist, describing attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”  Bowlby was interested in understanding the separation anxiety and distress.

What Is Attachment Theory? A Definition

The psychological theory of attachment was first described by John Bowlby, a psychoanalyst who researched the effects of separation between infants and their parents.

It makes intuitive sense that a child’s attachment style is largely a function of the caregiving, the child receives in his or her early years.

Those who received support and love from their caregivers are likely to be secure, while those who experienced inconsistency, or negligence from their caregivers are likely to feel more anxiety surrounding their relationship with their parents.

However, attachment theory takes it one step further, applying what we know about attachment in children to relationships we engage in as adults.

Attachment Theory In Babies, Infants, And Early Childhood Development

According to Bowlby and Ainsworth, attachments with the primary caregiver develop during the first 18 months or so of the child’s life, starting with instinctual behaviors like crying and clinging. These behaviors are quickly directed at one or a few caregivers in particular, and by 7 or 8 months old, children usually start protesting against the caregiver(s) leaving and grieve for their absence.

In Bowlby and Ainsworth’s view, the attachment styles that children form based on their early interactions with caregivers form a continuum of emotion regulation.

with anxious-avoidant attachment at one end and anxious-resistant at the other.

NLP - YogaFXDisorganized Attachment: Children with a disorganized attachment style usually fail to develop an organized strategy for coping with separation distress, and tend to display aggression, disruptive behaviors, and social isolation. They are more likely to see others as threats than sources of support, and thus may switch between social withdrawal and defensively aggressive behavior. It is easy to see from these descriptions of behaviors and emotion regulation, how attachment style in childhood can lead to relationship problems in adulthood.

Attachment Theory In Social Work

Emotion coaching can also be used by social workers, to some extent. However, the application of attachment theory to social work is more significant in the three key messages that it espouses:

  • It is vital for social workers to offer children and families a safe haven and secure base. This does not mean families should be forever comfortable and come to depend on the social worker, but families should know a social worker can provide a safe place when they are struggling as well as support for moving forward and outward;
  • Social workers must be aware of children’s (and their families’) inner experiences and practice metallization, or “bringing the inside out.” One of the most important factors in finding healing and improving family relations is to ensure, that parents have an idea of what is going on in their children’s heads, including how they feel and think about their parents;

Attachment Theory in Adults

Close Relationships, Parenting, Love, and Divorce

Indeed, it is clear how these attachment styles in childhood lead to attachment types in adulthood. Below is an explanation of the four attachment types in adult relationships.

The adult attachment styles follow the same general pattern described above:

  • Secure Attachment Theory: These adults are more likely to be satisfied with their relationships, feeling secure and connected to their partners without feeling the need to be together all the time. Their relationships are likely to feature honesty, support, independence, and deep emotional connections.
  • Dismissive-Avoidant (or Anxious-Avoidant) Attachment: One of the two types of adult avoidant attachments, people with this attachment style generally keep their distance from others.

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Given the huge variety of individuals, it is not surprising that there is so much conflict.

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