Bowlby Attachment Theory

Everything You Need To Know About Attachment Styles

In this article we cover:

  • Bowlby’s Attachment Theory
  • What Attachment Is
  • Types of Attachment Style
  • The Strange Situation Test

Published May 18, 2022

John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory is one of the most important and well-known theories in psychology. It has been influential in both clinical and academic circles, and it continues to be studied and refined today. The theory describes the close emotional bonds that develop between an infant and their primary caregiver, usually the mother. These bonds play a crucial role in the child’s development and well-being.

Bowlby’s Attachment Theory Has Four Main Components:

  1. Attachment is an emotional bond that is based on need and desire.
  2. The formation of attachments is a crucial part of an infant’s development.
  3. Attachments are a major influence on an individual’s later social and emotional development.
  4. Attachments can be either secure or insecure, depending on the quality of care and interactions the child experiences.

In this article, we’ll explore each of these components in more detail, as well as some of the criticisms of the theory. By the end, you should have a good understanding of what attachment theory is and how it can be applied to real-life situations.


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What Is Attachment?

John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, was one of the first researchers to study attachment in depth. He defined attachment as “a lasting emotional bond between a person and another object, typically characterized by strong feelings of affection.”

Bowlby’s research showed that attachment is a fundamental human need, and that babies who do not form attachments with their caregivers are at risk for serious psychological problems. Bowlby also found that attachments are not just limited to parents and children, but can occur between any two people who have a close relationship.

Attachments are important because they provide us with a sense of security and safety. When we feel attached to someone, we know that we can count on them for support and care. Attachments also help us to feel loved and valued.

It’s normal to feel attached to more than one person. For example, you might feel very close to your parents, but also have strong attachments to your friends or other family members.

It’s important to remember that everyone experiences attachment differently. Some people may form attachments quickly, while others may take longer. There is no right or wrong way to form attachments.

Attachments are a great thing to explore using dream analysis. Sometimes our attachments are difficult to see in terms of conscious thinking, and dream work can uncover more information. For further reading, check out our article, What is a Dream Worker?

If you’re interested in learning more about attachment, or if you think you might be struggling with attachment issues, it’s important to speak to a mental health professional. They can help you understand your experiences and provide you with the support you need.

What is attachment

Types of Attachment Styles

There are four different attachment styles that people can have: secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized. Each one is based on how a person feels about themselves and their relationships with others.

Each style of attachment is formed during childhood, and it is thought that early attachments play a big role in shaping our future relationships.

Secure Attachment

Secure attachment is thought to be the healthiest form of attachment. People with a secure attachment style feel good about themselves and their relationships with others. They are comfortable being close to others, and they don’t worry about being rejected or abandoned.

Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment

Anxious-ambivalent attachment is when someone feels uneasy about being close to others. They want to be close to people, but they also worry about being rejected or abandoned. People with this attachment style may have a hard time trusting others.

Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment is when someone keeps their distance from others and does not form close relationships. They may feel like they don’t need other people in their lives and that they are better off on their own. People with an avoidant attachment style may have a hard time trusting others.

Disorganized Attachment

Disorganized attachment is when someone has a mix of avoidance and anxiety in their relationships. They may have trouble trusting others and may act out in unpredictable ways. Disorganized attachment is thought to be the result of trauma or a chaotic home life during childhood.

Unpacking the Various Types of Attachment

When it comes to attachment styles, there is quite a bit more than meets the eye. Though popular culture often portrays attachment styles as being black and white – secure or insecure – the reality is that there is a lot of nuance and variation within each category. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of attachment styles, what they mean, and how they can impact our lives.

Can Attachment Styles Change Over Time?

It’s important to remember that attachment styles are not set in stone. They can change over time, and they are not necessarily permanent.

If you’re interested in changing your attachment style, there are a few things you can do. First, it’s important to become aware of your attachment style and how it might be impacting your life. Once you’re aware of your attachment style, you can begin to work on changing it.

There are a few different ways to change your attachment style. One way is to work on developing a more secure attachment style. This can be done by working on building trust and intimacy in your relationships. Another way to change your attachment style is to work on becoming more independent. This can be done by working on your self-esteem and developing a support system outside of your close relationships.

No matter what method you choose, changing your attachment style takes time and effort. It’s important to be patient with yourself and to understand that change doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re struggling to change your attachment style, it may be helpful to seek professional assistance.

