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Attachment Styles

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John Bowlby - Attachment Theory
Characteristics of attachment

The Four Key Characteristics of Attachment

Image: Kendra Cherry

What is Attachment?

Attachment is a special emotional relationship that involves an exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure. The roots of research on attachment began with Freud's theories about love, but another researcher is usually credited as the father of attachment theory.

John Bowlby devoted extensive research to the concept of attachment, describing it as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." Bowlby shared the psychoanalytic view that early experiences in childhood have an important influence on development and behavior later in life. Our early attachment styles are established in childhood through the infant/caregiver relationship.

In addition to this, Bowlby believed that attachment had an evolutionary component; it aids in survival. "The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature" (Bowlby, 1988, 3).

Characteristics of Attachment

Bowlby believed that there are four distinguishing characteristics of attachment:
  1. Proximity Maintenance - The desire to be near the people we are attached to.

  2. Safe Haven - Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat.

  3. Secure Base - The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.

  4. Separation Distress - Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure.

Bowlby made three key propositions about attachment theory. First, he suggested that when children are raised with confidence that their primary caregiver will be available to them, they are less likely to experience fear than those who are raised without such conviction. Secondly, he believed that this confidence is forged during a critical period of development, during the years of infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and that the expectations that are formed during that period tend to remain relatively unchanged for the rest of the person's life. Finally, he suggested that these expectations that are formed are directly tied to actual experience. In other words, children develop expectations that their caregivers will be responsive to their needs because, in their experience, their caregivers have been responsive in the past.

Next: Ainsworth's Strange Situation Assessment

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