The 8 Types of Attachment and How They Influence our Life

Attachment is necessary to explain individual survival and that of the species in general. However, there are many types, and some are healthier than others. Do you want to know what they are? Here we'll show them to you.
The 8 Types of Attachment and How They Influence our Life
Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador

Written and verified by el biólogo Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador.

Last update: 25 July, 2023

Intense affective bonding has an intrinsically biological motor, as the proximity between individuals in moments of threat offers security, protection, and a greater probability of escaping unscathed. If you want to know everything about the 8 types of attachment and how they influence our life, keep reading.

Although some people enjoy their solitude very much, it’s undeniable that human beings are social by nature. Aristotle already postulated it with his term Zoon politikón (which literally translates into “political animal”): “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human.”

Homo sapiens instinctively seek congregation, hence we’ve developed such complex constructs as politics, society, marital statuses, and even love. Attachment plays a central role in this whole issue, as it represents the reason why human beings relate to each other from an ethological, psychological, and evolutionary point of view.

What is attachment?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines attachment as the emotional bond between a human infant (or another animal) and their parental figure or caregiver. It’s not an immaterial feeling (such as envy, for example), but a set of observable behaviors that appear spontaneously in living beings.

For attachment as such to occur, the presence of a vulnerable figure (a baby) and a protector (the parent or caregiver) is usually necessary. This type of emotional bonding can also occur reciprocally in adults, but the key is that the infant needs security and protection to develop properly.

Newborn infants will develop a certain form of attachment to anyone who provides them with the necessary social interactions. In general, the mother acts as the anchor when talking about this union, however, it’s important to emphasize that any person who plays a maternal role is susceptible to occupying this role.

Attachment develops thanks to the social interactions between the baby and their caregiver and the readiness of the latter in responding to the signals and requirements of the former.

The basic principles of attachment

Attachment types explain human relationships.
Attachment is a fundamental characteristic of human relationships, and it’s even applicable to other intelligent animals.

Attachment has a clear biological component (surviving another day due to the union between members of the same species) and a psychological component (feeling secure). These are its basic pillars, as indicated by professional documents:

  1. All complex animals (including Homo sapiens) seek protection and care from their parents. This behavior becomes even more effective when there’s a threat in the environment.
  2. The search for protection and shelter has a clear evolutionary component for survival. Parents look for the safety of their children above their own in almost all cases. The important thing is that the genes of the parents persist over time, not the individual itself.
  3. The most common attachment figure is the mother, and infants become dependent on her very quickly. In any case, nothing seems to indicate that a father can’t adopt this figure if he offers the same care and behaviors to the infant as the maternal entity.
  4. In infants, attachment seeking can also be preceded by discomfort. This will be caused by hunger, thirst, and physical pain, for example.
  5. The behavioral attachment system isn’t unique. It’s part of a set that also includes exploration, care, and mating.
  6. Attachment has a homeostatic function. This means that it allows maintaining a balance between other behaviors, such as exploration and proximity.

Ultimately, it should be noted that the intensity of attachment behavior isn’t always linked to a stronger baby-caregiver bond. For example, many insecure infants consistently show demanding behaviors even though their attachment to their mother isn’t superior to the rest.

The 8 types of attachment and attachment theory

We’ve shown you what attachment is from a very general point of view, but it should be noted that there’s a lot more terminology to unearth in this area. In any case, in order to show you the 8 existing types of attachment, we must briefly explore what attachment theory is as such.

According to the APA, attachment theory is made up of a series of hypotheses and postulations that refer to “an evolutionarily advantageous need, especially in primates, to form close emotional bonds with other significant figures.” This general concept is based on 3 principles:

  1. Emotional bonding is an intrinsic need in human beings.
  2. It regulates emotion and fear in order to enhance vitality.
  3. It promotes adaptability and development.

Most of the attachment behaviors recorded in humans and other primates are adaptive. This means that they have a concrete meaning and have been perpetuated by natural selection throughout the centuries. If a baby cries when they feel bad and looks for their mother, it’s because this undeniably increases their chances of survival (and the permanence of the species).

Attachment theory began to develop in the 1960s and 1970s to explain parent-child unions, although today, it has also spread to the adult world. Based on all these premises, below we’ll show you what the 8 types of attachment are and how they affect our day-to-day lives.

It’s important to distinguish between the types of attachment in children and in adults, as the social contexts in which they occur are very different.

1. The types of attachment in children

The types of attachment in children have been recorded in the past thanks to the implementation of the strange situation technique, designed by the American psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s. The procedure is simple: The behaviors of a child playing are recorded for 21 minutes while the parents enter (safe environment) and leave (unsafe) the room.

The bases of the experiment are the following:

  1. Situations raised: The child and the parents are introduced to the room. The child explores and the parents don’t participate (they’re alone). Strangers enter, talk to the parents, and approach the child (parents leave). Separation occurs and the strangers adapt to the baby. Parents come back and comfort the baby. The child is left alone. Some previous steps are repeated.
  2. Parameters analyzed: The amount of exploration of the child, the reaction to the departure of the parents, the anxiety when staying with a stranger, and the response when the parents return (reunion).

Based on this simple premise, 4 types of attachment have been detected in children. We’ll show them to you below.

