In my ongoing process of (as I put it) working out what is WRONG with me … I’ve been looking at attachment.

Before you get on my case by describing myself in this way , I don’t mean it to sound as self critical as it may come across. I look at it this way, I’m 53. I have a number of wrecked personal relationships (with partners, not anyone else) at least the last two of which were highly abusive . The common factor in these is me … so, it’s only logical to look at me; my decision making, my motivators, my experiences, to see what’s going on and what I can change / work on.

As a result of this I know I’m an addict (drug of choice alcohol but I could get addicted to anything) that I have had very poor boundaries, low self esteem with a big dollop of Shame and perfectionism contributing to my acceptance of far more from partners that I should have accepted. I know that I’ve absorbed a whole load of subliminal messages about my own self worth from both my parents and society, and that I am relentlessly hard on myself in a way that I would never be to another.

All good stuff, and all things I can and have worked on…

This week at work I have been working with a multidisciplinary team of social workers, school and health visitors to tie up the ends of a child safeguarding case. Part of my job is child safeguarding lead from my practice and it’s a role I take seriously. I will not reveal details about the case, for obvious reasons, but it’s been long, complex and heart rending. As part of our work in this case we have had access to detailed child psychological reports which evaluate the attachments of the children. We talked as professionals with the reports’ author, and her professional opinion based on research about attachment and the psychological damage associated with poor attachment was both interesting and rather frightening.

Now, I had a much more secure upbringing than the children I mention earlier, with much better basic parenting, but the theories about attachment, and the consequences of poor or disordered childhood attachment are interesting to me.

Once again, I’m not looking at this to criticise or blame my parents, they did the best they could with the resources available to them; and I’m not blaming or criticising me .. but I know the power of recognising my weaknesses .. once I accepted that I was and had been deeply and profoundly ashamed of myself for more than 30 years.. I was able to access work on Shame, and I have made enormous progress in working through this and dumping a LOT of the shame …

in its most basic form, a man called John Bowlby developed a theory that human infants arrive in the world ready to make attachments, and how their needs are met has a profound impact, especially if the primary care giver is erratic, unavailable or insensitive. Essentially, if your primary care giver is consistent, present, reliable and kind you have a good chance to form a secure attachment …if not, as a young child you are thrown back on your own resources to manage you emotions / the difficulties if your world and problems develop.(BTW; I was relieved to read that the best caregivers only get it right 50% of the time 😏)

That’s a very quick summery ! And I haven’t started reading about adult attachment theory yet …

So, a lot of this makes sense to me, as a theory… and I like the idea that there are things one can work on to improve ones attachment style …So, on line there are little “quizzes” you can do to evaluate your attachment style ….(lots of them ! Most trying to get you to sign up for this or that ) …

So I’ve done a couple of these. And actually the thing that stuck me is how differently I would have answered those questions in the past. Whilst IN my last relationship, and probably until a couple of months ago… anyway, I came out as a mishmash really, not very strongly one thing or another (I’m believing this represents the transition between the ambivalent avoidant thing below, and the development of skills to form secure attachments)but the dominant “style” for me was ambivalent ….

Anyway, this is it …

Ambivalent Attachment

Children who inconsistently had their needs met by parents or caregivers may develop Ambivalent Attachment because they lacked confidence in their parents’ ability to attune to their needs. Parents may sometimes meet their needs, but not at other times. When children are faced with this dilemma, they often develop the ability to “read” situations and cues from their caregivers, causing them to become overly attuned to others and the belief that if they behave in a certain way, they may gain their parents’ affection. Children are often left desperately wishing for and wanting more affection, acceptance, and love.

This leads to confusion and insecurity when it comes to having their needs met. Children may become clingy with caregivers and try to extract more attention and acceptance from the parent. Children can become performance-oriented, people-pleasers as a result of learning that behaving in a certain way affords them the attention they crave.

There are also times when the conditions for Ambivalent adaptation might be due to medical circumstances or when a parent is dealing with their own issues like grieving a complicated loss where the child does not receive the consistent care and love needed.

Ambivalent Attachment in Adults

Adults with Ambivalent Attachment can become preoccupied with pursuing relationships and connection. They may have feelings of being unworthy, which causes desperate behaviors and love seeking. They may look for validation in others and define their own self-worth by how others perceive them. They can often over-emphasize the opinion of others in defining their value.

This can lead to insecurity, clinging, and deep feelings of anger and resentment when their needs are not met. They are often fearful of losing their relationships and desperately beg for forgiveness after outbursts when their needs are not met. This may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy by ending the relationship.

I How to Work Toward Secure Attachment,

By recognizing when needs were not met during childhood and acknowledging the impact on their adult relationships, adults are often able to identify patterns that are a direct result of their childhood experiences.

Surrounding yourself with trustworthy relationships and owning the behaviors that you see as detrimental to developing true Secure Attachment leads to awareness. Practicing self-regulation is helpful.

You may also begin to develop more Secure Attachment characteristics by being in a long-term relationship with a Securely Attached individual. ( ha ha, need to find one and recognise this first !!)

I don’t know what real relevance this Might have, over and above the other stuff im doing, but I thought it was interesting !


  1. Interesting. My mother was an alcoholic, deeply depressed. She grew up in post WW1 Germany with a working mother and soldier dad, probably alcoholic. In those days no one delved into psychology or thought much about child rearing. I know she spent a lot of time alone in the care of aunts or whatever adult was around. It was just the way things were then.

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    • Yes, and that’s one of the reasons I feel that no ‘blame’ is attached to care givers – who mostly try very hard to do their best- illnesses, trauma and disaster can really affect adults ability to respond as they might like to … but it does have an impact on the children. 🌷xx

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  2. I’ve read about this before! Attachment theory makes a lot of sense in how we end up the way we are with respect to others. I know I also had a serious case of insecure attachment to both of my parents and it has impacted my adult life severely. I’m working very hard, as you are, to fix that damage. Thanks for posting!

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      • I go to a one-on-one therapist who specializes in trauma. I have also been going to a weekly DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) group that focuses on basic skill use as well as substance abuse. I’ve been going to a general DBT group for about a year and a half, the substance abuse DBT group just started a month ago. DBT is awesome for people with all kinds of trauma, including complex childhood trauma and attachment issues. It has really helped me so much. I like to describe DBT as CBT got together with Buddhist philosophies and had a baby!


      • I also read a lot. Everything by Brene Brown, The Great Work of your Life by Stephen Cope, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Also yoga and meditation. I’m in no way perfect, it’s a daily struggle. My emotions are still overwhelming sometimes. Progress, not perfection…🤪


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