Attachment and Trauma

Bowlby's Attachment Theory: when we talk about it and the different attachment styles

Published: 6 May 2022


The term attachment, in psychology, is related to the psycho-physical development of the child in relation to the bonds created with the main caregiver, in English called caregiver.

Fulcrum of the Attachment theory is the concept that, for proper social and emotional development, a child needs to develop at least one important relationship with a caregiver.

John Bowlby: forerunner of attachment theory

Forerunner of the Attachment Theory was the British researcher and psychiatrist John Bowlbywho first explored the topic by investigating the motivations that bind the child to its mother, in addition to the natural search for food. Bowlby noted that the infant's needs were not only related to nourishment, but also realised that theattachment came from the search for protection, serenity and affection.

Based on these observations, the English psychiatrist began to question the consequences of the different types of attachmentmaking a distinction between secure attachment e insecure attachment. His research led him to study the mechanisms that are triggered within the mother-child relationship, and how best to give children a secure attachment.

Childhood attachment styles

Mary AinsworthCanadian psychologist and collaborator of John Bowlby, can be considered the pioneer of the Strange Situation, the first useful tool for assessing child attachment types.

In this procedure the child is introduced, with the mother or the caregiverin a room full of toys. At various times the child is left alone or in the company of a stranger, only to be reunited with the attachment figure.

From the study of the child's reactions and behaviour, it was possible to identify four attachment stylesSecure, Insecure-Evocative, Insecure-Ambivalent and Disorganised.

Secure attachment: how to recognise it?

The child protests loudly upon separation from the caregiver and calms down promptly after their reunion. In this case, the child is determined in its search for the attachment figure and confident in the comfort it will get when reunited.

Through a secure attachment stylethe child learns functions that are fundamental to its development:

  • Learn the basics of trust and reciprocity, which will serve as a model for future emotional relationships;
  • He explores the environment with confidence, fostering good cognitive and social development;
  • It develops the ability to self-regulate, for effective control of impulses and emotions;
  • It creates the basis for identity formation;
  • It will be protected from stress and trauma through active resource seeking and resilience.

Insecure-Evocative Attachment

The child, who belongs to the category of insecure-avoidant attachmentreacts with apparent indifference to the attachment figure. At the moment of the encounter with the parent, or with the caregiverthese children not only maintain their apparent indifference, but tend to avoid physical and sometimes even eye contact.

Unfortunately, not all children know a secure attachment made of love, security, protection and it is this impairment in attachment that often leads them to be impulsive, lacking in empathy, aggressive and violent.

Insecure-Ambivalent Attachment

In this case, children show considerable distress at the moment of separation from the attachment figure, with manifestations of anger and inconsolable crying. At the moment of reunification they are unable to be consoled, showing hostility or sometimes passivity.

It is defined as insecure-ambivalent attachment  the type of attitude manifested by the child who, on the one hand, seems to desire the attachment figure, while on the other hand is reticent and sometimes even seems to refuse the parent's comfort.

Disorganised Attachment

In the latter type of attachment, the child's behaviour appears highly disorganised, both at the time of separation and after the reunion with the caregiver. The latter style develops when children perceive the attachment figure as strongly unfriendly or threatening.

Children who show a disorganised attachment react to separation and reunification with contradictory attitudes simultaneously or in rapid succession, ranging from intense contact-seeking to marked avoidance behaviour.

'Attachment and Trauma': Major Advances in Psychotherapy and Psychology

From Friday 30 September to Sunday 2 October will be held in Rome, at the Auditorium Antonianum,

the 9th Edition of the Congress "Attachment and Trauma: New Frontiers in Research and Clinical Practice".organised by theInstitute of Cognitive Science (ISC).

The event, which will also be broadcast in live streamingIt will provide an opportunity to integrate the most innovative aspects of neuroscientific research studies with the most effective clinical interventions. In addition, the video recording of the Congress will be available for purchase on the Institute of Cognitive Science website and will be accessible without time limit.

Click here to find out the details of this digital event.

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