Relationship Series: Adult Attachment

The Development of Adult Attachment

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The ways we connect, bond and reciprocate love is commonly known as attachment.

People who have healthy attachment abilities in adulthood often have had positive attachment experiences in childhood.

From the time we are in utero and throughout our childhood the way our parents and caregivers respond to our needs, offer affection and acknowledge our presence impacts the way we perceive ourselves and respond to others.  

Attachment starts at the beginning of our lives and develops throughout the lifespan.

Attachment Styles:

John Bowlby first identified three attachment styles, which included secure attachment, anxious-resistant attachment and avoidant attachment based on the studies of infants and their responses to parental separation.

Later, a fourth type was added by others studying this phenomenon, called disorganized-disoriented attachment style.

Early attachment styles are useful in considering the types of interventions that can help. Understanding attachment styles can also be a practical guide to predicting pitfalls in relationships and to work toward healing.

How to Recognize Attachment Issues

Ricky Greenwald Psy.D outlines a brief checklist for helping to determine whether someone may have an insecure attachment style. Greenwald’s list includes:

“poor affect tolerance, instability in relationships, absence of close friendships, absence of intimate love relationships, black-and-white views of specific relationships (no tolerance for ambivalence or feeling different ways about the same person), idealization of parents (all good or all bad), a history of parents who were not able to provide consistent care in some important way (whether practical, material or psychological).”


Unmet childhood needs and attachment issues can manifest in a number of ways throughout life, but these are not the only factors influencing adult attachment.

An adult who has dealt with insecure attachment has learned to respond in a defensive way, thus influencing their relationships because of that learned behavior over time.

Often, people who have insecure attachment tendencies don’t realize it unless they are exposed to situations in which there is light shed on a certain pattern of behavior.

Secure Attachment

In adulthood secure attachment generally means that one has an ability to have relationships that last, the ability to trust, seek out support from others, and possesses a healthy self-esteem. (how to achieve self-esteem)

When someone has experienced a poor childhood attachment experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be stuck in an unhealthy attachment cycle forever. Experiences throughout the lifespan impact attachment.

In a resiliency study of people with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), 51.4 percent of people who had more than four adverse childhood experiences also had healthy adult attachment indicators in spite of these challenges in childhood.

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