Attachment theory individual psychodynamics and relationship functioning

Attachment Theory | Simply Psychology

attachment theory individual psychodynamics and relationship functioning

Bowlby [ 2] contended that internal working models of attachment help to said to derive wholly from attachment theory, a number of psychodynamic In contrast, dismissing individuals devalue the importance of attachment relationships or. Freud conceived of each person as having a central relationship pattern, Autonomous functioning in the world is facilitated by the sense that one has a secure base of . Although attachment theory and many psychodynamic theories of. Psychodynamic; Sigmund Freud · Erik Erikson · Carl Jung; Social; Solomon Asch Discuss research into the influence of early attachment on adult relationships the internal working model, which was proposed by Bowlby in his monotropic theory. have an innate tendency to form an attachment to one particular person .

Bowlby suggested that a child would initially form only one primary attachment monotropy and that the attachment figure acted as a secure base for exploring the world.

The attachment relationship acts as a prototype for all future social relationships so disrupting it can have severe consequences. This theory also suggests that there is a critical period for developing an attachment about 0 -5 years. If an attachment has not developed during this period, then the child will suffer from irreversible developmental consequences, such as reduced intelligence and increased aggression.

These infants were highly dependent on their mothers for nutrition, protection, comfort, and socialization. What, exactly, though, was the basis of the bond? The behavioral theory of attachment would suggest that an infant would form an attachment with a carer that provides food.

Harry Harlow did a number of studies on attachment in rhesus monkeys during the 's and 's. His experiments took several forms: They had no contact with each other or anybody else. He kept some this way for three months, some for six, some for nine and some for the first year of their lives. He then put them back with other monkeys to see what effect their failure to form attachment had on behavior. The monkeys engaged in bizarre behavior such as clutching their own bodies and rocking compulsively.

They were then placed back in the company of other monkeys. To start with the babies were scared of the other monkeys, and then became very aggressive towards them. They were also unable to communicate or socialize with other monkeys.

The other monkeys bullied them. They indulged in self-mutilation, tearing hair out, scratching, and biting their own arms and legs. The extent of the abnormal behavior reflected the length of the isolation. Those kept in isolation for three months were the least affected, but those in isolation for a year never recovered the effects of privation.

Four of the monkeys could get milk from the wire mother and four from the cloth mother. The animals were studied for days. Both groups of monkeys spent more time with the cloth mother even if she had no milk. The infant would only go to the wire mother when hungry.

Once fed it would return to the cloth mother for most of the day. If a frightening object was placed in the cage the infant took refuge with the cloth mother its safe base. This surrogate was more effective in decreasing the youngsters fear. The infant would explore more when the cloth mother was present. This supports the evolutionary theory of attachment, in that it is the sensitive response and security of the caregiver that is important as opposed to the provision of food.

The behavioral differences that Harlow observed between the monkeys who had grown up with surrogate mothers and those with normal mothers were; a They were much more timid.

These behaviors were observed only in the monkeys who were left with the surrogate mothers for more than 90 days. For those left less than 90 days the effects could be reversed if placed in a normal environment where they could form attachments.

Clinging is a natural response - in times of stress the monkey runs to the object to which it normally clings as if the clinging decreases the stress. He also concluded that early maternal deprivation leads to emotional damage but that its impact could be reversed in monkeys if an attachment was made before the end of the critical period. However, if maternal deprivation lasted after the end of the critical period, then no amount of exposure to mothers or peers could alter the emotional damage that had already occurred.

Harlow found therefore that it was social deprivation rather than maternal deprivation that the young monkeys were suffering from. When he brought some other infant monkeys up on their own, but with 20 minutes a day in a playroom with three other monkeys, he found they grew up to be quite normal emotionally and socially.

Other research has found that anxiously attached individuals may react with more anger when perceiving a potential relationship threat Mikulincer, a. It is hypothesized that anxiously attached individuals fear abandonment by their romantic partners; they do not feel that their partner is predictable and dependable i.

