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What’s your attachment style?

What kind of attachments to do you form?

  • Secure?
  • Avoidant?
  • Anxious?
  • Resistant?
  • Disorganized?

Do you recognise how you become attached to people?

Have you been able to change the way your attachment style operates?

Attachment theory

Although trained in psychoanalysis, John Bowlby, the developer of attachment theory, moved away from Freud’s psychoanalytic approach.

Bowlby was an innovator and built upon the work of psychotherapists who considered that our relationships with primary caregivers, particularly mothers was key to understanding the way we go onto develop our attachments and relationships with others.

Internal working model

Bowlby used the term ‘internal working model’, to describe a cognitive framework made up of mental representations that enable us to understand the world, the self and other people.

Understanding how you fit with these ideas and descriptions of attachment styles can provide a helpful way of understanding how your relationships tend to work.

According to Bowlby’s theory

By around the age of three the infant will have developed an internal working model which will be the basis of all future interactions with others.

A key element of Bowlby’s internal working model is that it is important that the child develops a secure attachment with one caregiver, usually the mother.

Like Freud, Bowlby considered that developments in our early childhood are particularly significant in terms of our on-going development, but unlike Freud and classical psychoanalysts, Bowlby placed a theory of attachment before a theory of drives or instincts.

Attachment theory is based upon an evolutionary model.  It suggest that as children we are pre-programmed to form attachments with others in order to help our survival.  It is this emphasis on the history of the relationships we have had that can feel so practical and illuminating.

For Bowlby, our real relationships with people, not just our fantasies and repressed instincts are viewed as playing a key part in our on-going development.

Bowlby’s attachment theory is widely valued and referred to particularly within psychology because it enables people to understand how they tend to attach to other people.

Therapies that aim to bring this kind of insight are aimed at helping people to understand the problems that they experience in relationships not as being random and accidental or their fault. Instead, problems or issues are viewed as reflecting past experiences, and the way those past experiences have lead to the development of internal working models, and the way that internal model has developed, influenced and organised experience.

What our attachment styles say about us

Understanding the way we attach to others tells us a good deal about the impact events have had upon us.  For example we can think that people who demonstrate disorganised patterns of attachment may have experienced developmental traumas.

How do you attach to your therapy?

In psychotherapy the way the client is able to attach to the work and to the therapist may be understood to reflect our attachment styles.

  • Are we hesitant, perhaps overly cautious when it comes to working in our therapy?
  • Do we become overly attached?

Is it possible to think about the way our attachments to our therapy say things about us?

Can we use that information to change the way we relate and attach to others?

Can you change the way you attach?

Can you be aware of your tendency or dominant attachment style and work round it?

In Bowlby’s internal working model, if as an infant you were exposed to:

  • a positive sense of love; then you would be a secure character type.
  • If you experienced rejection and were unloved; you would be more likely to become detached and to develop an avoidant character type
  • While exposure to an angry and confused early caregiver might lead to a resistant character type

Disorganized attachment has been added more recently

This kind of therapeutic work tends to take longer and require a greater commitment of time and money than other therapies but the insights gained can be profound.

It can take time to understand how your model of relating has developed and what that means for your on-going life.

There are certainly quicker models on the counselling market such as CBT, but they do not tend to have the capacity to get to these depths.

Working with a therapist who can help you develop this kind of insight into yourself can help you create powerful opportunities to change the way you relate to yourself and the way you attach to other people.

What’s your attachment style?

Toby Ingham

Toby Ingham is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor based in High Wycombe in England. Toby works on both a short and long-term basis with people who are trying to work through a variety of situations. Sometimes these relate to a specific event such as CPTSD, bereavement, divorce or redundancy, sometimes relating to a more general problem or behavior. He blogs on a wide range of psychological themes.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). What’s your attachment style?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 13, 2019, from


Last updated: 21 Apr 2018
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