Attachment: A Theory of Development of Adult Relationships Kristina Mihajlovic University of Illinois at Chicago As humans, building relationships between others is a form of connecting and communicating. It is a social situation that is experienced every day through the course of a lifetime. The initial relationship that is made is between the mother and the child. This bond that connects two people is known to be called attachment. The theory of attachment begins at birth, and from that, continuing on to other relationships in family, friends, and romance.
Attachment is taught through social experiences, however the relationship with the mother and her temperament are the key factors in shaping the infants attachment type, which will stay with them throughout the course of a lifetime. (Bowlby, 1979) To understand attachment type, it is categorized in three major styles: secure, avoidant, and anxious/ambivalent. It is understood that that these types are determined by the relationship with the parents during childhood.
Several studies have tested attachment in various forms. In one study (Dinero, Conger, Shaver, Widaman & Larsen-Rife, 2008) attachment was tested by examining the quality of family interactions during adolescence period and their romantic relationship as a young adult. The results found were not surprising; parents who are positive, warm, caring and kind toward their teen prove to be the most supportive and secure. This helped form and lead the young adult into a secure romantic relationship.
Something interesting that was found was that as a relationship begins to get more serious, like marriage, the original influence of the familial attachment begins to change into a combination of that and of their partner. (Dinero et al. , 2008) The second study (Hazan & Shaver, 1987) states romantic love as an “attachment process” by saying that this process is similar to the one created between the mother and the child. This study correlates with the idea in the first study, that a romantic relationship changes the attachment style from child to adult. The concept of the three attachment styles is sed in comparing the differences between love, self, and family; and is related with each type. The differences in love experiences are representative; secure type felt happy, trusting, and friendly. Whereas the avoidant type had a fear of closeness or commitment, and the anxious/ambivalent felt jealousy, mood swings and reciprocity. (Hazan & Shaver, 1987) Differences in how each type perceive themselves still follow the same tone; the secure type is easy going, liked by most people, and good hearted. The avoidant type and anxious/ambivalent feel underappreciated and misunderstood.
Differences in family history showed unusual results. Avoidant types related with secure types on a positive note, describing their quality of family attachment as nurturing and non-intrusive. However, the reason may be because young participants in the study (college students) are not mature or old enough to have evolved into their “romantic love attachment process” and still idealize their familial attachment. (Hazan & Shaver, 1987) The third study (Simpson, Rholes & Phillips, 1996) involves the young adults who are evolving into their mature attachments of romantic love.
They studied the different perceptions and temperaments of young couples; mainly focusing on either how ambivalent or avoidant they are while interacting with each other when dealing with a major relationship problem. The results seem to go with what has been found in other studies; compared to avoidant types, ambivalent types are less satisfied in their relationships, they tend to change their view of the relationship and partner after a major conflict. These types of arguments are very common for the ambivalent type due to the fact that they are so unsatisfied, constantly experiencing emotional ups and downs. Simpson et al. , 1996) Avoidant types are not emotionally open to be warm or supportive when dealing with a major problem. They tend to shut out and show no passion when they come in conflict. More common behavior in avoidant men rather than women is the ability to reduce emotions so that anger or hostility is not present in conflict. This is because they are emotionally non-supportive. With anger and hostility there is a sense of involvement which needs support. This is where ambivalent types are shown. When dealing with a major problem they tend to show much more emotion and passion; greater anger, stress, and nxiety. After the conflict they see their relationship and partner less positive in terms of commitment, openness with each other, and supportiveness. (Simpson et al. , 1996) The fourth (Simpson, Collins, Tran & Haydon, 2007) is a longitudinal study that studied participant’s experiences during their periods of critical attachment processes from four different stages; infancy, elementary, adolescence and early adulthood (20-23 years old. ) From these attachment experiences, they become characteristics of personality and social development.