Mary Ainsworth ‘s “Strange Situation” Test

The Strange Situation Test was first introduced by Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s as a way to study attachment relationships between infants and their primary caregivers. The test consists of seven 3-minute episodes in which the infant is exposed to a series of separations and reunions with their caregiver. The infants’ reactions are then observed and coded according to a set of predefined behaviors.

The Strange Situation Test has been used extensively in attachment research and has helped to generate a great deal of knowledge about infants’ attachments to their primary caregivers. The test has also been criticized for its artificiality and lack of ecological validity. Nevertheless, it remains an important tool in attachment research.

In these tests, an episode looks something like this:

  1. The infant and mother are sitting in a room.
  2. The infant is free to explore the room.
  3. A stranger comes in and talks to the mother.
  4. The stranger then approaches the infant and tries to engage him or her in play.
  5. The mother leaves the room.
  6. The stranger continues to try to engage the infant in play.
  7. The infant is left alone with the stranger.
  8. The mother returns to the room and comforts the infant.

After each episode, the infant’s behavior is carefully analyzed to see how he or she responds in each situation. The results of these tests are used to determine the infant’s attachment type.

More on The Strange Situation Test

Let’s take a look at how each attachment style might play out in the strange situation test.

Attachment style strange situation

Secure Attachment – Strange Situation Test

While the infant and mother are sitting in a room, the infant is free to explore. When the stranger comes in, the infant may be a little shy at first, but will soon warm up and enjoy playing with the stranger.

When the mother leaves the room, the infant may cry or show signs of distress. However, when the mother returns, the infant will be comforted and soon return to playing.

In general, infants with a secure attachment style are not overly distressed by the presence or absence of their mother. They are confident that she will return and are able to explore their surroundings and play with new people.

How Secure Attachment Manifests in Adulthood

Secure attachment style expresses itself in adults through positive communication, supportive relationships, and a strong sense of self. Individuals with a secure attachment style tend to be more trusting, have healthier relationships, and feel more confident in themselves. They are also better able to cope with stress and handle difficult emotions. Because they have these strengths, individuals with a secure attachment style are more likely to be successful in their careers and personal lives.

Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment – Strange Situation Test

While the mother and infant are together in the room, the infant is generally happy and content. However, as soon as the mother leaves, the infant becomes anxious and distressed.

When the stranger tries to interact with the infant, the infant may cry or cling to the stranger. When the mother returns, the infant may be both happy to see her and angry with her for leaving.

The infant may have difficulty settling down and may appear ambivalent or conflicted.

These behaviors are typical of an anxious-ambivalent attachment style. In the strange situation test, infants with this attachment style tend to be more agitated and clingy than other infants. They may have difficulty exploring their environment because they are worried about being separated from their mother.

Anxious-ambivalent attachment is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is more common in infants who have parents who are emotionally unavailable or insensitive. It is also more common in cultures where separation from caregivers is not socially acceptable.

How Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment Manifests in Adulthood

As people with anxious-ambivalent attachment styles grow up, they may find themselves behaving in ways that seem contradictory. On the one hand, they may be fiercely independent, not wanting to rely on anyone else. On the other hand, they may be clingy and need constant reassurance from others.

Sometimes people in this camp can be hasty with things like moving in with a significant other. For more reading, check out How Soon is Too Soon to Move In With My Significant Other?

This can make it difficult for them to maintain close relationships, as they may push people away even as they yearn for closeness. They may also have difficulty trusting others, feeling that everyone is going to leave them eventually.

If you have an anxious-ambivalent attachment style, you may find yourself struggling with these issues in your adult relationships. However, there are ways to work through these challenges and create lasting, fulfilling connections with others.

Anxious ambivalent attachment style

Avoidant Attachment – Strange Situation Test

  • While waiting together in the laboratory room, the mother and infant are seated across from each other. The infant is allowed to explore the room and play with the toys that are provided. During this time, avoidant child may keep a close eye on the mother and explore less than other infants.

    When the stranger comes into the room, the avoidant infant will often ignore them or keep their distance. They may even go so far as to turn away from the stranger or try to leave the room. If forced to interact, they will often be aloof or unresponsive.

    When the mother leaves the room, the avoidant infant may cry or show other signs of distress. However, as soon as she leaves, they will quickly stop crying and go back to exploring the room or playing with toys. They may even seem happy to be left alone.

