Imagine yourself during Graduation Ceremony as you walk up the stairs to receive your Bachelor’s Degree in whatever you studied. Perhaps you pursue a higher degree, or you start working somewhere you feel extremely happy. During your journey, you meet one special person – the person of your dreams, the person who loves you for who you are, and in return, you love that person, even his/her imperfections. And you get married and have kids and live a happy life after!
These are some of the romance fantasies that, at least, I have while daydreaming during my history lectures (no offense, history majors). But have you ever thought that how you grew up from birth to about 2 years old dictates your ideal romance relationship?
Attachment theory explains that people’s development from childhood to adulthood is strictly dictated by the caregiver’s physical and emotional attention. There are four types of attachment: secure attachment, anxious attachment, dismissive attachment, fearful attachment (1).
A child forms secure attachment two years after birth with his/her caregiver if appropriate measures of interactions are completely met (1). After the first year, the child will understand security, resulting in them becoming more independent and trying new things (2). As these children grow to become adults, they possess confidence to live their lives to the fullest. Their relationships clearly demonstrate a desire to remain close with each other (1). In their romantic relationships, people with secure attachment will ensure utmost security for their partners but also give them freedom (2).
Anxious (or ambivalent) attachment develops when the caregiver(s) gives inconsistent responses of nurture and care followed by obtrusive and even inconsiderate ones (1). As a result, the child becomes confuzzled and thus fails to understand when to receive help. These children depend more on their independence which is detrimental in a society solely relying on the dependence of each other. As these children move onto adulthood, they hold great insecurity of themselves. This insecurity overwhelms their self-doubt, allowing them to never feel accepted or approved by others (1). Due to this self-unappreciation, they act desperately with their partners, something many of us would describe as “clingy” (2).
Avoidant (or dismissive) attachment occurs to a child when their caregiver is emotionally unavailable (1). The caregiver essentially imposes parenting which immediately stimulates the child’s reliance on independence. The child grows up as an adult who lacks the importance of sociality and emotions (1). They become isolated from society, believing that their independence is enough to thrive in social communities. Just like those with anxious/ambivalent attachment, People with avoidant attachment, too, have unhealthy relationships; they insist parenting on their own and psychologically defends themselves from their partners (2). If their partner were to threaten to leave them, their replies would simply be, “I don’t care” (2).
Fearful (or disorganized) attachment is by far the worst of the four. This attachment develops in a child when the caretaker abuses him/her (1). The child’s survival instincts shift from dependence on caretaker to sole survival mode. This attachment is detrimental to anyone, and since the child will undergo this trauma at such an early age, the child can be scarred for life. When they grow up to be adults, they are able to form normal relationships with strangers, but once they develop emotional ties with them, they experience the same traumatic emotions they felt while being abused – worst case scenario: the relationship, too, will become abusive (1, 2).
“Kenny, is the attachment type we receive during our childhood attach onto us forever?”
Great question! The answer to that is… yes and no. Yes, you can switch from any non-secure attachment to a secure attachment! Fortunately, you most definitely cannot switch to a non-secure attachment.
How our brain works during attachment period is we use what we think happens as our basis for attachment. Perhaps we misunderstood our caregiver’s actions and thought we were being neglected or treated unfairly.
Before I go into further detail, let me tell you this: do your parents or caregivers still baby you? For example, my mom still doesn’t want me to walk across the street when I can legally adopt a child myself now. If so, be grateful! These little incidents is what builds us to form an “earned secure attachment” (1). Once we build a narrative that our caregivers have been securely watching over us this whole time, we develop earned secure attachment. Their care for us at this rightful moment makes the narrative credible (1). We can also attain earned secure attachment if our partners in close relationships have secure attachment (2). Therapy is also available to help build a healthier mindset which leads us to earned secure attachment (1, 2).
Infancy is an extremely important stage for development. To think that the first two years of our lives dictates our social life and relationships for the rest of our lives is daunting, but always remember that anyone can achieve earned secure attachment.