Thursday, January 04, 2018


“Attachment theory” is an often useful idea about why some people fall in love and never leave that faithfulness, why some are soon restless and break off, and why some never attach to anyone else at all.  As soon as someone has an idea like this theory, people pounce on it — whether they are professional counselors or not and whether they are using the idea in their own interest or not.  

I’m relying on the material in Wikipedia for this discussion, specifically the article called “attachment measures” which is about “instruments” to try to achieve some kind of objectivity about what is going on, though the phenomenon itself is quite observable and logical.  Infants, even birds, must attach to parents in order to survive.  The style they learn from the interaction of their personal physiology/temperament with the situation is one that will persist through life, not least because it becomes biologically wired into their brain domains at a primal level.  It becomes the style of romantic relationships, the style of relationship with institutions, and in religions with a focus on a god or on ancestors, their “faith.”  Normally, one’s attachment style is below consciousness.

One system organizes the types of attachment as secure, anxious-ambivalent, anxious-avoidant, and disorganized/controlling.  Each of these types has sub-categories with more detail or maybe as “fall-back” strategies.  There are other systems:  one uses only two dimensions: anxiety about the relationship and avoidance in the relationship.  A third uses four categories, but they are named as secure, preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful avoidant.  The wiki entry doesn’t discuss how much the circumstances of the times (The Great Depression, World War) acting on the ability and way of the care-giver or schools can shape a whole generation of children into people who will have a different kind of care-giving that will shape the next subsequent generation.

Strategies and tests described in this entry are mostly meant for young children and amount to devising situations and then recording the reactions.  This is a common psych strategy but the range of cleverness and reliability of the results, let alone the sensitivity and empathy of the interpreter, make all the difference.  For adults, there is the dimension of acceptance and insight by the person being tested — which is a direct result of the person’s attachment style!  

One test, by Smyke and Zeanah, is given to the caregivers.  Called Disturbances of Attachment Interview, it became important when dealing with “warehoused” children who failed to form any attachment.  Such investigations are also vital in a time when many children have a sequence of caregivers, either because of fostering, adoption or simply because the parents are gone to work or are sociologically separated, as in the historical British system of delegating childcare to nannies.

The 12 items on this test include:
Having a discriminated, preferred adult
Seeking comfort when distressed
Responding to comfort when offered
Social and emotional reciprocity
Emotional regulation
Checking back after venturing away from the care giver
Reticence with unfamiliar adults
Willingness to go off with relative strangers
Self-endangering behavior
Excessive clinging
Role Reversal

If a person were needing a kernel dynamic for a story, they might begin with one of the four categories devised by Bartholomew and Horowitz.  The categories are described in self-statements:

SECURE:  It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others.  I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me.  I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.
DISMISSIVE:  I am comfortable without close emotional relationships.  It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.
PREOCCUPIED:  I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get close as I would like.  I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.
FEARFUL:  I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others.  I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them.  I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close others.

One can imagine infinite plots generated by people with different styles trying to get attuned to each other, even enough to work closely.  Another consideration is that “conscientiousness”, the awareness of expectations and painful attempts to work against one’s own nature in order to do “the right thing,” can confuse life.  And for those aforementioned writers, they can become so immersed in imagined persons that they neglect the expectations of the real people in their lives, which makes them unpredictable to those around them.  Writers tend to be dismissive and that makes real people angry because of frustrated overtures.

The “Experiences in Close Relationships” questionnaire is online at  

As with everything in life, one’s time and place provide context for how things turn out, and one of the great human tragedies is being trapped in circumstances that don’t fit one’s nature without any idea how to change, to adapt, to find work-arounds.  We have been watching for decades now as gay men finally are released into relationships and work that fit their inner lives.  When women are economically dependent on men that is highly problematic as well.

This material and line of thought is from an approach called “Object Relations” which has mostly unfolded in England.  Some people know it as “teddy bear psychology” because of its recognition that little children can slide the care-giver’s qualities onto a toy they can carry with them as a source of reassurance.  The intensity of attachment to a teddy bear or a “blankie” is legendary.  Removal of that object is the same as removing the caregiver, so no wonder that the storms are major.  If the actual caregiver is undependable or remote, the consequences of separation from the substitute can approach psychosis and deform a person for life, particularly in terms of close partners, sexual or not.

We are in swirling, uncertain, poorly defined times of terrifying dissension.  Teddy bears are everywhere and people who “cosplay” even become teddy bears.  We love our mascots in sports.  I wonder whether anyone has researched violent outbursts of destruction as revenge against betraying caregivers.  These concepts help us figure it out.

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