    During the reunion, the avoidant infant will often act as if they don’t care that the mother has returned. They may not seek comfort from her or act happy to see her. In some cases, they may even avoid eye contact or push her away when she tries to hold them.

    How Avoidant Attachment Manifests in Adulthood

    For those who tend to be more avoidant in their attachment style, they may exhibit certain behaviors in adulthood that stem from this trait. Avoidant individuals may have a harder time being emotionally intimate with others, and may keep people at a distance. They may also be more independent and self-reliant, and less likely to rely on others for support. In relationships, they may be more likely to withhold communication or abruptly end things if they feel uncomfortable. Overall, avoidant individuals may find it more difficult to form close, secure attachments with others. However, this does not mean that it is impossible for them to do so – with time and effort, anyone can learn to develop healthier attachment styles.

    Avoidant people are notoriously hard to read. They may seem cold and distant, even to those closest to them. This can make it difficult to get close to an avoidant person, as they may not be very communicative about their feelings or needs. However, this does not mean that avoidant people do not care about others – they may simply have a harder time expressing themselves emotionally. If you are in a relationship with an avoidant person, it is important to be patient and understanding. Try to give them space when they need it, but also let them know that you are there for them if they need you. With time and patience, you can help an avoidant person learn to open up and form a closer, more secure attachment.

Avoidant attachment

Signs an Avoidant Loves You

It can be difficult to tell if an avoidant person loves you, as they are often distant and unemotional. Because a person with an avoidant attachment style keeps their distance emotionally and physically, it may be hard to tell if they are interested in you or not. That being said, there are some tell-tale signs that an avoidant loves you. The trick here is to only compare their behavior to them, and not to a different person. Put another way, compare how they act toward you to how they act toward a different person. Don’t compare how they act toward you to how a different person acts toward you. Here’s a list of some signs to watch for:

  1. They laugh at your jokes more than they laugh at the jokes of other people.
  2. They want to spend more time with you than with other people.
  3. They frequently initiate physical contact, such as touching your arm or leg, but do not do this with other people.
  4. They confide in you more than they confide in other people.
  5. Their eyes light up when they see you while remaining neutral with other people.
  6. They seem comfortable being physically close to you, but not to other people.

These are just a few signs that an avoidant person may love you. If you are unsure whether or not the avoidant person in your life loves you, it’s best to ask them directly. They may not be the most communicative person, but they should be able to give you a straight answer.

Signs an avoidant loves you

Disorganized Attachment – Strange Situation Test

While waiting with the mother, the infant with a disorganized attachment style would be relatively inactive and unresponsive. He or she would not explore the room or play with toys.

When the stranger comes in, the infant would be initially wary but then may become frozen in place, dazed, or even collapse. The infant may appear to be confused and disoriented. The stranger’s attempts to engage the infant in play will be met with little response.

When the mother leaves, the infant may become agitated and distressed. He or she may cry or call out for the mother. The infant may appear to be lost and confused.

When the mother returns, the infant may not seek comfort from her but instead may remain withdrawn and unresponsive. The infant may avoid eye contact with the mother and appear disconnected from her.

How Disorganized Attachment Manifests in Adulthood

Disorganized attachment in adulthood can manifest itself in a number of ways. For example, someone with a disorganized attachment style might have difficulty trusting their partner or they may find it hard to be emotionally intimate with them. They may also have a fear of abandonment and an inability to commit to a long-term relationship.

When making new friends or acquaintances, someone with a disorganized attachment style might have difficulty opening up and may come across as being cold or distant. They may also have difficulty trusting others and may be quick to judge or dismiss them.

In work or professional settings, someone with a disorganized attachment style might have trouble forming close relationships with co-workers or bosses. They may also have difficulty following instructions or keeping up with deadlines.

While the symptoms of disorganized attachment can vary from person to person, the common thread is that those with this attachment style tend to have difficulty forming close, trusting relationships with others. If you think you might have a disorganized attachment style, a professional may be able to help.

Bowlby Attachment Theory – An Excellent Tool for Understanding Our Relationships

Bowlby’s Attachment Theory is an excellent tool for understanding our relationships. The theory helps to explain how we form attachments with others and why those attachments are important to us. It can also help us to identify attachment styles in ourselves and in the people around us. While Bowlby’s theory has been criticized over the years, it remains a valuable tool for understanding human behavior.

If you’re interested in learning more about Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, there are many excellent books and articles on the subject. A quick search on Amazon or Google will yield a wealth of results.