Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 2/4: ambivalent or preoccupied attachment

This is the second of four articles about attachment styles, the way we form relationships and view ourselves based on early experiences of nurturing. The first article briefly outlined the groundbreaking research of Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby and described the avoidant attachment style, in which emotions are either unavailable or feel dangerous to express. This article explains the origin and characteristics of ambivalent attachment, in which the infant is preoccupied with the presence of the parent whose emotional availability is unpredictable, and carries this model of relationships into adult life, passively or angrily fearing that their partner doesn’t love them.

Each article ends with an example of popular songs which encapsulate what it means to live the attachment style, and asks how counselling or psychotherapy can help change the pattern. The ambivalent attachment style is illustrated by Harry Nilsson’s Without You and Radiohead’s Creep, and the combination of avoidant and ambivalent attachments in relationship is illustrated by Wham’s Freedom.

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Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 1/4: avoidant or dismissive attachment

Often someone finds themself back in a familiar and distressing situation with a partner or friends, thinking ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ or ‘Why do I always end up here?’ The first step towards breaking out of unhealthy relationship patterns is to recognise the repetition, and our own part in perpetuating it, so that we have conscious choices about our own behaviour.

The attachment model for understanding relationships focuses on the nature of the bond between an infant and primary carers, usually the mother and/or father. In research, three broad categories of attachment were observed in children: avoidant, ambivalent, and secure. To this, a fourth category was later added, disorganised. Longitudinal studies have shown that, unless a positive intervention is made, the child now grown uses this primary relationship as an unconscious blueprint for their adult intimate relationships.

These four articles look at the childhood origins of each attachment style, what this looks like in adult relationships, and how counselling or psychotherapy can help change the pattern. Each article ends with examples of popular songs which encapsulate what it means to live the attachment style.

This first article describes the emotional unavailability of the avoidant or dismissive attachment style, illustrated by Joan Armatrading’s Me Myself I, 10cc’s I’m Not In Love, and Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am A Rock.

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