Attachment theory comes out of the work of John Bowlby. However, it finds its genesis in Freud’s Psychoanalysis. Bowlby himself was trained in psychoanalysis and became a qualified practitioner in the approach. In his early 20s, however, before he enrolled in medical school or in the Institute of Psychoanalysis, he worked with children with behavior problems. These two forces, these experiences, perhaps formed the foundation and later development of his Attachment Theory.
Spurred on by the number of children separated from their parents during World War II, Bowlby became interested in the interaction between caretaker and child, and what impact the character of that dynamic had on the development of either healthy or pathological behavior.
His study of the subject led him to propose that attachment behavior was an evolutionarily mandated survival strategy for protecting the infant from threats, and that the characteristics and quality of that early relationship have long-lasting relational consequences. Unlike Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory, however, Bowlby did not find its locus in sexual development; rather, he formed his theory of development around the dynamics of the early relationship between child and primary caregiver, which in most cases is the biological mother.
Mary Ainsworth, a student of Bowlby, played a critical role in expanding on this theory. Their collaboration led to their proposing that there were several different attachment ‘styles,’ and that these styles had direct consequences for the child that could be predicted and categorized. Ainsworth later developed the Strange Situation Procedure, which was a way of assessing differences in attachment behavior.
Attachment theory proposes that the responsiveness, availability, consistency—and of course, care—of the social interaction between the primary caregiver and the child give rise to Internal Working Models that become the template for the dynamic of future relationships and can contribute to the emergence of psychopathologies throughout the life course.
Bowlby proposed that there are four characteristics of attachment:
1. Proximity Maintenance: The need to be close to the caregiver.
2. Safe Haven: The attachment figure’s availability when the child is experiencing distress.
3. Secure Base: Where the caregiver provides a base from which the child can securely explore the local environment.
4. Separation Distress: The anxiety that occurs when the child is separated from their caregiver.
In assessing these characteristics—which was the purpose of Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure—one could conclude what type of attachment was operating.
Types and Causes of Attachment Styles
Bowlby and Ainsworth determined that attachment styles could be effectively differentiated into four distinct categories based on the observed attachment behaviors, behaviors that were based on the attachment characteristics. These styles,...