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Attachment: How to Determine Your Style

Attachment: How to Determine Your Style

I was recently invited to be a guest on the Diapers to Diplomas  podcast where we discussed Attachment. I thought I’d share the information with you here on the blog today! This is a long post, if you’d rather listen on-the-go, head on over here to catch both episodes.

I have ALWAYS had a heart for adoption and prayed for the Lord to show me my part in orphan care. Then, several years ago, a friend adopted an older child diagnosed with ADHD, complex developmental trauma and Reactive Attachment Disorder.

This child’s needs were GREAT and this family VERY quickly exhausted my clinical experience and knowledge. Her behaviors even surpassed the expertise and support of the local adoption and trauma experts…who had written books on the subject of trauma and attachment! 

My friend and her family were truly on an island…With no one to turn to for help! That’s when I immersed myself in advanced trainings in attachment and childhood trauma so I could support her in navigating day to day life with this child. I realized along the way that these therapeutic parenting strategies could be so very beneficial for ALL families, not just those with children who are adopted and fostered. 

Let’s take a look at attachment today: what it is, why it’s so important, and how we can evaluate our own attachment style.

What is Attachment?

Attachment is the connection a child has with his/her parent, which is dependent upon that parent’s sensitivity or attunement to the child’s needs.

Essentially, it’s the ability to connect with other human beings. 

And, as I heard one Trust Based Relational Intervention trainer put it: Attachment is everything we know about relationships, but we have no idea we know it.

Why is attachment so important?

Secure, healthy attachment lays the foundation and framework for secure and meaningful relationships throughout the lifespan. It allows the child to relate to others in normal, healthy ways.

How does a parent determine their own Attachment style?

Our caregivers are our first model of relationships, essentially teaching us, “This is how relationships go.”

A couple of ways to determine your attachment style are to reflect on:

  1. How YOU were cared for as a child, as well as: 
  2. How you care for YOUR own children (the children in your care).

Four Different Styles of Attachment

It can be helpful to look at the four different Attachment styles to determine which style you fall into most often.

Note: These four styles of attachment revolve around NEEDS, which are categorized based on how the primary caregiver most often meets the needs of the infant, as well as the strategy the infant most often uses to get needs met. 

Secure Attachment

An infant with this attachment style most likely has a caregiver who consistently meets his/her needs and most often responds warmly when the infant is upset.

When upset, the securely attached infant cries, knowing a caregiver will come to soothe them. This infant learns trust, believing: “When I need something, I can count on you to meet that need.

As an adult, this infant will likely grow up to demonstrate characteristics of an Autonomous Attachment Style. These adults are emotionally present as parents and able to help their children form secure attachments. 

Characteristics of secure attachment:

  1.  give care to another
  2. able to receive care from another
  3. autonomous (knowing where they end and others begin, not easily enmeshed with others or dominated by others)
  4. able to negotiate their own needs 

About 50-60% of the general population is fairly securely attached.

Secure attachment requires a “good enough” parent or primary caregiver.

Avoidant Attachment

An infant with this attachment style most likely has a caregiver who most often gives care and meets the need, but does not include alot of warmth and affection while meeting those needs.

When upset, the avoidant attached infant has learned not to cry to get needs met and, therefore, most often does not pursue the parent. This infant learns: “I need to pretend I’m ok, push anxiety down and stuff it, because my best strategy to be close to this parent/caregiver is to be ok.

As an adult, this infant will likely grow up to demonstrate characteristics of a Dismissing Attachment style. These adults are well meaning people who give excellent instrumental care. As one trainer put it: they’ll absolutely meet the physical need and may even organize several fundraisers to get the job done! However, adults with this attachment style are often unable to be present emotionally or are not comfortable sitting in negative emotion…they wanna fix it.

About 20% of the general population demonstrates this Dismissive Attachment Style.

One interesting find: there’s a greater number of foster and adoptive parents, as well as helping professionals (counselors, social workers, nurses, physicians, etc), who are categorized as having a dismissive attachment style.

Ambivalent Attachment

An infant with this attachment style most likely has a caregiver who inconsistently responds when the infant is upset. Either they respond infrequently or they respond warmly sometimes but not at other times.

When upset, the anxious/ambivalent attached infant cries…and is difficult to soothe…in an effort to maintain the caregiver’s attention. This infant learns: “I need to stay upset to see which version of mom I’ll get. Hopefully it’ll be helpful mom, but I’m not sure if mom will respond to me this time or not, so I’ve gotta stay emotional.”

As an adult, this infant may grow up to demonstrate characteristics of Entangled Attachment Style. These adults often have some unresolved attachment issues, and as a result, often aren’t available emotionally for their children. In addition, because they send mixed signals, their children aren’t always sure what to expect from them.

About 20% of the general population demonstrates this Entangled Attachment Style.

Insecure: Disorganized Attachment

An infant with this attachment style most likely has a caregiver who is frightening or traumatic (maybe due to: addiction, untreated mental illness, abuse, etc) or the child is cared for in a frightening place (such as domestic violence in the home).

When upset, the disorganized attached infant demonstrates no clear pattern for getting needs met. Sometimes these infants rock back and forth or freeze. 

As an adult, this infant will likely grow up to demonstrate characteristics of an Unresolved/Disorganized Attachment Style. These adults have usually experienced trauma in childhood but are unable to describe their abuse from caregivers. Many of these individuals get caught up in addiction, violence, crime, etc.

About 1-2% of the general population demonstrates this Unresolved/Disorganized Attachment Style.

As a parent or caregiver, how do you give care?

As we discussed above, one way to determine your attachment style is to reflect on how YOU were cared for as a child.

And another way to begin to determine your attachment style is to look at how you react and respond when your child gets hurt…how you most often tend to give care.

  1. A securely attached adult most often responds by meeting the emotional and physical needs of the child.
  2. A dismissive adult often tends to the child’s physical needs and is great at instrumental care, but dismisses emotional needs with “suck it up, you’re fine, don’t cry.”
  3. An entangled adult most often overreacts to their child’s pain.

It’s important to identify our own attachment style, so we can determine any attachment issues and hurts we need to work through…and we can lead our children toward healing.

Good News!

Studies have shown positive improvement in families where the parents were able to explore their own histories and resolve issues of grief and loss, previous abuse and neglect, addictions in the past, health problems, etc.

Now What?

Often, our children’s big behaviors can trigger our own sore spots and reveal our need for more healing related to certain previous issues.

Begin with self-reflection: 

  1. Reflect on how you were cared for as a child.
  2. Identify the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors you bring to relationships.
  3. What are your triggers as a parent?

Be brave and get help if you need it.

  1. Talk with a friend, your pastor, or find a good counselor in your area. 
  2. We can’t take our kids where we haven’t been; do what you need to do to heal your attachment issues, so you’ll be a secure base your kids can count on.
And if your child experiences big behaviors often, contact a counselor like me in your area who specializes in kids with big behaviors and helps children, teens, and parents learn practical, therapeutic strategies to target these behaviors at the root source.

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Cordova, TN 38018
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