1.1 Avoidant attachment (group A)

Children with avoidant attachment tend to avoid interactions with the caregiver figure and don’t show significant distress when separated from them. This may be because the parents haven’t shown sufficient intimacy with the infants and they assume that they can’t depend on the relationship with them (or with anyone).

As the Psychology Madrid portal indicates, this doesn’t indicate that the parent neglects the child (they take care of them, bathe them, and keep them safe, for example). In any case, for whatever reason, the parent becomes emotionally frightened, nervous, anxious, and insecure and ends up neglecting the infant’s emotional needs.

Emotional disconnection implies that, in order not to be rejected, the child will have to stop showing and expressing their emotions. It’s a clear self-defense mechanism.

1.2 Secure attachment (group B)

Secure attachment is “ideal” from a psychological point of view in infants. The child is able to connect and build bridges safely with their caregivers but also has the ability to function autonomously if the situation requires (and enables) it. There’s no effort needed for them to bond closely and they’re not afraid of abandonment.

Secure attachment is characterized by trust, an adaptive (rather than positive) response to abandonment, and the belief that one deserves to be loved. Infants with this type of attachment actively explore their environment when alone with the caregiver figure and become uneasy when separated from her (but they don’t usually cry).

1.3 Ambivalent attachment (group C)

In psychology, the term ambivalent is used to express conflicting emotions or feelings on the subject. Ambivalent attachment relationships are characterized by concern that others don’t correspond to one’s desire for intimacy. This occurs when the parent is unreliable and doesn’t consistently care for the child.

Simply put, the child doesn’t trust their caregivers and has a constant sense of insecurity. The most frequent emotions in this type of attachment are excessive fear and anguish during separations, as well as a series of problems with calming down when the reference figure returns.

Children with this type of attachment require constant approval and control at all times in order not to be alone.

1.4 Disorganized attachment (group D)

Children with disorganized attachment display sequences of behaviors that lack obvious intentions or goals. On a practical level, it’s a mixture between ambivalent and avoidant attachment, as the infant shows apparently contradictory and inappropriate behaviors. In certain cases, it’s associated with a total absence of attachment.

Infants who show this type of attachment tend to have unresolved trauma related to parent-child interaction. On the other hand, the parents in this group show behaviors that show fear or that produce fear. This is well exemplified in early abandonment cases or in relationships with explosive patterns.

The parental behaviors that lead to this type of attachment are negligent / insecure.

2. Types of attachment in adults

Two Asian women laughing and embracing.
Although attachment develops during the parenting process, many of the observed patterns remain intact in adult life.

Modern theories of attachment in adults are based on a simple premise: The parent-child (or caregiver-child) relationships during childhood also modulate the behavior of adult human beings. This makes perfect sense from a biological point of view, as the processes that dictate attachment processes in children follow the same biochemical mechanisms as those in adults.

For example, the platonic phase of infatuation follows a pattern very similar to that of a baby searching insistently for their mother when she disappears. With the premise in mind, we’ll show you what the main types of attachment are in adults.

2.1 Secure attachment (autonomous)

Securely attached adult humans tend to feel self-esteem and perceive positive emotions from others. In other words, the individual feels that they have intrinsic worth and expect people to respond (in general) positively to their requirements. Most of the people in this group agree with the following:

  1. “It’s relatively easy for me to feel an emotional connection with others.”
  2. “I feel safe depending on others and when others depend on me.”
  3. “I don’t worry about feeling lonely or because others don’t accept me.”

Although this variant seems idyllic, it should be noted that people with secure attachment can also experience relationships with negative connotations. The key is in being able to observe the event objectively and assign a generally positive value to the interactions.

2.2 Insecure attachment

Insecure attachment in adults can be divided into several variants. We’ll show them to you in the following list:

  1. Anxious-worried attachment: The individual has a negative view of themself, but a positive view of others. They usually agree with the following statements; “I want to be intimate with others, but they have reservations when they approach me” and “I feel uncomfortable not having close relationships, but sometimes I worry that others don’t value me as much as I do them.”
  2. Avoidant-disdainful attachment: The individual has a positive view of themself and a negative view of others. They usually agree with the following statements; “I feel comfortable without close emotional relationships,” “It’s important for me to feel autonomous,” and “I prefer not to depend on others and for no one to depend on me”.
  3. Fearful-avoidant attachment: The individual has a fluctuating vision with regard to themself and others. It’s more common in people with a past of abuse and trauma, and they tend to agree with the following statements; “I feel a bit violent forming relationships with others” and “I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to completely trust others.”

These safe and insecure models can also be applied to love, as there’re couples with grounded, ambivalent, or avoidant dynamics. Either way, the patterns and bases are quite similar to those shown in the children’s world.

The 8 types of attachment and their application in day-to-day life

Here, we’ve presented you with 8 types of attachment, 4 in children and 4 in adults (1 secure and 3 insecure). Surely, secure attachment is best suited for both infants and fully developed people. Perhaps the opposite would be the disorganized and avoidant-disdainful attachment, as they don’t allow the correct social development of the individual.

Be that as it may, it’s important to emphasize that the behavioral manifestations of each of these types of behavior are variable. Although we all have baggage that we carry from the time we were children, therapy can help us improve as human beings and overcome our insecurities.

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