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  • The Implications of Attachment Theory in Counseling and Psychotherapy

Currently, findings are unclear regarding the pattern of association between attachment insecurity i. In general, the literature on trust, attachment anxiety, jealousy, and partner abuse reveals that these phenomena are complex and that there are both individual and relational factors at play.

The risk regulation model Murray et al. Thus, it is possible for individuals who do not trust their partners to be more likely to engage in maladaptive relationship behaviors and aggression e. We also expected that distrust would be associated with higher levels of physical and psychological partner perpetration Hypothesis 3particularly among anxiously attached individuals Hypothesis 4.

METHOD Participants and Procedure Individuals in committed romantic relationships of at least 3 months were recruited from a large metropolitan university. Relationship length ranged from 1 month to Regarding relationship status, 6. Participants were recruited through flyers posted around the psychology building and via an online research management system.

Interested individuals were instructed to sign up for the study via the online research management system. After signing up, participants were provided the link to the online survey, which they completed at their leisure. Upon entering the survey, all participants reviewed the informed consent document, provided consent, and were routed to the survey. Participants received extra course credit as an incentive for participation. Each item is answered based on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 7 strongly agree.

Participants reported how cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally jealous they are. Each subscale contains eight items. The Cognitive Jealousy subscale asks participants how often they have a particular set of thoughts. The Emotional Jealousy subscale asks participants how they would emotionally react to a set of situations. Finally, the Behavioral Jealousy subscale asks participants how often they engage in a set of behaviors.

This accessibility was examined in threat-related contexts. Study participants completed avoidance and anxiety scales Brennan et al.

attachment theory individual psychodynamics and relationship functioning

Participants then performed either a lexical decision task or a Stroop color-naming task, providing multiple indicators of the accessibility reaction times, or RTs of representations of attachment figures, close persons, known persons, and unknown persons immediately after subliminal presentation of either a threat-prime the word failure or separation or a neutral word hat, umbrella.

The findings consistently showed that unconsciously presented threatening words automatically activated cognitive representations of attachment figures. Across the four studies, participants reacted to threat contexts with heightened accessibility of the names of the people listed on the WHOTO scale as serving attachment functions. As compared to subliminal priming with neutral words e.

In both cases, fast lexical decision RTs and slow color-naming RTs were interpreted as manifestations of heightened activation of representations of attachment figures in threatening contexts. Importantly, the priming of threat words increased the accessibility of representations of attachment figures but had no effect on representations of close others who did not serve attachment functions, representations of known persons, and representations of unknown persons.

Moreover, the accessibility of representations of attachment figures was not restricted to the priming of a specific kind of threat word related vs. Rather, it occurred both when an attachment-unrelated failure and an attachment-related separation threat word was primed, which indicates that even a threatening context that is unrelated to attachment themes can heighten the accessibility of representations of attachment figures.

Our findings suggest that there are universal, normative features of the attachment behavioral system. When threatened even unconsciously the adult mind turns automatically to representations of attachment figures. These findings provide support for the protective function of the attachment system, delineate its cognitive substrate, and increase our confidence in the psychological reality of the system.

The studies are important in part because they show how core ideas in attachment theory can be tested regardless of how one conceptualizes and measures individual differences in attachment styles or states of mind. The growing literature on attachment-system activation should prove interesting to attachment researchers of all persuasions.

Despite normative processes, however, there is also very interesting evidence concerning individual differences in the activation, inhibition, and dynamics of the attachment behavioral system.

attachment theory individual psychodynamics and relationship functioning

This evidence, which is reviewed in the following section, is particularly important for delineating the psychodynamic mechanisms underlying attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. Individual Differences in Attachment-System Activation In the priming studies described above, there were a number of important but as yet unmentioned results regarding individual differences in attachment style.

Secure people exhibited greater access to thoughts about proximity and love and to the names of attachment figures only in a threatening context, not in a neutral context Mikulincer et al. Rather, attachment-related cognitions seem to be adaptively activated when a transaction requires that some coping action be taken.

It is possible that this positive history creates distance in semantic memory between activation of the attachment system and worries about rejection or separation.

