ATTACHMENT THEORY AND THE ‘MATERNAL SENSITIVITY HYPOTHESIS’:
According to attachment theory, the way we react in our relationships with others, specifically in relation to our reactions to being hurt by, threatened by or separated from significant others, depends largely upon our ATTACHMENT STYLE.
Ainsworth (one of the most significant researchers to have worked in this field) proposes that the particular type of attachment style we develop is mainly determined by how our mothers behaved towards us, particularly in terms to sensitivity and attunement to our needs, moods and feelings, when we are infants; Ainsworth first proposed this idea in 1978 and it is known as the ‘MATERNAL SENSITIVITY HYPOTHESIS.’
THE FIVE ATTACHMENT STYLES :
Five main types of attachment styles have been identified; these are :
- SECURE ATTACHMENT
- AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT
- AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT
- DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT
- REACTIVE ATTACHMENT
WHAT KIND OF INTERACTION BETWEEN MOTHER AND INFANT give RISE TO THESE FIVE ATTACHMENT STYLES?
- SECURE ATTACHMENT: this results when the mother is well attuned, sensitive and responsive to the infant’s needs, moods and feelings
- AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT: this results when the mother is too frequently unavailable to, and rejecting of, the infant.
- AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT: this results when the mother behaves inconsistently, and sometimes too intrusively, towards the infant.
- DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT: this results when the mother ignores or fails to understand the infant’s needs and behave in a frightening and traumatizing way towards the infant.
- REACTIVE ATTACHMENT: this results when the mother is extremely unattached or has a disrupted nervous system.
HOW DO EACH OF THESE FIVE ATTACHMENT STYLES AFFECT THE INDIVIDUAL’S ADULT RELATIONSHIPS?
- SECURE ATTACHMENT STYLE: able to form positive, meaningful relationships, form healthy boundaries and be empathetic.
- AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT STYLE: avoids emotional intimacy, aloof, distant, rigid, critical and intolerant.
- AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT STYLE: anxious, insecure, unpredictable, erratic, blames others but can be charming.
- DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT STYLE: insensitive to feelings of others, prone to explosive rage, abusive, craves security but unable to trust others.
- REACTIVE ATTACHMENT STYLE: unable to form meaningful, positive relationships.
Our adult attachment style is so closely related to early life relationships because these (consciously and unconsciously) act as models for how we expect others will treat us and behave towards us; in other words, we are essentially ‘programmed’ by these early relationships to perceive, and behave towards, others in ways that reflect them; in this way, we unwittingly replicate our old patterns of behaviour when interacting with others in the present, especially intimate partners and offspring.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).