New Evidence Shows Life Sucks And It’s Because Of Your Childhood (Attachment Theory)


A central tenet of attachment theory is that
a person’s relationships in adulthood stem from a history of attachment, dating back
to our earliest relationship. That is, the bond we formed with our mother,
father or other caretaker after birth. Our first relationship is often thought to
set the stage for future relationships as we grow and move forward. So then does this mean that if you experienced
bad relationships in childhood that you are doomed to have continued terrible relationships
throughout life? There exist different theories of thought
regarding this of which we will examine in order to best answer this question. First, we must look at it from the very beginning,
starting with the first relationship we’ve ever had. At birth, we immediately recognize our mother’s
scent and the sound of her voice from being inside the womb. It is a familiar welcome into a new, unfamiliar
world of life. So, from this point, how do our first attachments
evolve? In 1964, Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson
studied 60 babies for the first 18 months of life in order to uncover the answer to
this question. They examined factors such as separation anxiety,
stranger anxiety and social referencing or the extent that a child looks to their caretaker
to check how they should respond to something new. They found that a baby’s attachments develop
in four stages. From birth until six weeks of age, a baby
is thought to be asocial, meaning that they will react and smile to different stimuli,
whether it be social or non-social. For instance, they might smile at a toy just
as much as they smile at mother. From six weeks to 7 months of age, infants
go through the indiscriminate attachment phase. They prefer human company though most will
respond equally to any caregiver. After three months old, babies will start
preferring familiar faces over unfamiliar ones. Specific attachment starts from 7 to 9 months
of life. This is when babies start having a strong
preference for a single attachment figure, such as mom. The baby looks to mother for security, comfort
and protection. It is during this time when babies become
uncomfortable around strangers and cry when separated from their mothers. Some will express more anxiety than others. Nevertheless, the presence of separation anxiety
is evidence that an attachment has been formed. This initial attachment usually fully develops
by baby’s first year. Strongly attached babies tend to have mothers
who respond quickly to their demands whereas weakly attached babies have mothers who fail
to interact. Finally, multiple attachments begin to form
at 10 months onward when babies gradually grow more independent and form relationships
with more than just mother, including other people and family members. Psychologist Erik Erikson developed his theory
of psychosocial development, which discussed potential conflicts that can erupt during
this time in life. According to Erikson, from birth until the
first year, we go through a stage of life known as trust vs. mistrust. As infants, we need to be able to trust that
our caregivers will be there to provide us with our basic needs. If our needs go unfulfilled, we may grow up
to be suspicious and mistrustful. Erikson formulated a total of 8 stages but
for the sake of not wanting to overwhelm or bore you with too many theorists’ stages,
we won’t go into that now. Instead, we’ll discuss monkeys, rhesus monkeys
to be exact. At one point, behaviorists believed that babies
formed an attachment to whoever fed them. Food was thought to be the basis for an infant’s
love. This was disputed by Harry Harlow’s study
of rhesus monkeys in the 1950’s and 60’s. He separated baby rhesus monkeys from their
mothers to examine their attachment styles in different ways. By today’s standards, this study would of
course be considered highly unethical, but it was groundbreaking for the time. It taught us a lot about the primary motivating
factor behind attachment. Harlow placed the baby rhesus monkeys in cages
with two surrogate mothers, one that provided food but was made of wire and another covered
in soft, comfortable cloth. The results of the experiment showed that
the monkeys preferred and spent most of their time with the comfortable mother even though
it did not provide them with milk. The monkeys only went to the wire mother when
hungry then quickly returned to the cloth mother. When frightened, the monkeys took refuge with
the cloth mother. This experiment reaffirmed the idea that infants
bond to touch and cling to a caretaker for emotional support, not just for nourishment. Overall, however, the monkeys that were separated
from their mothers and had grown up with the surrogates were shown as adults to be more
timid, easily bullied by other monkeys, had more difficulty with mating, and had a higher
struggle interacting with other monkeys. In this way, the lack of care at a young age
showed a lower quality of life for these little guys. This was mainly due to social deprivation
during critical stages of development. World War II, unfortunately, had also provided
us with an abundance of information about the consequences of mother-child separation
on development. John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory,
was the first to attempt to chart the adverse effects of maternal deprivation. Many of these children had experienced mental
and social problematic behaviors. Like the monkeys who grew up without a living
caregiver in the proceeding Harlow experiment, the orphaned children from the war experienced
a lower quality of life and tended to revert inward, withdrawing into themselves for emotional
comfort. Psychologist, Mary Ainsworth, was a student
of John Bowlby. She applied his lessons and came up with categories
of relationships and attachment styles. She did this by devising an experiment in
the 1970’s called the “Strange Situation.” This experiment observed babies in a room
with their mothers and created an awkward situation for the child to examine the strength
of the relationship with their mother. The baby would start off in the room alone
with mother then a stranger would enter the room and take a seat. After some time, the stranger would begin
interacting with the child with mother still in the room. When given a cue, the mother would then get
up and exit the room, leaving the child alone with the stranger. The child’s reactions would be monitored
before the mother would return. The response was measured to determine what
type of attachment style the child had with mother. Babies who had a secure attachment style with
their mothers felt comfortable to play around the room using their mothers as a secure base
as long as she was present in the room with them. When the stranger first entered, the secure
baby was initially unsure but looked to mother that it was okay and became reassured. When the stranger attempted to play with the
child, the baby engaged but remained close to mother. When mother left the room, the baby cried
