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Avoidant attachment (in children and adults): this is how it affects us

Avoidant attachment (in children and adults): this is how it affects us

June 17, 2024

Attachment is a type of emotional bond that exists between two human beings and that is associated with intimate relationships, such as those between mothers and children. People show different types of attachment that develop during early childhood and tend to remain stable during adolescence and adulthood.

In a very high proportion of cases, babies form secure attachments, but others do not manage to do so, but show an insecure attachment; This in turn can be divided into ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment. In this article we will describe the main characteristics of avoidant attachment in children and adults .

  • Related article: "The Theory of Attachment and the bond between parents and children"

A psychological aspect that affects us throughout life

John Bowlby, a psychologist and psychiatrist influenced by psychoanalysis but also by ethology and evolutionism, developed the theory of attachment, according to which humans we are phylogenetically predisposed to form emotional bonds with those who take care of us and provide us with security. Attachment has been studied mostly in babies, but also in adults.


Different authors have made classifications of attachment patterns based on their observations and research. In the 1960s and 1970s Mary Dinsmore Ainsworth carried out pioneering studies in the field of attachment using the experimental paradigm of the "strange situation" , with which he evaluated the behavior of children before the separation of his mother.

Thanks to his famous research Ainsworth identified three patterns of attachment: the insurance, the avoidant or rejecting and the ambivalent or resistant . These last two may in turn be categorized as "insecure attachment". While 65% of babies showed a secure attachment pattern, 20% of babies were classified as avoidant and 12% as ambivalent.


Research has shown that the type of attachment remains stable throughout life in most people, although it can sometimes be modified, for example because of the educational style adopted by parents or significant life events, such as the death of an attachment figure.

In 1987 Cindy Hazan and Phillip R. Shaver studied attachment in adults through multiple-choice questionnaires and found that the proportion in which they had safe, avoidant and ambivalent attachment patterns was very similar to the one that Ainsworth had found in infants .

  • Maybe you're interested: "Child attachment: definition, functions and types"

Avoidant attachment in children

In the experiment of the strange situation of Ainsworth the children with avoidant attachment got angry easily, they did not look for their mothers when they needed them They seemed indifferent to their absence and ignored them or behaved ambivalently when they returned. However, sometimes they were very sociable with strangers.


In contrast, babies with a secure attachment pattern were confident about exploring the environment and returning to their mother from time to time, seeking safety. If the mother left the room, the children cried and complained, and when they returned they were happy. They also had a lesser tendency to anger.

Ainsworth hypothesized that the attitude of these children concealed states of emotional distress; Subsequent studies showed that his heart rate was high, which supported the hypothesis. According to Ainsworth, babies with avoidance attachment had learned that communicating their emotional needs to the mother did not work and therefore they did not do it.

This was due to the fact that they had had experiences of rejection of their approach behaviors and of fostering attachment on the part of the main attachment figure. He also stated that his needs had often not been met by his parents.

The behavior of babies with this type of attachment is paradoxical in the sense that it allows to maintain a certain closeness with the close relatives that provides the baby with a sense of security and at the same time prevents them from responding with rejection to the approach , according to Ainsworth.

  • Related article: "The different forms of child abuse"

In adults

Several investigations have studied the characteristics of attachment in adults through self-report questionnaires. Avoidant attachment is divided into two differentiated patterns during adulthood: the avoidant-derogatory and the fearful-avoidant . The presence of one or another pattern is probably due to specific life experiences.

The avoidant-derogatory style manifests itself in an exaggerated need for independence and self-sufficiency, as well as preventing others from depending on one.Many people with this pattern of attachment think that interpersonal relationships are not relevant and deny needing intimacy with others, so try not to overdo it.

People with this type of attachment often hide and repress their feelings, they distance themselves from others when they feel rejected by them and behave in a way that prevents such rejection. Different authors consider that the avoidant-derogatory pattern has an emotional protection function.

Similarly, those who are classified in the avoidant-fearful attachment category claim that they want intimate interpersonal relationships but have difficulty trusting others and depending on them for fear of being hurt emotionally. Consequently, they feel uncomfortable in intimate situations.

This pattern has been identified most frequently in people who have gone through significant duels or who have suffered traumas during childhood and adolescence. In many cases they feel dissatisfied with themselves and with the people with whom they have developed attachments.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Psychic traumas: concept, realities ... and some myths"

The Attachment Theory- How Your Childhood Affects Your Relationships. (June 2024).


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