There are many potential challenges to attachment. When children are born prematurely or have serious health issues, they may be hospitalized and separated from their parents. Modern medical practices encourage parents to spend as much time as possible at the bedside with sick children to maintain bonding. Mothers who have serious physical or mental health issues following the birth of their babies can also cause delays in attachment. Divorce, death, abuse, or trauma can damage or prevent the development of secure attachment. However, most believe that evolution pushes attachment so despite challenges, most babies become attached to their primary caregivers.
Different attachment patterns have been recognized and seem to be consistent in young children. These patterns may be related to emotional well being in later childhood and even adulthood. Attachment styles are either secure or insecure. Researcher Mary Ainsworth developed a way to study attachment behavior in young children through an experiment called the Strange Situation Protocol. Basically, babies and their mothers were taken to a playroom and watched through a one-way mirror. The mother leaves the child in the room with a stranger and then returns. The behavior of the child is then observed carefully. This research found three major attachment styles–secure (marked by being easily comforted by the mother), avoidant (demonstrated by little distress when the mom leaves and ignoring or turning away from her upon return), and ambivalent/resistant (seen when the child shows anxiety and distress when the mother reunites). Later research by Dr. Mary Main found a fourth style (disorganized, which appears to be a mix of both avoidant and ambivalent styles).
Attachment styles can change over life, but that takes time, effort, and/or therapy. If someone suffers from one of the three insecure styles, good relationships are usually more complicated and often marked by anger, rage, or anxiety and fears of abandonment or entrapment. If you feel that your relationships show signs of problems with attachment style, therapy might be a really good idea.
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Last reviewed: 28 Jan 2010