As with all the other studies, the results seem to go with the same manner; infants who are secure at the beginning of their lives end up being socially apt in elementary school, and have a secure relationship with friends in adolescence. Whereas infants who are insecure, stay with the trend as they grow up. (Simpson et al. , 2007) These results stay with the core idea of the attachment theory (Bowlby, 1979. ) This seems to be the only study that shows early attachment experiences to be conditions that forecast characteristic of either a positive or negative emotional nature of later adult romantic relationships. Simpson et al. , 2007) A general rule of thumb can now be applied. No matter how much you deny it, you will always become your mother! Mother’s actions echo through us as we live our lives day to day. How we handle friendships and acquaintances, and who we attract flirtatiously; all become a part our lives… a part of me and who I am today. I would like to reflect on the first study, and the theory of family quality. I highly agree that family interactions form us as individuals. My family interactions in adolescence times where very hostile and angry.
As a teen, I could have been labeled as the rebellious type; however, since writing this paper, I came to realize that growing up in a first generation of war refugees may have been the cause of my behavior. My parents who came to this country not knowing any English, lost everything in the war, suffered from PTSD, never really trusted anyone outside of the family. Of course this was not their fault, however, this in turn skewed my view on friendship with others and everything else normal in America. Being an only child I didn’t have much to compare with other than shows on TV.
I was not exposed to what is normal secure positive behavior. As I grew older and experienced other families, my familial view clashed with the societal norm in America, and I realized that my family’s views where completely different from everyone else’s; I wanted to have close friendships, like sisters. I didn’t want to be alone and angry. As I began making friends, however, my parents would consider their family backgrounds and their socioeconomic status which then usually ended the friendship. This trend began to deteriorate the attachment between me and my parents.
The familial views that were once idealized now became something I hated. I didn’t want to be different from everyone else, nor did I want to be isolated any longer. I began to act out; sneak out of the house when my parents went to sleep, hang out with older kids and smoke cigarettes, not care about school as much, even pierce my tongue at age sixteen (now that’s a story! ) I shut-out my parents emotionally; it was a troubled time for all of us. The fighting continued until I had met my first love. Every love song became a reality; any type of anger or sadness melted away from my life.
My relationship with my parents became much better (for the most part), I became a straight A student again, and life seemed to be on track. For the first time in my life I felt like I had structure. I had a purpose in life now, and things became routine. Slowly as time went on, reality began to creep back into my life. The romantic relationship I was so deeply attached in began to become a roller-coaster ride of drama and emotions. Referring to the third study, I would have to say that my ex-partner was between avoidant and ambivalent type and I the ambivalent.
I agree with the first and second study where they found that attachment type combines with the partner. I was never the jealous type, however he was. I felt such insecurity from his insecurities. Conflict was very hostile and angry, from punching holes in walls to physical contact; let’s just say we were never the ‘go-to’ couple when it came to hanging out with friends. However, no matter how bad the fight, the attachment we had to one another was unbreakable. The relationship lasted four years, from when I was nineteen till twenty three.
This is the most critical period in time developmentally on all aspects. I have, without a doubt, evolved through that experience. As they have found in the second study, the first romantic relationship attachment process changes an individual, from a child to an adult. As Bowlby (1979) believed that life’s deepest and most intense emotions arise in a profound attachment, and from this we learn who we are, what we want and what we are capable in life. My opinion on the fourth study is this. For the most part, those who either have a positive or negative influence their lives may always end up that way.
I believe on the other hand, that if you start out with a negative start, you can learn to change it through positive experiences. This is of course if you understand and are aware of these common happenings of negative experiences. I feel that as we get past the stage of the first love attachment experience, we become more aware of our personalities, which in turn strengthens our character even more. In conclusion, attachment is a big part of our lives. It leads us to our adult selves, and can determine the fate of our lives if we let it.
I have learned that life experiences teach you a lot of things indirectly, and that if you reflect on them later in life, you begin to see the lesson learned. As I wrote this paper, I began to see those lessons unfold in front of me; I began to understand that each event in my life was linked to the next, and that my attitude towards the situation was what determined the outcome. By changing my negative behavior to a more agreeable type, I have experienced a very positive response. I have a group of close friends, and quite a few regular friends.