Ambivalent attachment: what is it and how to detect it?
This type of attachment is characterized by anguish and insecurity when being abandoned.
Human beings are social animals that need the acceptance and care of others. In order to have a good emotional balance, it is necessary to have relationships with other people based on mutual respect and understanding.
One of the key aspects when it comes to understanding how a person relates to others is the attachment he or she established in childhood with his or her caregivers.
- Recommended article: "The 7 types of emotional attachment (and psychological effects)".
Attachment style has an impact on both the person's childhood and adulthood, causing the individual to relate to others in a similar way to how he or she did with his or her own parents.
In this article we are going to talk about ambivalent attachment.In this case, the person, due to certain laxity on the part of his parents, behaves in an insecure and extremely suspicious way when relating to other people.
What is ambivalent attachment?
Ambivalent attachment, also called anxious or resistant, is one of the four relational styles observed by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby in their research on the interactions between infants and their caregivers.
These researchers observed that about 10% of the children observed showed distressed behaviors when their mothers were away from them and, when their mothers did not leave them, when their mothers did not leave them. and, when their mothers did not leave the room, these infants remained in a state of alertness.
In ambivalent attachment, there is a strong insecurity and fear of being abandoned. Children behave in a very suspicious way in the presence of strangers, they cry and are upset if their parents are not there, but when they return, they are not comforted and even reject them.
The cause of this behavior lies in how parents care for their children. In ambivalent attachment there is an intermittent caregiver-infant interaction, i.e., the parent or caregiver is only emotionally aware of the infant half of the time, or even very rarely.
On some occasions, the caregiver is calm and attentive to the infant, giving the correct attention to the infant and satisfactorily acknowledging the infant's needs. On other occasions, however, the opposite is true, on other occasions, however, the opposite is true, i.e., the caregiver is not available to the infant, causing the infant to see the behavior of the caregiver as a "bad thing".The caregiver is not available to the infant, causing the child to see the adult's behavior as unpredictable. Since the infant needs the caregiver's attention in order to survive, the caregiver will do everything possible to ensure that the adult is there for the infant.
Normally, in this type of situation, the infant does not receive an immediate response from the caregiver when trying to get the caregiver's attention. Thus, the infant learns that in order to be listened to, he or she must insist over and over again, even to the point of exhaustion.
As time goes by, children grow up and become very emotionally dependent adults. They need the attention of others to feel good, they are afraid to explore new things on their own and they tend to exaggerate their needs.
What is attachment theory?
Before going into more depth about the characteristics of ambivalent attachment, it is necessary to talk about attachment theory. Attachment is understood as the bond between an infant and a caregiver, either a parent or a legal guardian.
This bond is of great importance since the infant, who is still very dependent, needs the care of an adult in order to survive. This relationship can and should become very intimate throughout the person's life..
Ainsworth discovered, from her research with mothers and their children, four types of attachment:
A good attachment involves a multitude of positive emotions and provides security and protection. The caregiver is a refuge for the infant, as well as a source of resources and knowledge. In addition, the caregiver is a secure base through which the infant can satisfy his or her curiosity about the outside world without fear of fear.
Two types of behaviors can occur in the interaction between infant and caregiver.. On the one hand, the search for closeness to the caregiver, with the intention of calming his or her emotional discomfort or basic needs.
On the other hand, exploring the outside world and developing emotionally and cognitively. The quality of the attachment will depend on how the caregiver sees these behaviors in the infant.
Characteristics of ambivalent attachment
In ambivalent attachment, a series of characteristics can be observed in the infant or adult whose childhood was marked by this type of infant-caregiver interaction.
1. Lack of self-esteem
All infants need their parents to care for and protect them.. However, in the case of infants who have developed ambivalent attachment, it happens that their parents have not been able to adequately meet their child's needs.
Based on this, children who have suffered this type of relationship with their parents develop the belief that others will not devote enough attention to them.
In addition, they believe that in order to be well they constantly need the company and dedication of others.
Because of this, both in childhood and as adults, people who have developed this type of attachment base their self-esteem on how others treat them.
As this self-esteem is low and they seek the dedication of others, these people may allow certain behaviors that involve both physical and verbal abuse, believing that they do not deserve anything more.
On many occasions, people with this type of attachment hold others responsible for their own problems and negative emotions.
They also present a low degree of emotional controlThey also present a low degree of emotional control, being easily irascible and easily upset.