and was inconsolable when the stranger tried to comfort the child. The baby was at ease once the mother returned. This type of reaction in the child showed
a secure attachment style because the baby was easily reassured once the mother returned
into the room and quickly returned to play. A secure attachment implies that, in the home,
the parents are emotionally available, perceptive, and responsive to the infant’s needs. This is the best kind attachment that is said
to lead to healthy adult relationships later on in life. A securely attached child-parent relationship
is said to be present in 55 to 65% of cases. So, what about in the rest of the population? Aside from secure attachment, Mary Ainsworth
devised 3 other forms of attachment known as avoidant attachment, ambivalent attachment,
and disorganized attachment. With an avoidant attachment style in the strange
situation, the baby did not use mom as a secure base and often did not even flinch when mom
left the room. When the mom returned, the baby acted as if
she was not even there and just continued playing. The child was mostly indifferent to whether
she was in the room or not. This style is said to be present in 20 to
30 % of cases and is thought to occur when parents are emotionally unavailable in the
home, unresponsive and neglectful. The internal working model is as such, “mom
doesn’t respond to my emotions so I will just try to be more independent.” The infants protect themselves by dissociating
contact with the normal need for connection. Emotions are more repressed using a “deactivating”
strategy with regard to attachment. This may lead to a greater likelihood of aggression
later in life. Ambivalent attachment occurs in 5 to 15% of
cases. In the strange situation experiment, infants
with this attachment style were more alert of the whereabouts of mother while playing
in the room. They were very clingy and became very upset
when she left the room. Upon mom’s return, however, the baby was
not comforted. Instead the child reacted with fits of anger. In the home, this attachment style implies
that the mother is inconsistently available. Meaning, when she is available, she is often
preoccupied with something else or not completely attuned to the infant in her responses. Infants with an ambivalent attachment style
are often more anxious, clingy and demanding, which characterizes their adult relationships
later in life. Finally, in the disorganized attachment style,
prevalent in 20-40% of cases and up to 80% in situations of abuse, infants were not soothed
by contact with the mother. They displayed disorganized patterns of behavior,
whereby they might move towards mother as she left the room then away, then freeze or
go into a corner. In essence, their reactions were scattered
and all over the place. In the home, this attachment style is thought
to stem from physical or sexual abuse histories, psychologically disturbed parents, or parents
with substance abuse issues. Clearly this kind of relationship is not functional,
producing a situation of “fright without a solution,” whereby the caregiver is a
source of danger instead of comfort. This results in a disorganized state of mind
for the infant, creating difficulty with relationship formation later in life. What the strange situation study shows us
is that patterns of interaction that children have with caregivers shape their developing
minds, leading to various models of relationship formations. These early bonds color our relationships
throughout life by forming an initial framework to go by and build on. Insecure attachments when young tend to cause
difficulty for future relationships which may lead to overall dissatisfaction in our
lives. We should mention, however, that it is possible
for children to have a different attachment style with another caregiver aside from the
mother, such as the father. So, it is entirely possible that a child could
be insecurely attached with the mother but securely attached with the father. But attachment style may not all be entirely
the fault of the parents so if you fell into one of the three insecure categories, don’t
go blaming mom and dad just yet. An alternative theory proposed by Kagan in
1984 discusses the role that the child plays in attachment in that the child’s temperament
may have different impacts on how parents respond. This theory was supported by research from
Fox in 1989, finding that babies with an “easy” temperament, or those who follow steady eating
and sleeping routines while being accepting of new experiences, are more likely to develop
secure attachment styles with their parents. This has to do with being more agreeable and
therefore easier to bond with. Another temperament style, known as “slow
to warm up,” characterized those babies who took a while to get used to new experiences. Babies with this temperament style are more
likely to have insecure-avoidant attachments. Then we have babies with a “difficult”
temperament who function on irregular eating and sleeping schedules while rejecting or
being stubborn to new experiences. These babies are more likely to have insecure-ambivalent
attachments. This shows us that attachment doesn’t go
one way but is instead based on a combination of both the parents’ and child’s behavior. So, does early attachment style determine
your relationships and quality of life in adulthood? If you were in one of the three insecure attachment
styles as a child, don’t fret. There are plenty of theorists who don’t
believe that attachment style cements your fate. There are basically two perspectives on whether
attachment styles in early childhood are permanent or not. The prototype perspective of attachment claims
that early experiences continue to play an influential role in attachment behavior throughout
our entire lives. But the revisionist perspective provides hope
for those who were insecurely attached, asserting that early representations of relationships
can be modified by new experiences over time. In this second perspective, early attachment
style may not necessarily reflect patterns of relationships later in life. One article by Chris Fraley explored mathematical
models of each of these two perspectives in a longitudinal study in order to obtain data
from meta-analysis to better understand which one was more accurate. The results indicated that attachment security
was moderately stable across the first 19 years of life. Farley notes, however, that his study has
many limitations. Thus, it may be best to interpret the findings
with a certain degree of scrutiny. What category did you fall under as a child? What about now? Do you find your relationships now are impacted
based on your early attachment style with your parents? We realize it’s a lot to soak in so take
your time and then let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
Sociopath vs Psychopath – What’s The Difference?! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

Comments 100

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *