Skip to content

Attachment in Adults: Clinical and Developmental Perspectives

Version 1.0.0

The attachment system that John Bowlby first theorized has spawned a great deal of research and knowledge (in part due to Mary Ainsworth’s contributions).  Attachment in Adults: Clinical and Developmental Perspectives shares some of the interesting and intriguing results of this continued research.


One of the more confusing results of the continued research is how a parent’s – particularly a mother’s – attachment style can influence the attachment style of their children.  Securely attached mothers tend to produce securely attached infants.  In short, parents can help their children’s lifelong trajectory by focusing on their own mental wellness.

Another confusing corollary is that children who are securely attached have more complex and mature representation of their parents.  They seem to understand the nuances and details of how the parents will interact in ways that their insecure counterparts do not.


There’s an odd thing about the timing of attachment styles.  First, attachment styles seem to appear between 9 and 18 months after birth – the same timeframe as object permanence.  In other words, from the very first moments we can recognize something not in our sight – something for which we have a mental model – we start working on attachments.

As adults, the research seems to indicate that a relationship with a securely attached individual has the effect of moving an insecurely attached partner towards secure attachment – over a two-year period.  It seems as if there’s an importance to the period of time that the secure relationship is available.


The challenges with the Western/American view of rugged individualism has surfaced before.  I’ve addressed the challenges with the illusion in my reviews of How Good People Make Tough ChoicesHumble Inquiry, and Our Kids.  However, as the power of attachment to shape our lives for good or bad is brought to the forefront, the degree to which we believe that we’re able to survive as an individual seems even more of a pernicious delusion.  Whether it’s the data from Loneliness or the research around attachment, we know that we can’t live life alone.

Fathers Be Good to Your Daughters

John Mayer’s song, Daughters, includes the lyrics, “Fathers be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do.”  Strangely, research has found that the best predictor of a daughter’s emotional security in a love relationship is a close emotional bond with her father.  The degree of impact that fathers have in this regard is stunning given the relatively low amount of time that fathers spend directly interacting with their daughters.

Approval Competition

In some families, approval is a scarce resource that must be saved.  It may be that there is only one person who is receiving approval at one time.  There’s a favorite child.  The problem with this is that it develops anxiety in the children who feel that they must earn love, acceptance, and approval.  They believe that they’re one mistake away from losing their status within the family, with disastrous consequences to their long-term relationships.

Network Maps

If you ask people to map out their important relationships, they’ll often include people who are deceased.  As mentioned in New Models of Bereavement Theory and Treatment, people develop internal representations for people that are no longer with them.  It’s a plausible explanation that they still feel that person’s presence through the internalized concept of them.  It could also be that they just aren’t thinking clearly.  Either way, it signals that there’s more to our world than we realize and a great role for Attachment in Adults to play.