On many occasions, these people consider that the problem is not theirs, but that of others who do not know how to behave appropriately.
3. Toxic relationships
In all attachment styles there is a tendency to replicate the relationship that was had with the parents, only this time with the children, partner or friends.
In the ambivalent attachment style there is an insecure caregiver-baby relationship, in which sometimes enough time is devoted to the infant and sometimes not.
Thus, people who have developed this type of attachment tend to have relationships in which they are emotionally available on an occasional basis.
Jealousy, emotional discomfort, mistrust and insecurity are frequent.. Also, in romantic relationships, it is feared that the partner will end up abandoning him/her, always having the belief that he/she can find someone better than him/her.
4. Ambivalence towards other people
Ambivalent children acquire strategies to become the center of their parents' attention, especially fearing that they may be abandoned.
However, once they have been given time, they become resentful and angry towards their caregivers.
Thus, this type of children cry inconsolably in the absence of their parents but, when they have returned and try to contact them, the little ones are distant, trying to keep their distance but just enough so as not to feel abandoned.
This inconstant way of behaving will prevail throughout the person's life, showing a behavior of the 'neither you nor me'.This inconstant way of behaving will prevail throughout the person's life, showing a 'neither with you nor without you' behavior.
To prevent their loved ones from abandoning them, or believing that at some point they will stop paying enough attention to them, it is common for people who have developed ambivalent attachment to resort to emotional manipulation..
As children, they do everything possible to stay attached to their caregivers when they see that the latter have to leave or that they are going to be away from them for some time, however short it may be.
In adulthood, people with this type of relational style will do everything possible so that their partner devotes as much time as possible to them, sometimes trying to isolate their partner from their group of friends and family.
Also frequent are comments that make the other person feel bad, making him or her feel guilty if he or she makes any kind of attempt to get away from him or her for a moment.
On the other hand, people with ambivalent attachment will try to do everything possible to satisfy their partner, even forgetting their own needs. However, this will change when the other shows the slightest attempt to get his or her own space, and it will be time for reproaches and jealousy.
There are extreme and clearly abusive cases in which these people meddle in their partner's personal life, for example, looking at their cell phone and seeing who they have talked to, reading their letters, looking through their diaries, going through their purse....
Can this type of attachment be treated?
Research on attachment styles has concluded that it is quite difficult to modify how a person relates to others, given the great depth of the caregiver-baby bond, which has repercussions throughout life.
But this does not mean that, if the person does his or her part and seeks appropriate professional help, he or she cannot change the way he or she interacts with others.
Through psychological treatment it is possible for the person to achieve a more secure and emotionally stable relational style over time. Also, the person should be aware of what his or her real needs are and to what extent these may or may not be influenced by the actions of others.
In therapy, the person with ambivalent attachment learns that he/she does not need to resort to other people in order to be well, that he/she can calm his/her anxiety by reflecting on how he/she is at that moment.that he/she can calm his/her anxiety by reflecting on how he/she is at that moment. She is also made to understand that the fact that a person is not physically with her does not mean that he will not come back, nor that he will abandon her for someone 'better'.
She will learn that one can be emotionally supported without having the person in the same room.
Adults with this attachment were children who did not explore the world around them because they did not feel safe enough to do so. In therapy they learn that they do not have to be afraid and that they can satisfy their curiosity without having to have the safeguard or company of other people at all times.
With enough work, people who have developed ambivalent attachment can make personal progress in developing what has beenWith sufficient work, people who have developed ambivalent attachment can progress personally, eventually developing what has been termed acquired secure attachment, which is synonymous with healthy romantic relationships, emotional well-being, and a considerable increase in self-esteem.
- Ainsworth, M. D. S., & Bell, S. M. (1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development, 41, 49-67.
- Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1973). The development of infant-mother attachment. In B. Cardwell & H. Ricciuti (Eds.), Review of child development research (Vol. 3, pp. 1-94) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1991). Attachments and other affectional bonds across the life cycle. In C . M. Parkes, J. Stevenson-Hinde, & P. Marris (Eds.), Attachment across the life cycle (pp. 33-51). London: Routledge.
- Prior, V., & Glaser, D. (2006). Understanding attachment and attachment disorders: Theory, evidence and practice. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
- Schaffer, H. R., & Emerson, P. E. (1964). The development of social attachments in infancy. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 1-77.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)