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What Is Attachment Theory?

Have you ever heard that attachment in childhood can impact later mental health? If so, then you have heard people discuss attachment theory. While attachment theory may not explain all mental illness or trauma, it can go a long way to helping people understand vulnerabilities. Your mental health counselor at Greater Essex NJ can help you understand the role that attachments may play in your current behaviors.

Attachment theory deals with the relationships that people form. While attachment can refer to the relationships between any two people, it usually refers to people in romantic relationships or parent-child relationships. Attachment is about more than meeting needs, it is also about bonding.

When people fail to attach properly to caregivers, particularly infants and their caregivers, they can struggle with emotional health issues later in life. Some of the things that can impact attachment include the opportunity for attachment and the quality of caregiving. Some children, such as those raised in institutional environments, may lack the opportunity to form attachments. Others may have the opportunity to form attachments, but their caregivers may not be reliable or healthy.

There are four main types of attachment: ambivalent, avoidant, disorganized, and secure. Children who have reliable and consistent caregivers are likely to form secure attachments. In fact, this is the most common attachment style. However, the other attachment styles all come with potential pitfalls in later adult life. Adults with secure attachments in childhood are likely to be healthier as adults, with less depression and anxiety than their peers with attachment issues.

While childhood attachment can influence adult behavior, it does not dictate adult behavior. In fact, much of the work people do in therapy is to help deal with the outcome of poor attachments in childhood. By acknowledging attachment patterns, therapists can help clients understand their underlying motivations and help them bring about behavioral changes. This type of therapy is not necessarily designed to change a person’s attachment style, but to help them navigate the impact of that attachment style on their life.

What does that mean for you as an individual? It means that we can use what we know from attachment theory to help you escape the impact of childhood trauma. For many people, this actually means helping you break generational trauma that has cycled down through family units. Many maladaptive behaviors, such as substance abuse, have their roots in attachment issues in childhood. Understanding the connection between your past and your current behavior is not a way to excuse the behavior, but to give you the tools you need to change that behavior.