‘Mom, I Don’t Need You’: Attachment Avoidance In Children

'Mom, I don't need you': avoidant attachment in children

Attachment is an intense, emotional bond and plays a huge role in our relationships. While some species are harmful, bonding itself is healthy and even necessary. It develops in childhood, one of the most important, formative periods in a person’s life. That is, if any sort of negligence or harmful behavior occurs during this time, it can result in avoidant attachment.

If the environment we grew up in has caused us to develop this type of attachment, we will face many difficulties building healthy relationships. However, we will not be aware of all these problems until we are adults. There are even adults with problems that come from their attachment style, but who are not aware of what caused it.

Returning to the theme of childhood, let’s think about how children adapt to the environment in which they happen to be born. If the parents are too pushy or too aloof, children will develop defensive strategies to deal with their parents’ behavior as a result. One of these strategies is an avoidant attachment style.

Ainsworth’s Experiment

Mary Ainsworth  conducted several studies that ultimately identified three types of attachment: avoidant, secure, and ambivalent. Of these species, only a secure attachment is ideal. The rest are described as dysfunctional attachment styles.

Speaking of research into the first type of attachment, which we focus on in this article, Ainsworth conducted an experiment called ‘strange situation’. In it, she studied the behavior of babies when separated from their mothers.

What Ainsworth discovered with her experiment was very revealing. The children became angry very quickly, in other words they were very prone to anger. But  they did something different from what kids would normally do: they didn’t look to their mothers  when they needed them.

Mother slightly ignoring her baby leading to avoidant attachment

For example, a baby with a secure or healthy attachment style will most likely start crying when their mother leaves the room or takes physical distance. But when his mother returns, he will stop crying and start to feel safe, calm and happy again.

None of this happened to babies with an avoidant attachment style. They were indifferent. They didn’t care if the mother came back or left. They apparently did not provide them with the security that every child needs.

The most striking thing about Ainsworth’s experiment is that children with this attachment style literally ignore their mother. But with strangers, however, they were friendly, more sociable. Ainsworth concluded that because the babies hadn’t learned to communicate their emotional needs to their mothers (or they did, but it didn’t work), they learned not to need them.

Avoidant attachment and its consequences in adult life

An avoidant attachment style has serious consequences for any adult. To date, several studies have chosen to classify this type of attachment into two types: dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. Let’s look at how these two perspectives influence attachment avoidance in adulthood.

People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment tend to be very independent. In addition, they are seen as self-sufficient. This causes them to reject anyone who has any intention of being dependent on them. In a similar way, they are reluctant to deepen relationships because they refuse to “attach” to anyone.

Avoidant attachment in children can lead to avoidant behavior as adults

On the other hand, people with an anxious-avoidant attachment want to bond very deeply with others. However, their fear always wins over them. That is why it is very difficult for them to trust people as they have a strong fear that they will be hurt. When they are able to manage intimacy with other people, they feel very uncomfortable.

People with an avoidant attachment style have a lot of trouble expressing their feelings. Their refusal to connect with people is nothing more than a strategy to protect themselves from possible rejection. They have learned to defend themselves, to move forward without the protection of their parents. That is why they have become so self-sufficient. But, and even though you may not see this at first glance, they suffer greatly from this.

Childhood is a very important stage. Ensuring that they have a secure attachment will help children become adults capable of building healthy relationships. However, if this does not happen, they will continue to live with behaviors based on the strategies they learned as children to protect themselves. It is a situation that will become increasingly unbearable. 

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