The Role of Attachment on Personal Relationships

The Role of Attachment on Personal Relationships

Attachment or bonding during early childhood programs a person to bond with a significant person. During infancy stage, one develops attachment to the primary caregivers (parents). The relationship between the two is characterized by expression of different emotions like fear, sadness, anger, and joy especially following a period of separation. Infants develop either secure or insecure attachments with the caregivers. Secure attachment is characterized by stable personality and a sense of security while insecure attachment is characterized by inability to regulate distress, and a sense of personal inefficacy in handling discomfort. The kind of attachment between the infant and the caregiver lays the foundation for infant’s future personal relationships, including intimate or romantic relationships as discussed in this paper.

Attachment in Shaping Infant’s brain on Relationships

The relationship between the caregiver and the infant offers foundation for personal relationships by influencing the infant’s cognitive and socio-emotional development (Bowlby & Ainsworth, 2013). Bretherton (1992) argues that mental development of an infant is influenced by the caretaker.  This implies that the child forms mental representations when interacting with the caretaker in responding to security and comfort, balance emotions, and create positive expectations and memories of relationships.

Parenting is essential in the development of attachment, which is crucial in personal relationships. Parenting can be characterized by mutual enjoyment between the mother and the infant, as children need continuous and close relationship with the caretaker (Mikulincer et al., 2006). This is because the maternal sensitivity contributes to the infant’s security which is characterized by interaction patterns between the mother and the infant. For example, caregiver’s respond to the instinctual needs of an infant acts as bond between the mother and the child. The caregiver’s behavior acts as motivation to the infant’s behavior regulation hence defines the domains of the attachment (Bowlby & Ainsworth, 2013).

Therefore, the way the mother adjusts to the infant’s cues and responds to the stimuli which is either intrapsychic or external, and social releasers can lead to the activation or termination of specific instinctual responses (Bretherton, 1992). This can either strengthen or weaken the development of adult relationships. For example, relationship characterized by verbal and non-verbal communication (like vocalization and facial expression) tends to create affectionate and satisfying relationship or rejection (Mikulincer et al., 2006).

Secure Attachment Style and the Connection to Relationships

The attachment in early childhood is characterized by separation anxiety. An infant’s response to separation is protest (separation anxiety), despair (grief and mourning), and denial or detachment which is characterized by defense mechanisms like repression (Bretherton, 1992). The different kinds of attachment include secure, ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.

Bretherton (1992, p. 567) argues that infants develop ways of exploring the environment when assurance is provided through by the direct proximity-promoting signals displayed by the caregivers. The positive experiences between the child and the caretaker help the child in developing trust in the self and in the world (Van der Horst et al., 2008). For instance, interaction between the mother and the infant helps in the development of secure foundation for the exploration of the environment and how to offer reassurance to others in adult relationships (Tracy et al., 2003). Thus, the security in attachment develops when the caregiver or an adult nurtures responsive and sensitive stimuli to the infant especially when in distress. As a result, there is development of stable personality, which maintains continuity throughout life.

Infants who are securely attached cry less and explore their mother’s presence. Additionally, Bowlby & Ainsworth (2013) assert that though a well-loved child can protest separation, the child learns to develop self-reliance, which is an important aspect in relationships. Also, Bretherton (1992, p.562) notes that secure dependence on the parents helps the infant in developing confidence in exploring unfamiliar situations and the absence of the confidence leads to handicapped relationships.

Bowlby & Ainsworth (2013) summarizes the characteristics of secure attachment as the ability to create meaningful or empathetic relationships that are able to set the right boundaries in adulthood. Therefore, secure attachment acts as inner working resource in helping individuals handle personal relationships.

Insecure attachment Style and Connection to Relationships

The different types of attachment under insecure attachment include ambivalent, disorganized, and avoidant attachment. Insecure attachment is characterized by inability to regulate distress when dealing with discomfort (Bowlby & Ainsworth, 2013, p.1964). This may interfere with the growth of inner resources essential for developing coping mechanisms or adaptation to stressful events in relationships (Grossmann et al., 2006). For instance, maternal separation and deprivation influences the transmission of attachment. Since the child is dependent on the mother during early childhood, the she provides environment that allows the fulfillment of some impulses while containing others (Bowlby & Ainsworth, 2013). A skilled parent transfers the role of self-regulation in personal relationships to a child. Therefore, a mutual relationship between the mother and the infant helps in bringing a fulfilling relationship.

  1. a) Ambivalent attachment

The infants with ambivalent attachment present insecure adaptive patterns in utilizing the caregiver’s care due to inconsistent caregiver attention or rejection. This can be justified by Bowlby’s Separation Anxiety theory which maintains that extreme separation anxiety among infants is due to unpleasant family experiences like rejection, abandonment by parents or death or sibling’s illness characterized by guilty or feeling responsible (Bretherton, 1992).

Additionally, when the ambivalent individuals are faced with uncontrollable or irreversible situations, they react with extreme emotional distress, which continues even with the termination of the actual threat (Mikulincer et al., 2006). As a result, this may affect personal relationships due to the inability to set aside the distress.

