Tag Archives: Insecure Attachment

Overcoming Early Life Insecure Attachment

effects of insecure attachment

As we have seen in other posts that I have published on this site, some babies are prevented from forming a secure attachment (bond) with their mother and this can have disastrous effects upon their future mental health.

What Can Cause An Insecure Attachment To Develop Between The Mother And Baby?

There are numerous reasons why this failure in healthy bonding between the mother and baby may occur, including:

– the mother being an alcoholic/drug addict

– the mother suffering from clinical depression

– the mother being abusive

– neglect

– the baby being separated from the primary carer (e.g due to divorce, hospitalization, death)

(The list provided above is not intended to be exhaustive).

The Adverse Effects Of The Development Of An Insecure Attachment Between The Mother And Baby:

Whether or not a secure attachment is created between the mother and her baby has very serious implications as the quality of the attachment effects how the baby’s brain physically develops.


ATTACHMENT DISORDER IN ADULTS : If a secure attachment has not been achieved, the child is at risk of going on to develop poor self-esteem, difficulties forming and maintaining relationships with others, problems with trusting others, an inability to effectively ‘self-sooth’ and reduced ability to cope with stress / weakened resilience.

Other symptoms may include :

Compensatory / Alternative Attachments :

However, if the child has had a bad start in life and has not been able to form a secure attachment with the mother, s/he still has the possibility of forming compensatory /alternative attachments with:

  1. Other Individuals
  2. Institutions, clubs, societies, groups
  3. Pets
  4. ‘Site Attachments’

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Other individuals :

Such as friends, members of extended family etc

2)  Institutions, clubs, societies, groups :

Such as sports clubs, political societies, social clubs etc

3) Pets :

Mammals like cats, dogs and rabbits have a need to bond as we do. Also, stroking a pet is soothing and can have beneficial physiological effects (such as reducing heart rate and lowering blood pressure). However, bonds with pets should not substitute completely for necessary human relationships. ) I myself have a rabbit (called Rambo) who hops around my flat and is currently in the process of gnawing his way through all my furniture

 4) ‘Site attachments’ (familiar/comforting/soothing places of perceived safety and security):

It is also possible to become attached to places (this is sometimes referred to by psychologists as ‘site attachment’).

Children tend to have special ‘safe-havens’ that they can retreat to in times of distress (such as a bedroom, ‘den’ or friend’s house).

Adults, too, may have their own preferred retreats (such as a garden shed or allotment).

It is also possible to retreat into ‘a place of safety’ in one’s imagination; a particularly powerful and effective way of achieving this is through the use of self-hypnosis and visualization.


If sufficient compensatory / alternative attachments are made and these are stable, reliable and of good quality, the individual can still move from insecure attachment to secure attachment.



Develop a ‘safe place’ in your imagination with self-hypnosis. Click here.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Infant Attachment Problems with Caregiver and the Later Development of BPD.


Humans, as primates, are deeply social animals. The need to form attachments with others, and, most crucially, with the primary caregiver, has evolved as a survival mechanism, as attachments help to protect us from the danger others may pose and thus reduce our fear of being harmed, or, especially in the case of our more distant ancestors, killed.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the infant responds to separation from, or an inability to rely upon, the primary caregiver with intense fear. One of the best known psychologists to point this out was Bowlby.


A healthy attachment between the infant and the primary caregiver is also of fundamental importance as it allows the infant to develop the ability to regulate (control) his/her emotional state.


Bowlby (mentioned above) also pointed out that attachment between the infant and the primary caregiver may be secure or insecure. Let’s look at each of these in turn :

SECURE : This refers to a healthy relationship between the primary caregiver and the infant in which the former is appropriately responsive towards the latter and protects him/her from trauma.

INSECURE : This refers to an unhealthy relationship between the primary caregiver and the infant in which the former does not protect the latter from trauma and responds to the infant in ways which are highly unpredictable and unreliable when he/she (ie the infant) is in a state of distress. This can lead the infant to ‘freeze’ (ie enter a trance-like state), in the same way that adults suffering from borderline personality disorder may ‘dissociate’ at times of stress (click here to read my article on dissociation).

Commonly, insecure attachment involves the primary caregiver either abusing or neglecting the infant, or otherwise frightening or distressing the infant.

Often, too, the primary caregiver has a double harmful and damaging effect upon the infant : not only does the caregiver actively induce feelings of distress and trauma in the infant, but, on top of this, lacks the ability to calm and soothe the infant due to a lack of empathy. Such dysfunctional interaction results in the infant being unable to develop the requisite skills to control and regulate his/her own emotions later on in life (this is sometimes referred to as an inability to self-soothe (meaning, once stressed, the individual finds it extremely difficult to calm down again).


The infant’s psychobiological response to feeling threatened by their primary caregiver can include 3 stages (Perry) :

1) FIGHT OR FLIGHT : the fight/flight response in humans evolved to improve the chances  of survival when such survival is threatened. However, such a response is clearly not available under normal circumstances to the infant. Therefore, whilst at a basic level the response is triggered, the infant is unable to act on it. Also, this initial stage of response by the infant to feeling threatened is sometimes accompanied by the infant ceasing to make vocalizations ; in effect, Broca’s area (the region of the brain responsible for vocalizations) shuts down.

2) If the threat continues, the next stage that the infant experiences has been termed “FEAR WITHOUT SOLUTION’.

This stage presents the infant with a dilemma :

a) On the one hand, it is vital that the infant maintains an attachment with the caregiver, as this is necessary to his/her continued survival.


b) On the other hand, the infant fears the caregiver.