Overall, the findings for secure individuals indicate that their attachment system operates in a functional way. The system is activated mainly by threats to well-being, and activation is circumscribed to attachment themes with positive affective connotations. Thus, thinking about love and closeness to an attachment figure may lead to a state of anticipated relief and comfort, thereby reducing the distress evoked by a threatening event.

Second, they had ready access to attachment-related worries e. As in the studies of positive affect induction summarized earlier, activation of the attachment system in the case of anxious individuals is colored by worries about separation and rejection.

attachment theory individual psychodynamics and relationship functioning

Moreover, the cognitive linkage between attachment and rejection may discourage anxious people from expressing feelings and seeking support in times of need Feeney,a. Avoidant individuals yielded an even more complex pattern of findings.

In general, their pattern of access to attachment themes resembled that observed among secure persons Mikulincer et al. However, there were some important differences between secure and avoidant individuals. First, for avoidant persons, attachment-related worries were relatively inaccessible even when the word "death" was used as a subliminal prime, despite the fact that thoughts of death are usually potent activators of attachment-related fears.

Second, the attachment-related worries of avoidant individuals did become mentally active in response to threat primes when a "cognitive load" was added to the lexical decision task i. Third, although avoidance was not associated with lexical decision RTs for the names of attachment figures when the threatening subliminal prime word was failure, scores on the avoidance dimension of Brennan et al. Although we do not know, or require theoretically, that avoidance as we measure it can be traced back to experiences in early childhood, it is possible that inhibitory neural circuits developed in childhood as a means of attaining a degree of proximity and protection without provoking rejection are still active in adults when the word "separation" is encountered unconsciously.

The Price of Distrust: Trust, Anxious Attachment, Jealousy, and Partner Abuse

It seems that avoidant individuals preconsciously activate attachment themes despite their conscious denial of any need for love and support.

It is equally important to note, however, that preconscious activation of the attachment system in avoidant persons is automatically, and very quickly, inhibited in contexts where separation is at issue. In such cases, their responses in the lexical decision and Stroop tasks resemble their self-reported feelings and their actual behavior in interpersonal situations. It seems that avoidant adults have learned not to appeal to attachment figures when those figures are threatening to leave — in fact, have learned to inhibit the natural tendency to seek proximity, which we know they possess, at least in non-attachment-related threatening conditions.

Their self-reports of avoidance may be fairly accurate summaries of their behavior in attachment-related situations, even though they have no way of knowing how their attachment system and inhibitory neural networks generate their avoidant behavior. Our understanding of avoidant adults is compatible with Ainsworth et al. The findings from our recent priming studies suggest that avoidant individuals are good at suppressing proximity-related worries.

Only under conditions of high cognitive load, which may interfere with inhibitory circuits and heighten the accessibility of to-be-suppressed material, do avoidant individuals experience intense activation of attachment-related worries.

attachment theory individual psychodynamics and relationship functioning

This discovery may provide a better understanding of prior findings concerning the vulnerability of avoidant people. This distress may eventually lead to serious difficulties. For example, in the Berant et al. An Integrative Representation of the Dynamics of the Attachment System Based on findings from studies using self-report measures, it is possible to create a more complete model of the activation and dynamics of the attachment system. The new model see Figure 1 includes three major components.

One component involves the monitoring and appraisal of threatening and distress-eliciting events; it is responsible for activation of the attachment system. This component is responsible for individual differences in the sense of having a secure base. The third component involves the monitoring and appraisal of the viability of proximity seeking as a means of coping with attachment insecurity and distress.

This component is responsible for individual differences in the use of hyperactivating versus deactivating strategies of affect regulation. This part of the model accounts for results showing that both attachment-related and attachment-unrelated threatening contexts heighten implicit accessibility of mental representations of attachment figures e. Moreover, this cycle encourages a person to openly acknowledge future threats and stresses and also to rely comfortably on proximity seeking as a coping strategy.

The perceived unavailability of an attachment figure results in attachment insecurity, or the sense of not having a secure base, which compounds the distress initiated by perception of a threatening event. This state of insecurity then forces a decision about the viability of proximity seeking as a protective strategy.