  1. b) Avoidant Attachment

In the avoidant attachment, the Infants develop ways of responding to social interaction. Early childhood adaptive strategies may fail to work in adulthood as the function of insecurely attached people may influence others in reinforcing their internal working models leading to reduced social support (Tracy et al., 2003, p. 140). However, the individuals can develop working models in addressing untrustworthy or threatening nature of the significant others, like maintaining distance from relationships and attachment figures leading to distress (Bowlby & Ainsworth, 2013).

The avoidant reaction to threatening situation might minimize the explicit expression of distress.  But the reaction is likely not to offer permanent solution in the alleviation of the internalized pain and insecurity of attachment (Van der Horst et al., 2008, p. 372). The suppressed insecurity and pain is usually portrayed in personal relationships and it is characterized by lack of emotional connection, intolerance, rigidity, and critical behavior in relationships. As a result, since avoidant people are difficult to handle, they face rejection in relationships.

c). Disorganized Attachment

Disorganized attachment develops when parents ignore the infant or the parental behavior is traumatizing or frightening. It is characterized by explosive, abusive, insensitive, chaotic, and untrusting behavior even when there is need for security (Mikulincer et al., 2006). Undefined attachment leads to disorganized orientation in personal relationships.

Effects of Attachment on Adult Romantic relationships

The satisfying and affectionate relationship between the infant and the caregiver influences the development of meaningful relationships in adulthood, like romantic or adult relationships. For instance, relationships characterized by verbal and non-verbal communication (like vocalization and facial expression) tend to create affectionate and satisfying relationship or rejection (Bretherton, 1992). The experiences during the romantic attachment process are determined by early childhood experiences. Also, the positive perceptions on relationships are related to the level of attachment a person has had in childhood.

Attachment in childhood influences attachment in adulthood. Additionally, attachment is effective in a person’s lifetime as it affects the development of significant connections with others like in romantic relationships (Grossmann et al., 2006). However, the behaviors that sustain attachment to the significant others change through the different stages in life (Bowlby & Ainsworth, 2013).

Tracy et al. (2003, p. 140) explores the concept of attachment in romantic relationships. For instance, parents as the “primary attachment figures” shape the behavior of the adolescents as they venture into romantic relationships. Adolescents venture into romantic relationship with an emotional turmoil characterized by positive and negative feelings (Tracy et al., 2003). This is because the adolescents are experiencing crisis in identity formation and self-definition. Therefore, moving from the parents, primary attachment figures, to a spouse or a lover depends on how one was attached to the primary attachment figures. The sense of security in attachment might develop into a strong sense of self-efficacy and control, optimistic expectations and self-confidence when seeking help from others in case of needs (Mikulincer et al., 2006).

Also, romantic love is part of attachment behavioral system reinforced by motivation (Tracy et al., 2003). The motivation includes both unconscious and conscious beliefs about self, and close relationships constructed depending on attachment style. For instance, the suppressed insecurity and pain in insecure people is usually characterized by lack of emotional connection, intolerance, rigidity, and critical behavior in personal relationships. Also, the ambivalent attachment is characterized by low-self esteem, inability to handle stress or sharing emotions in relationships due to lack of attachment to significant others in attachment (Grossmann et al., 2006).

Just like in the relationship between the caregiver and the infant, romantic relationships are characterized by engaging in close, bodily, and intimate contact (Mikulincer et al., 2006). Additionally, the feeling of being safe when one is responsive and nearby is common in both attachments while insecurity is common with the absence of one party. Finally, in romantic and childhood attachments, the stakeholders share discoveries and sexual behavior in the relationship characterized by both non-verbal and verbal communication (Tracy et al., 2003). Therefore, attachment style affects the development of romantic relationships.


Attachment is essential in the development of personal relationships. The insecure attachment is characterized by a sense of security, self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-control. On the other hand, insecure relationship is characterized by loneliness, negative affect or pathological narcissism, shame, fear, and anger of negative evaluation.  For instance, ambivalent and avoidant attachments are characterized by mistrusting and negative views of both the human nature and the social world. Finally, the satisfying and affectionate relationship between the infant and the caregiver influences the development of meaningful relationships in adulthood like romantic or adult relationships.


Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.          Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 759.

Bowlby, J., & Ainsworth, M. (2013). The origins of attachment theory. Attachment Theory:          Social, Developmental, and Clinical Perspectives, 45.

Grossmann, K. E., Grossmann, K., & Waters, E. (Eds.). (2006). Attachment from infancy to           adulthood: The major longitudinal studies. Guilford Press.

Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Slav, K. (2006). Attachment, mental representations of others,    and gratitude and forgiveness in romantic relationships. Dynamics of romantic love:    Attachment, care giving, and sex, 190-215.

Tracy, J. L., Shaver, P. R., Albino, A. W., & Cooper, M. L. (2003). Attachment styles and            adolescent sexuality. Adolescent romance and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and             practical implications, 137-159.

Van der Horst, F. C., LeRoy, H. A., & Van der Veer, R. (2008). “When strangers meet”: John      Bowlby and Harry Harlow on attachment behavior. Integrative Psychological and        Behavioral Science, 42(4), 370-388.





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