Ambivalent (Anxious) Attachment

All attachment styles are the child’s response to the behaviour of the mother (or primary caregiver).  The child’s brain is being wired in certain directions regarding intimate relationships, based on the primary relationship; with the mother.

There can be a few reasons for the development of the ambivalent (anxious) attachment style. It can be due to the parent not being consistently available in the way the child needs them to be, or she limits natural infant exploration maybe due to her own fears or compulsions, or it can be a result of a child’s biological vulnerability.

So, either the mother is worried for the child’s physical safety and this restricts the child’s natural expansion of her circle of safety, or sometimes the mother is available and loving and sometimes completely unavailable, as might be the case with an alcoholic mother. This is confusing for the child.

The child doesn’t trust that the mother will be there in the way the child needs them to be, so the child remains close to the mother and becomes distressed when she leaves. More attention is given to the mother, so there is less exploration of the environment and more fear than with a securely attached child.

As an adult these people can be clingy, afraid of being alone, and put up with unhealthy relationships in order to not be alone. Even in a secure, committed relationship, they may be fearful that their partner might leave them, or cheat on them. They may feel intuitively that the world is an unsafe pace and that they don’t have the necessary skills to be fully in the world.

It is important for this group to get in touch with their deep inner needs. To identify their emotions, be with them and share them. Sharing this information will be frightening, as the learned response has been inconsistent. However, with time, therapy and supportive people around it can be done!

*A great paper on this style is: Cassidy, J. & Berlin, L. J. (1994). The insecure / ambivalent pattern of attachment: Theory and research. Child Development, 65, 971-991

*Attachment theory by John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth & Main & Solomon

Ambivalent (Anxious) Attachment