We have seen from other posts that I have published on this site that we develop different kinds of attachment styles as we grow up which depend upon how stable and secure our early life relationship with our primary caretaker (usually the mother) was. In simplified terms, if this early life relationship WAS secure and stable we are likely to develop a SECURE ATTACHMENT STYLE as we get older and pass through adolescence to adulthood; however, if it WAS NOT, we are likely to develop an INSECURE ATTACHMENT STYLE which persists throughout our lives (in the absence of effective therapeutic intervention).
There exist three main types of insecure attachment style which are :
You can read more about insecure attachment and how to overcome it here ; however, in this article I want to concentrate on adult individuals who have developed an ‘avoidant attachment style’ and how this is likely to affect their interaction with their own offspring.
Those with an ‘avoidant attachment style’ tend not to regard emotional closeness within their relationships as being of an special kind of importance. They may well eschew close friendships and intimate relationships, and, in general, prefer not to be emotionally dependent on others.
Furthermore, they tend to be cut off from their emotions and mistrustful of others.
How Might An ‘Avoidant Attachment Style’ Affect The Individual’s Interactions With Their Child?
Despite the above considerations, some people who have an ‘avoidant attachment style’ do get married and have children. But how do they treat these children?
In general terms, they may keep their children ‘at arm’s length’, emotionally speaking. Indeed, I remember my own relationship with my father during adolescence and beyond – it was rather as if we were two magnets with similar poles : whenever I tried to get emotionally close to him he backed away and distanced himself, seemingly repelled by forces beyond his control.
Parents with an ‘avoidant attachment style’ may utilize various strategies (consciously or unconsciously) to keep a ‘safe emotional distance’ between themselves and their offspring. For example, they may constantly criticize their child over insignificant, trivial and trifling matters.
I recall such a perpetual torrent of such criticisms emanating from my father : I would, for example, be corrected, with tiresome regularity, for my ‘bad table manners’ (eating too fast, talking with mouth fall, failure to hold fork correctly, failure to hold knife correctly, failure to keep elbows off table, making too much noise swallowing…) ad infinitum. These criticisms represented my father’s only verbal interaction with me at the meal table; he was either criticizing me or there was a tense silence between us. Sometimes the stress of these mealtimes would induce in me the symptoms of mild hyperventilation which would, in turn, provoke the all but inevitable criticism from my father that I was ‘making rather a lot of unnecessary noise with my heavy and laboured breathing.’ (delivered in a witheringly condescending, and mildly disgusted, tone). Of course, there are myriad other petty, critical observations the creative, ‘avoidant’ parent can manufacture.
The ‘avoidant’ parent, too, will tend to express little or no affection towards the child, either physically or verbally. And, any such expressions that they do attempt are likely to come across as stilted, artificial and hollow.
Attachment Disorders Get Passed Down The Generations :
Just as ‘avoidant’ parents have developed their maladaptive attachment style as a result of their early life insecure attachments to their own parents, the children of ‘avoidant’ parents are at risk of themselves developing a maladaptive attachment style which, further down the line, will inevitably adversely affect their own children and so on and on…In this way, insecure / maladaptive attachment styles may be passed down through several generations unless this relentless cycle is broken by effective therapeutic intervention.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).