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Attachment Theory: Secure and Insecure Attachments In Children And Adults

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“Secure attachment was once viewed as important for infant development. More recently, it has been deemed the most important ingredient for successful relationship formation, strong self-identity & confidence to function and achieve in our lifetime.”


A child’s experience in their early formative years largely influences their later development. The influence largely accounts for the development of their cognitive skills, emotional stability, personality, and social skills. According to Bawdy (1977), attachment is the emotional bond that individual forms towards another person. The attachment is corresponding between the infant and their parents. Attachment leads to the adoption of the values which largely determine the later development of the child as they grow up into adulthood.

Secure and Insecure Attachments

Attachments can either be secure or insecure (Bowlby, 1958). Secure attachment serves as a model for future relationships that the child ill have and how they will engage and interact in such relationships. An infant who is confident in their attachment will relay their positivity in the relation. An infant who is safe in their attachment will show some resistance when left with a stranger and will react warmly when the familiar face comes back. According to Glaser (2006), securely attached children are more compliant and show greater enthusiasm in comparison to an insecure infant.

Development Theories

Development theories are crucial to understanding human growth and provide insight into why human beings behave as they do and give great insight into the society and the individual. The development of children was often ignored with scant information available. However, from around the 20th century, a lot of research has been done to understand the different changes that take place in a child and how they affect and influence their individuality. According to Freud psychoanalytic development theory, a child’s experiences and their unconscious desires mostly changed their behavior. The development of the child mostly takes place during their formative years, and Freud believed that the early experiences of the child played a critical role in how the child eventually develops. Another development theory formulated is the psychosocial theory as advanced by Erickson (Fraley, 2000).

Bowlby Attachment Theory

According to Bowdys attachment theory, the early relationship between a minor and the caregiver influences their social relationships throughout their life (Barnes, 2018). Bowdys attachment theory opines that children are generally born with an innate want to form attachments. Therefore such attachment helps them in their survival because the child receives protection and care. Secure attachments, according to the theory, ensures both motivational and behavioral development patterns of the child become assured. Secure attachment ensures that the child usually develops (Harlow, 1958). There are four characteristics of attachment theory, which are separation distress, proximity maintenance, stable base, and haven. The four features are present in the relationship between the caregiver and the child. According to the theory of attachment, the child relies on the caregiver for comfort when he /she feels threatened. The caregiver offers a reliable foundation to ensure the child learns to sort the said issues without a lot of help. The child, therefore, aims to explore the world and at the same time, still maintain proximity to the caregiver. As a result, when the caregiver separates from the child, the child is likely to feel distressed.

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In adults, attachment towards the child is evidenced by their response to the needs of the child. Therefore, such an attachment would significantly affect their subsequent attachment. According to Bowlby, the mother is attached to the mother, which affects their emotional, social, and cognitive development. A child who is detached from the mothers according to the theory will most likely experience maladjustment in later life. According to researchers, attachment takes place in stages. According to Shaffer (1964) in the study of 60 children for an 18 month period observed that the children showed anxiety towards strangers, and they were reluctant to be separated from their caregivers, and lastly they sought a social referencing where they always found their caregivers to check how they should respond when something new was introduced. The study observed that infants who of 10months and beyond were increasingly heavily dependent and formed several attachments with those that responded to their signals not necessarily their primary caregiver. According to the evolutionary, therefore, the children come to the world when they are already programmed to form an attachment with other people to ensure their survival.

Secure attachment is considered one of the most critical ingredients for the formulation of successful relationships even in adulthood because a child who grew up end up being strong, confident and formulates successful relationships in their lifetime Attachment theory is essential to understanding people and how to best help them. Attachments expressed early in life over on to the next generation, and the adult is likely to pass what they learned to the next generation. According to Dollard (1950), one’s attachment style influences how people react. People with insecure attachments are more likely to develop maladaptive behaviors because of the neglect that they encountered young children.

The mother and child bond is crucial to the development of a person. According to Ainsworth, children who are secure in strange places have parents who are responsive to their need, and such a person is likely to develop healthy relationships in their adult life. According to cross-cultural studies, infants who are secure are well adjusted in later life. People are more likely to have relationships with people who have the same views about attachment relationships as themselves in adulthood (Frazier et al., 1997). Secure attachment enables the adult to have a sense of belonging, and one feels connected to another person. A person with a secure attachment is likely to have positive self-esteem and confidence, which are essential to attaining stability in a relationship. A person who did not have a stable base can either develop the base later in life to heal ay form of insecure attachment that they may have.

Secure Attachment in Adults

In the late 1980s, the attainment theory was extended to the study of relationships among adults. In the field of psychology, the attachment theory is applied to an adult’s links, which include their emotional, friendship, and platonic relationships. The four main attachment styles were explored to check how attachment affects the outcome of relationships. The relationship between adults is different from that of children and their caregivers. According to Fraley and Shavey (2000), the central propositions when it comes to adult attachment are based on behavioural and emotional dynamics, which are based on their similar biological system. The difference in behavioural attachment among the adult is identical to their relationships. The orientation of attachment between adults is correlated with the bond that they had as children. According to Sable (2008), secure attachment is promoted by a caregiver who was emotionally available when the child was growing up and whether the said caregiver was responsive to the needs of the child.

The outcome of adult relationships varies, and some of the links experience more participation in contrast to others. According to studies, attachment styles are closely interlinked with satisfaction in a relationship. It has also suggested that people who are securely attached are more likely to stay longer n relationships compared to those who have insecure attachments (Brennan, 1995). Bowlby (1982), in his observation, found out that children are likely to seek comfort and closeness to their caregiver whenever they experience anxiety or discomfort. The attachment theory attributes people’s likelihood to enter into intimate relationships as a fundamental human nature component that is likely to continue until old age. Attachment is essential in the interactions because it influences the frequency and way in which people express their feelings. Change is expected to take effect, but it doesn’t change the fact that people need support in the day to day life. The development theory explains how secure attachment develops over time until a person reaches adulthood. A person is most likely to take the beliefs and behaviors learned at an earlier stage into their adult life. Having a caregiver who checks on a child and ensures that they take care of the needs of the child would result in a child who is securely attached in the future. Attachment theory looks at a person’s ability to maintain intimate bonds and relationships that attain the desire o for intimacy often lead to more secure attachments at the individual level.


In conclusion, it is true that secure attachment is among the essential ingredients for attaining a relationship that is successful in adult life. Secure attachments also increase one’s confidence and their self-esteem enabling the individual to achieve more out of life. Secure attachment sets an individual on a clear path of self-actualization and in adult life; it allows the adult to seek support from the relationships formulated. Without the presence of secure attachments the children would grow up to become people who have self-worth issues and would face increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression. Having in place secure attachment protects a person from such risks and positively impacts their development to become well-grounded adults who can handle the success and failures of relationships.


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