Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Parents - What Is Your Attachment Style?

The last post spoke to attachment patterns in children. Patterns of attachment, born from early childhood relationships, are evident in parents, as well.

Mary Main examined how parents reflected on their childhoods and important relationships to gain some understanding about how they internalized their early connections and experiences and, thus, how they related in the present. Four typical patterns emerged:


Parents considered autonomous in their attachment pattern tend to easily remember their early experiences and see them as important. They are described as self-reliant, objective, insightful, and able to incorporate both positive and painful memories into their narrative. These parents seem to have a balanced and realistic view of what it means to relate to others. Children of these kinds of parents are generally securely attached.


Parents considered dismissive in their attachment pattern feel more indifferent to their early childhood experiences and relationships. They do not recall much about important connections and tend to have contradictory feelings about their parents; they idealize them but recount incidents that are contradictory to this idealized image. These parents are typically a little more detached, appear strong and independent but hold onto feelings of disappointment and hurt. Children of these kinds of parents generally have an avoidant attachment pattern.


Parents considered preoccupied in their attachment pattern feel confused about their past relationships and may have a hard time coherently recounting their experiences. They can become flooded with memories that elicit feelings of anger and conflict about a desire to please, which are sometimes hard to manage. Children of these kinds of parents generally display an ambivalent attachment pattern.


Parents considered disorganized in their attachment show no typical pattern of recounting their own early experiences or in relationship to others. These parents often experienced early childhood traumas, abuse and/or neglect. Their children tend to also display disorganized patterns of attachment.

Main's research on attachment patterns and how they are transmitted helps us understand the process by which our parents become a part of us and we become a part of our children. The more parents know and understand about their own attachment patterns, the more likely they are to be able to make changes, where desired, and, thus,  influence their children's future relationships.

Karen, R. (1990). Becoming attached. The Atlantic Monthly, pp. 35-70.