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Counselling4you works with attachment issues every day. Its symptoms vary enormously and are probably the root cause of at least three quarters of the problems we help clients with. It is one of the fundamental areas we have trained in because attachment is essential to the development of the human being's social and emotional brain.

What Is Attachment?

Attachment is a term used to describe the bond that forms (Secure Attachment) or does not form (Insecure Attachment) between a baby and its parental figures. This early relationship is the most important foundation for mental health and a child's development.

Neuroscience is increasingly proving that the roots of secure/insecure attachment can begin before birth, in the womb. The level of attachment and brain development is dependent on many factors including, the mother's mental/physical health, what she eats, drinks, smokes, what the relationship with husband/partner is, exercise, bereavement, how wanted the baby is and so on.

The levels of stress hormones coming through the umbilical cord have a profound influence on the growth of the unborn child's brain. Once born the brain growth is still largely dependent on whether the child's emotional and practical needs are met and by the level of attachment reached with the primary caregivers.

It is one of the most fundamental issues at the start of a child's emotional life and determines the ability to love both others and ourselves. It affects our core self-worth, inner value and our very perception of life, setting a template which will last its entire life.

Attachment behaviour follows a recognisable paten and a predictable course in all human beings. Attachment theory provides not only a framework for understanding emotional reactions in infants, but also a framework for understanding love, loneliness, and grief in adults.

Babies with secure attachment usually go on to be confident children who are more resilient and less prone to mental health problems. Without secure attachment figure/s deep psychological damage can occur which can affect our understanding of many or all of our emotions, how we interpret them, how we react to every situation in our life, and our ability to react and deal with people, what-ever our relationship is with them.

When an infant is separated from its parent, the infant will go through a series of three stages of emotional reactions.

First is protest, in which the infant cries and refuses to be consoled by others demanding the return of his/her attachment figure. (Could last for up to 1 week).

Second is despair, in which the infant slowly loses hope that the attachment figure will return, she/he becomes sad, passive and grieves. This could take up to 10 days.

Third is detachment, in which the infant slowly emerges from withdrawal and starts to notice his/her surroundings. The infant will look to attach to another figure and may actively disregard and avoid the parent if the parent returns, this relationship may take a long while to be rebuild and can be a painful journey

Secure Attachment

Infants who are securely attached generally do not experience significant upset when separated from their primary caregivers. If they become frightened they will seek comfort from the parent or caregiver. Contact readily given by a parent is readily accepted and they greet the return of a caregiver with positive response and behaviour. These infants are also less disruptive, less aggressive, are more empathetic and generally more mature than children with other attachment styles.

Parents of securely attached children tend to play more with their children. In addition these parents react quicker to their children's needs and are generally more responsive to their children than the parents of insecurely attached children.

Secure adults do not often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to them. They tend to have trusting, long-term relationships, also have a higher self-esteem, better enjoy intimate relationships, seeking out social support, and have an ability to share feelings with other people.  

Insecure - Avoidant

Infants with avoidant attachment styles tend to be distant and avoid parents/caregivers. This avoidance often becomes especially pronounced after a period of absence. These children might not reject attention from a parent, but neither do they seek our comfort or contact. There is no expectation of comfort so the child has to cope on his/her own. Children with an avoidant attachment show no preference between a parent and a complete stranger. 

Avoidant adults tend to have difficulty with intimacy and close relationships. They are nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, love partners want them to be more intimate than they feel comfortable being. They find it difficult to trust others completely and allow themselves to depend on others. They do not invest much emotion in relationships and experience little distress when a relationship ends. They often avoid intimacy by using many differing excuses or may fantasize about other people during sex. They may also be more accepting and likely to engage in casual sex


Infants who are ambivalently attached tend to be extremely suspicious of strangers. These children display considerable distress when separated from a parent or caregiver, but do not seem reassured or comforted by the return of the parent. These children both demand and at the same time resist attention by refusing comfort; they tend to be clingy, over demanding and emotionally taxing. In some cases they may openly display direct aggression toward the parent/caregiver or be passively aggressive.

Adults with an ambivalent attachment are often reluctant to get as close to others as they would like and worry that their partner does not really love them or will not want to stay with them. This leads to frequent break-ups, often because the relationship feels cold and distant. These adults feel especially distraught after the end of a relationship and may cling to young children as a source of security. Others may want to merge completely with another person and this desire sometimes scares people away.

Insecure Disorganised

Infants with disorganised-insecure attachment show a lack of clear attachment behaviour. Their actions and responses to parents/caregivers are often a mixture of behaviours, including avoidance or resistance.

These children are described as displaying dazed behaviour, sometimes seeming either confused or apprehensive in the presence of a parent/caregiver. This may be because of the inconsistent behaviour of the parents/caregivers, i.e. parents who give both fear and reassurance to a child, the child feels both comforted and frightened by the parent, confusion results. 

Non- Attachment

These infants have generally been raised in establishments other than a "normal" household environment, where there have been a number of caregivers or where the caregivers have been unavailable either on a emotionally or physically level.

These children will generally have many social and behavioural problems, anger, aggression, uncontrollable impulses and may have developmental issues.