This lesson is titled, So, Can You Change Your Attachment Style? And here is the lecture.
The answer is no.
Thank you very much for listening, and see you in my next video.
Just yanking your chain, just pulling your leg. Cool it. Did you ever hear of a lecture of mine which is less than seven hours? I compete very closely with Fidel Castro, the late Fidel Castro.
Okay, Shoshanim, today we are going to discuss the stability of attachment styles.
When you finally develop and adopt an attachment style, which is usually right around the end of childhood, the beginning of adolescence, is this an attachment style for life? Is it going to be with you for the entire lifespan? Is there nothing you can do about it?
In one word, yes, there's nothing you can do about it.
Attachment style, also known as attachment orientation, in some other models of attachment and adaptation, like the DMM, attachment style and attachment orientation are for life. They're immutable. We call it stability.
They're stable, but there's a lot you can do about it.
You can, for example, neutralize your attachment style. If you find your attachment style unacceptable, dysfunctional, if it damages your relationships, if it harms you personally, if you're uncomfortable with it, if you're egodystonic, you can absolutely neutralize your attachment style.
You can modify your attachment behaviors. You can become self-aware and then prevent or negate a misconduct emanating from your attachment style.
There's a lot you can do. You can even modify your internal relationship model, which is part of your internal working model.
We're going to discuss all these issues today, and we're going to do a literature review, a very extensive literature review.
But in a nutshell, while you cannot change, I repeat, you cannot change your attachment style or attachment orientation. You can change many components in your attachment style and the behaviors attendant upon your attachment style.
So hope is not lost. On the very contrary, people overcome insecure attachment, and they succeed to function well within long-term committed relationships, even though underlying all this is an attachment style, which is self-defeating, self-destructive, and other destructive attachment style, which pushes people away, attachment style, which is essentially founded on a dread of intimacy.
Never mind how bad your attachment style is. And for example, avoidant dismissive is a seriously dysfunctional attachment style.
Never mind. You can always overcome it by being self-aware, modifying your behavior, modify your internal working model, and working together with therapists and with your partners.
Okay, let's get to let's get to business.
And let's start by saying that 70% of people can't change anything about their attachment style. And that's a sad statistic.
But the flip side of it is that 30% of people, up to 46%, depending on the study, but usually 30% of people can and do change substantial components and ingredients of their attachment style and orientation, to the point that effectively they are transforming their attachment or the way they attach to other people. They are transforming their bonding. Attachment behaviors and internal relationship models do change in 30% of people.
An internal relationship model is an interaction model between a child and his caregivers. When the child has experiences with the caregivers, usually parental figures and more specifically the mother, he internalizes these interactions and he creates a narrative that incorporates them and makes sense of these exchanges.
And this is known as the model. The internal relationship model becomes a part of the self. The internal relationship model is a subspecies, an example of an internal working model.
And we will discuss internal working model at the end of this interminable lecture.
The relationship between a person's inner parent and inner child is supposed to be harmonious. They're supposed to love each other.
And so the more you have been loved and the better you have been treated, the more your model, internal working model, internal relationship model, approximates functionality. The better this model is for you and with you.
But if the relationship between your inner parent and inner child is pathological in some way, if you have had what Andrei Green called a dead mother, an absent, selfish, depressed, parentifying mother, then you would have a lot of rage and a lot of hatred bottled up inside you.
And then the more you are loved, the more this rage and hatred are going to manifest.
You had learned as a child to associate love with pain and hurt. And so anyone who tries to love you is a persecutory object, a potential enemy.
All important external relationships are extensions and projections of internal relationship models. The more important the external relationship, the more intimate it is, the more powerful the inner relationship model is projected and activated.
And so the more you are terrified of intimacy and love, the more hateful, resentful and aggressive you are when someone tries to love you and when you become intimate.
We're going to discuss all this when we talk about the internal working model.
The internal working model of attachment is a mental representation formed through the child's early experiences with a primary caregiver. And this mental representation influences how the child interacts and builds relationships with other people as the child grows up. We call this process object relations.
It also explains the differences in human behaviors among people that will not go into it.
Now, what can you do about your attachment style or attachment orientation?