One part of the infant’s psyche IDEALIZING the primary caregiver (enabling the interaction between the infant and caregiver to continue (as is necessary for the infant’s survival, AND :

Another part of the infant’s psyche (which is sometimes called the ‘self-other’ in the relevant literature) DOES EXPERIENCE THE TERROR INDUCED BY THE PRIMARY CAREGIVER BUT DISSOCIATES FROM THIS TERROR (meaning that the infant cuts the off from consciousness).


The above process does, however, carry a heavy cost. It leads to a FRAGMENTED SENSE OF SELF which is a major feature of adult BPD (click here to read my article on the kinds of identity problems suffered by adults with BPD).


Research also suggests that  the above process leads to the infant growing up into an adult who experiences a sense of deep guilt about their behavioural problems connected to their early traumatic experiences, erroneously blame themselves for these problems and develop a profound misperception of themselves as being a‘bad’ person (click here to read my article on this).


By the individual believing him/herself to be to blame for the dysfunctional relationsip he/she is able to MAINTAIN THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL (ie they form the illusory belief tha only they could improve their behaviourt they will be able to attain the love, support, affection and care from their primary caregiver which they so tragically missed out on during their childhood.

The above is therefore, essentially a defense mechanism protecting the individual from having to face up to the painful realization that the idealized caregiver that they needed to invent as a helpless and terrified infant does not, in reality, exist.


Frequently, too, the above process leads to the adult who experienced the early life trauma becoming highly SELF-SABOTAGING. Why is this?

Essentially, it is believed such self-sabotaging behaviour (involving sabotaging one’s own achievements and progress in life) in order that the self-sabotaging individual does not become independent and self-reliant allowing him/her to continue the elusive search for the ideal parent/caregiver he/she never had (although this operates on an unconscious level).

images (1)

The above chart suggests how we may approach relationships as adults as a  function of the trust and self-esteem we developed as a result of the quality of our early life attachments.

borderline personality disorder


The above eBook is now available for instant download on Amazon. CLICK HERE TO VIEW DETAILS.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Types of Relationship Problems The Individual May Experience As A Result Of Childhood Trauma.


Childhood Trauma And Adult Relationships :

Early relationships between the parent and child have an enormous impact upon how the child manages relationships throughout later life.

If the child experiences significant difficulties with relating to his/her parents, it often leads to problems with relating to others later on in life.

Secure Attachment :

The developmental psychologist, John Bowlby  proposed that there were, in very broad terms, two types of attachment that the child could form with the parent/s: SECURE ATTACHMENT and INSECURE ATTACHMENT.

Insecure Attachment :

If INSECURE ATTACHMENT develops, due to problems with how the parent relates to the child, the child often goes on to develop relationship problems with others in later life, because, according to Bowlby, s/he is prone to develop maladaptive (counter-productive) ways of relating to others which Bowlby terms MALADAPTIVE ATTACHMENT STYLES.

Bowlby proposed that there were three main types of maladaptive attachment style which the child could develop due to his/her problematic parenting; these are:


1) Insecure-avoidant attachment style:

Children who relate to others in this way may appear withdrawn, and, sometimes, hostile. By keeping their distance from others, they reduce their feelings of anxiety. However, underlying this there tends to be a great vulnerability and need. In adulthood, they are likely to continue to be distrustful of others and to maintain an emotional distance. Again, though, great vulnerability and need tend to underlie this.

Because the individual who develops this attachment style tends to be constantly expecting to be let down and betrayed by the person s/he is relating to, s/he may overcompensate for this feeling of vulnerability by becoming over-controlling, in an attempt to stop the person from ‘getting away’.

Individuals who develop this attachment style often have parents who were unresponsive to the needs of the child, lacked warmth and showed little love. The parents may have rejected the child’s attempts to form a close relationship with them.


2) Insecure-ambivalent attachment style:

With this style, the child oscillates between ‘clinging’ to others and angrily rejecting them – this tends to occur in ways which are largely unpredictable. Their relationships with others tend to be HIGHLY EMOTIONALLY VOLATILE. Also, they tend to be EXTREMELY SENSITIVE TO ANY SIGNS THEY ARE BEING REJECTED (sometimes misinterpreting signals and reading negativity into them when none was intended) and can become extremely angry if they believe that they are being rejected. Underneath this display of anger, however, the individual experiences deep hurt and emotional pain in response to the perceived rejection.

This pattern of relating to others often continues into adulthood. As with insecure-avoidant attachment styles, they may overcompensate for their profound fear of being abandoned by becoming over-controlling.

Individuals who develop this attachment style have often had parents who were unreliable and unpredictable in their manner of relating to the child – sometimes being available and sometimes not.

3) Insecure-disorganized attachment style:

This attachment style develops more rarely and is usually connected to particularly severe trauma during childhood.

Children with this attachment style tend to be HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS of others and EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS about forming relationships.

In adulthood, this tends to lead to profound difficulties with developing any kind of relationship and maintaining it – in any relationship the individual does manage to form, s/he will tend to behave in a highly unpredictable way and be highly vulnerable to sustaining further emotional wounds when they are, all too frequently, rejected for being too ‘difficult.’

A deep seated fear of others often underlies this attachment style which can lead to exploitation.

Individuals who develop this attachment style have often suffered severe abuse and have, also, often been brought up in environments which were extremely CHAOTIC and NEGLECTFUL.

This post is based upon John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.

To read my post on types of relationship difficulties individuals may experience as a result of childhood trauma, please click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).