When proximity seeking is appraised as a viable option, because of attachment history, temperamental factors, or contextual cues, people adopt hyperactivating strategies which are manifested in an approach orientation toward attachment figures and continued vigilance toward threat-related cues.

In this way, a continuing cycle of distress is created, which interferes with cognitive functioning, maintains a sense of pain and distress, and makes it likely that new sources of distress will mingle and become confounded with old ones, which creates a chaotic, undifferentiated mental architecture and incoherent state of mind.

These excitatory circuits account for findings concerning the cognitive, affective, and behavioral manifestations of attachment anxiety. The appraisal of proximity seeking as not being viable results in the adoption of deactivating strategies, which are manifested in distancing from both the source of distress and from attachment figures and in attempts to handle distress alone by relying on suppressive and repressive mechanisms.

These strategies involve inhibitory circuits that lead to the dismissal of threat- and attachment-related cues, the suppression of threat- and attachment-related thoughts and emotions, and the repression of threat- and attachment-related memories. These inhibitory circuits are further reinforced by the adoption of a self-reliant attitude that deters both dependence on others and acknowledgment of personal faults or weaknesses.

These inhibitory circuits account for findings concerning the cognitive, affective, and behavioral manifestations of attachment avoidance. Although these inhibitory circuits can be viewed as effective in preventing threat acknowledgment and consequent activation of the attachment system, there are cases in which the circuits fail to achieve these deactivating goals.

Such cases include encounters with severe and prolonged sources of distress that people cannot dismiss or deny, and also subliminal exposure to threat-related cues that bypass the avoidant cognitive shield. In these cases, the attachment system is activated, attachment-related cognitions become accessible, and deactivating strategies are exacerbated in order to inhibit these cognitions.

However, when threat acknowledgment cannot be suppressed, as in the case of mothers of infants with severe and life-endangering cardiac disorders Berant et al. Whereas dismissing avoidance involves the adequate functioning of deactivating strategies and inhibition of acknowledging threat-related cues and attachment needs, fearful avoidance may involve the collapse of these strategies under severely stressful conditions.

Phillip R. Shaver & Mario Mikulincer, 'Attachment-Related Psychodynamics' ()

Fearfully avoidant individuals simultaneously want closeness to attachment figures but also feel unable to trust and rely on them. This may cause their attachment systems to remain activated while their behavioral strategies suggest deactivation. It is important to note that all components of the model, including the neural circuits we are postulating, can operate either consciously or unconsciously.

Moreover, these components and circuits can operate in either parallel or opposite ways at conscious and unconscious levels. It also explains why some avoidant individuals exhibit heightened accessibility of attachment-related worries under cognitively demanding conditions that prevent more controlled inhibition of these worries Mikulincer et al.

Under such conditions, part of the deactivation process is interfered with, and the underlying attachment insecurity shows itself. Conclusions, Future Directions Our review of recent research demonstrates that self-report measures of attachment, when combined with a variety of other measures and experimental procedures, produce interesting and coherent findings that fit well with derivations and predictions from attachment theory.

Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy Research

Although the self-report measures were not intended to tap unconscious processes directly, individual differences on self-report attachment measures do relate to measurable unconscious processes, including the kinds of defensive processes described by psychoanalytic theorists.

We use self-report measures in somewhat the same way that physicians use simple indicators of health and illness — e. If a particular illness is suspected, there are more complex procedures for confirming it and tracking its course, just as there are additional ways to probe the workings of secure and insecure attachment systems.

The patterns of findings obtained with self-report measures are highly compatible with the contents of AAI transcripts, the issues addressed in the AAI coding system, and findings obtained with the AAI. Thus, the experimental research procedures reviewed here offer a way to bridge the gap between narrative, clinically revealing attachment measures and the self-report literature on adult attachment.

Moreover, because of the range of measures and methods used in the social psychological line of research on attachment, it is possible to probe and refine our understanding of causes, correlates, and consequences of attachment-related processes.

We therefore know relatively little about links between these interviews and the range of processes and outcomes reviewed in the present article.

Moreover, the AAI and CRI are focused entirely on individual differences in "state of mind with respect to attachment" and therefore do not reveal much about the normative workings of the attachment behavioral system.