This is something you had received as a legacy in childhood and then you start with it for life.
Yes, you can't control your attachment style and you can't change it. Never mind what people say. But what you can do, you can definitely modify your behaviors.
You can become self-aware. You're an adult now.
So you can realize that your behaviors are counterproductive, destructive, self-defeating and other-defeating, hurtful, and push people away.
So you can modify these behaviors to counter the effects of the attachment style, to neutralize the attachment style.
Also, you can modulate the intensity of your attachment orientation or attachment style.
You can tell yourself, literally tell yourself, I'm being avoidant now. I'm being dismissive. I'm being paranoid.
And I'm going to control this. I'm going to take hold of myself. I'm going to regain control. I'm going to become self-aware and I'm going to tamp down these bad behaviors, behaviors that make me and people around me sad and mad and sometimes bad.
So I'm going to change the way I interact with people deep inside.
For example, I'm uncomfortable with intimacy because I have an avoidant attachment style. So intimacy frightens me. Intimacy terrifies me deep inside, but I'm going to force myself to be intimate with someone I trust. And I'm not going to undermine the intimacy. And I'm not going to do crazy things like cheating or stealing or lying so that I maintain the intimacy. I'm going to go through with it. I'm going to be brave. I'm going to be a big boy or a big girl.
And so the intensity, the intensity can be modulated.
And it's very important because once the intensity is brought down, the attachment style becomes a lot more secure, even if internally it's exactly the opposite.
The changes in intensity, in behaviors, and in the internal working models are brought on and mediated via qualitative relationships or the quality of relationships.
If you have a series of good relationships, healthy, loving, caring relationships with empathic people, you will likely take more risks in future relationships.
So ipso facto, by definition, you will have become more secure, even if your internal style is immutable.
The same outwardly, behaviorally, you'll become more secure.
But if you're exposed to abuse, to bullying, to intermittent reinforcement, if you had a succession of partners who broke your heart and dismissed you and humiliated you and rejected you, then of course you may develop avoidance, even if your attachment style is basically secure.
In other words, you can be conditioned to some extent, to some extent, and your behavior can be modified.
So quality of relationships, then there's an issue of trauma. If you experience trauma, it tends to change the way your attachment style is expressed.
Now that's a very important distinction. Attachment styles can be expressed in myriad ways. And so you could have the same attachment style from cradle to grave, and you'd behave very differently in different periods of your life because you're expressing the attachment style, the underlying attachment style, very differently.
So trauma changes the expression of attachment style.
Therapy, a good therapist, if it's a psychodynamic therapist using transference and countertransference, if it's a CBT therapist using reframing and other CBT techniques, but a good therapist, a therapist who provides you with a holding environment, a containing environment, a therapist who provides you with, in essence, unconditional acceptance in a way. Such a therapist can induce massive changes in you. He can be a proxy for or a surrogate for an intimate relationship, kind of a bridge. So therapy is very crucial.
If you have a personality disorder, that's a very bad prognosticator. It means that your attachment style is extremely likely to be deficient, dysfunctional, and insecure.
Narcissists, for example, people with narcissistic personality disorder, people with borderline personality disorder, let alone psychopaths, they all have severe attachment dysfunctions because they're incapable of perceiving other people as separate entities with their own needs and wishes and preferences and priorities. So they are unable to relate to other people as external objects.
The psychopath treats other people as instruments. The borderline treats other people as external regulators of her ego functions, the boundary, ego boundary functions. The narcissist treats other people as sources of narcissistic supply.
This is a bad ground. This is not the right ground for attachment. This is wrong soil. No attachment is going to grow there. So personality disorders.
And finally, life crisis. Life crisis can induce an apparent change in personality orientation, which is actually a change in behavior, not in orientation.
But I promised you a literature review, a boring literature review. And I'm a man of my word. Plus, it's a pleasure to torture you.
All right. We start with a very recent article, Chopik, Edelstein and Grimm, 2019.
The article is titled Longitudinal changes in attachment orientation over a 59-year period. It was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, volume 116, of course.
I'm going to read to you the abstract.
