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When Being Insecurely Attached Can Be Advantageous

It is generally thought that it is very much preferable for a child to grow up with a secure attachment to a primary carer (usually the mother) than it is to grow up with an insecure attachment to the primary carer. However, according to evolutionary theory, no one type of attachment can be said to be the best one without taking into account the environment in which the child will be growing up in and whilst, for our ancestors, a secure attachment when growing up may have been beneficial to the child growing up in a benign environment, growing up with an insecure attachment to the primary carer may have better prepared for life the child who grew up in a hostile environment in which it was necessary to be constantly anticipating threat, and to be fearful and avoidant when such threats were detected (better safe than sorry), to give oneself a reasonable chance of surviving and reproducing. 


On the other hand, Ein-Dor et al. (2010) suggest that while insecure attachment is dysfunctional for the individual, it may have provided benefits for groups of our ancestors as the anxiously attached may prewarn the group of dangers such as hungry, predatory lions. However, this idea would presume that the groups in question were composed primarily of the attached individuals’ relatives which is hard to verify. Furthermore, it is unclear, according to Frankenhuis (2010) why Ein-Cor assumes attachment conferred no benefit on the individual. Certainly, in the modern home, insecure attachment occurs as a self-protective strategy to help increase the child’s odds of being safe; being constantly on guard against threats, such as physical violence, works as a self-protective strategy. It is only when the strategy becomes so embedded in the child’s personality that it becomes his or her predominant way of interacting with others in adulthood in safe environments where it is no longer necessary to treat everyone with extreme suspicion to the degree meaningful relationships become impossible that the insecure attachment styles become dysfunctional.


Whilst this is true in the modern world where we are generally not in mortal danger on a daily basis as adults unless we happen to find ourselves on the front line of a battlefield, it was not necessarily true for our ancestors which is why developing an insecure attachment style that lasts for life might have bestowed an evolutionary advantage on those individuals who lived their whole lives under real threat on a daily basis.




As I’ve stressed, as a modern-day adult in a relatively safe environment insecure attachment style is likely to cause more problems than it solves even though it is likely to have been a necessary and protective element of our childhoods. Therapy can help us develop a better understanding of our own attachment style and be aware of how it affects our behavior in relationships and how it relates to our childhood attachments. Couples therapy can also be helpful to help our partners understand the root of our problem. Cognitive therapy, too, can help beneficially alter how we think, feel, and behave in relation to others. 


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