Attachment speaks to the connection a child develops to their primary caretaker or figure. A poor or troubled relationship style impacts a child’s growth, ability to trust and form deep connections. Secondly, our experiences impact our adult relationship attachment style.

Bowlby’s theory on attachment

John Bowlby was a British psychoanalyst who studied infants and parents. His view was that infants cry and search for their parents as an adaptive response. After all, mammalian infants are entirely dependent on their parents By crying, a child asks the important question as to whether their attachment figure is listening and available to their needs. If the child feels safe and cared for; they are able to explore and play. If not, the child will likely look anxious, visually search for their career or actively call out. If the child can’t connect with their caregiver, despite multiple attempts to get their attention, they will eventually feel worn down, despair and sadness.

The difference in infant-parent attachment patterns

Mary Ainsworth studied infants separated from their parents. Here is what she noted was that:
  • Firstly, a parent returning comforts most children.
  • A small proportion of children are very distressed by separation and are hard to comfort and push back at the parent when the parent returns.
  • When some parents return the child remains disinterested and doesn’t acknowledge the parent.
Children who appear to find difficulty with separation and reunion or avoid it altogether; appear to have parents who are insensitive to their needs, they are not consistent or rejecting.

Changes during childhood

As children grow older the attachment behavioural system changes from one of closeness to availability. Children are happier to go longer periods apart. As the child moves towards greater independence, the parent-child partnership develops negotiated methods of maintaining communication and supervision.

Roles of Attachment

This can play out in various ways during adolescence and teenage years. For example, Insecure or anxious styles of attachment might identify more strongly with peers or romantic partners. Secondly, these children may be more clingy. Avoidant attachment may lead to a child feeling more self-reliant. They are more likely to take on adult roles.

Attachment and Adult Romantic Relationships

Attachment styles are activated early in a relationship. Having a secure attachment allows for better conflict resolution. A secure attachment shows an ability to exit unsatisfying relationships, demonstrating maturity. They pose the confidence to find another and process-relational loss.

Childhood attachment and adult Relationships

Therapists have more recently started to make the link between childhood attachment and adult romantic relationships. There are similarities. In both states, people feel safe when the other person is nearby.  Bodily contact, preoccupation with one another is seen both in parent-child and romantic relationships. Taking this a step further, firstly adults with anxious and resistant attachment styles worry that their partners don’t love them, and are easily frustrated when their needs go unmet. They may come across as needy. Secondly, those with avoidant style might not want closeness or want to be too dependent on others. They are likely to end relationships sooner.

Relationship Attachment Style Theory

It is a psychological and evolutionary theory concerning relationships. The focus is on the infant-caregiver dyad or relationship. Attachment theory features various psychological practices such as analytical work, schema therapy and transference focused psychotherapy.

Are avoidant or anxious attachment styles mental disorders?

No. Mental health disorders are agreed upon conditions or illnesses that have strict criteria. Attachment styles are ways or patterns of relating to people. However, certain attachment styles may put someone at risk of developing a mental illness or cause other difficulties in their relationships and social lives.


What is a reactive attachment disorder?

It’s a World Health Organization (ICD-11) agreed upon condition that can only be diagnosed in children. Features need to appear before the age of 5 years old. The child shows a highly abnormal attachment style often following grossly lacking child care, for example, neglect or abuse.

Attachment in Relationships

Our attachment styles and the interplay with the attachment styles of those closest to us is complex. Therefore it likely plays a partner in our relationships. If you would like to learn more about your relationship attachment style, and how it impacts your personal relationships send us a message. Our friendly coordinators will take your details. Thereafter they will put you in touch with one of our therapists.

Learning about your attachment style involves deep reflection. Also, it takes time. Thirdly, it often involves frequent sessions, often at least once a week. For most people learning about their relationship attachment style brings up hard memories and images from when they were younger. We suggest you discuss this with your therapist before starting this type of therapy work. A longer-term commitment is needed from both the client and the therapist.