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What do we mean by attachment?

Our attachments patterns are the ways in which we think and respond within our relationships with others. Our attachment ‘blueprint’ is developed during our early life experiences in response to the types of caregiving we receive from our primary carers. This critical stage in our development can lay the foundations of how we will manage our relationships throughout our lives. The caregiving we receive does not need to be perfect – that isn’t realistic or possible. It needs to be good enough. This is why we think about attachment as a pattern, not an all or nothing entity.

There are thought to be four main attachment styles:

Where an infant is cared for in a way that is sensitive, responsive and consistent. They learn how to understand and manage their emotions, thoughts and behavioural responses that enable them to navigate other relationships and activities throughout their lives.

This is when a caregiver struggles to accept or respond to an infant’s needs, for example by rejecting or minimising them and then taking over in an intrusive or insensitive manner. The child learns to block out and shut down feelings in order to avoid rejection; they still want to have connections with others, but they feel that in order to do this safely, they need to avoid showing their own feelings.

Where a caregiver responds unpredictably to the infant’s needs. They may respond sporadically or it may be unrelated to what they need. The infant may become angry or clingy, may continue to make demands constantly or become helpless; unable to learn how to understand and manage their own emotional states and how to employ the help of others to meet them.

This is where the caregiver is unproductive, frightening and rejecting. The infant requires care and protection, but in trying to seek this, their anxiety and distress is heightened rather than soothed. They therefore do not learn how to manage these difficult emotional states themselves and in later life will find other strategies for coping.

It is important to note that whilst childhood trauma may lead to problematic patterns in adulthood, not everyone who has these difficulties will have been abused or mistreated. However, it is likely that some core need has not been met, or at least only met inconsistently and this can have a profound and complex impact for many people.