Research on individual differences in attachment and their links to emotion, cognition, and behavior in close relationships has proliferated over the last few decades.
However, the majority of this research has focused on children and young adults. Little is known about mean level changes in attachment orientation beyond early life, in part due to a dearth of longitudinal data on attachment across the lifespan.
We found, say, the authors, we found that attachment anxiety declined on average with age, particularly during middle age and older adulthood.
So they're talking about intensity. Yes, intensity declines with age, which is, by the way, very true for a variety of other traits, personality traits, and a variety of other mental health disorders, psychopathy ameliorates with age, anxiety ameliorates with age, narcissism changes with age, borderline personality disorder disappears with age. Age has something to do with all this.
And attachment style or attachment orientation is an extensive trait. In other words, it's a trait that is ubiquitous in all areas of life and colors the entire personality. So naturally, it should undergo some kind of change with age.
The authors continue, attachment avoidance decreased in a linear fashion across the lifespan. Being in a relationship predicted lower levels of anxiety and avoidance across adulthood. Men were higher in attachment avoidance at each point in the lifespan. You don't say.
Okay, now back in time, 25 years, we go to an article titled Attachment styles and close relationships: A four-year prospective study. It was authored by Lee Kirkpatrick and Cindy Hazan. It was first published in June 1994 in the journal Personal Relationships, the journal of the International Association for Relationship Research.
Again, I'm going to quote from each article, I'm going to pick up segments from each article, and I'm going to read them aloud to you.
Mainly because I'm lazy. Okay, here's what this article says.
A longitudinal study of 177 adults examined the stability of adult attachment styles and of romantic relationships over a four-year period.
Findings included the following.
Attachment styles were highly stable over time (I told you so)
Attachment style was a significant predictor of relationship status.
This effect was mediated by concurrent attachment style. In other words, attachment style modulation or modification.
Secure respondents were less likely than insecure respondents to report one or more breakups during the four-year interval.
Paradoxically ambivalent respondents were just as likely as secure respondents to be in a relationship with the same partner they identified four years earlier.
Attachment stability was moderated to some extent by the experience of breakup or initiation of a new relationship during the interim.
Respondents' ability to recall their previous attachment style was also examined.
And so what this at the time groundbreaking article discovered was that attachment style is stable across the lifespan but can be modulated, can be extensively modulated actually by having a relationship. As simple as that.
Now we go forward to 2011 to a very important article, a seminal article. It was published in the Australian, believe it or not, Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, there is such a thing, volume 11. It's a new academic journal but of high standard.
So the article is titled, Attachment across the Life Span: Factors that Contribute to Stability and Change. It was authored by Megan McConnell of McGill University in Canada and Ellen Moss of the Université du Québec in Montreal.
So again I'm going to quote from the article but this time I'm going to quote extensively because it's in my view the best review of attachment literature extant to this very day.
So here's what the authors say.
A number of studies have examined continuity of attachment from infancy to adolescence and adulthood in both low and high-risk samples.
I'm referring you here to Hamilton, 2000; Waters, Merrick Treboux,
Crowell, & Albersheim, 2000; Lewis, Feiring & Rosenthal, 2000; Weinfeld, Sroufe, & Egeland, 2000. 2000 was a vintage year for attachment studies.
So continuity from infancy to adolescence to adulthood was studied in or was investigated in all these studies.
Resights from these studies say the authors have indicated that factors such as divorce, single parenthood, life-threatening illnesses within the family, parental drug abuse, death of a family member and other negative life events were all indicative of change to attachment insecurity.
As I said before life crises have an effect, modulating effect on the intensity of the underlying attachment style.
In addition to the longitudinal studies, continue the authors. In addition to these studies looking at attachment stability, the research on this topic has expanded over the last two decades as investigators have examined continuity and discontinuity across particular developmental periods such as infancy.
And here I refer you to Bai-Haim, Sutton-Fox & Marvin, 2000; Egeland & Farber, 1984; Vondra, Hommerding & Shaw, 1999.
Continuity of attachment style had been studied even in early childhood. I refer you to Moss, Cyr, Bureau, Tarabulsky & Dubios-Comtois, 2005 and to the NICHD study in 2001.
Many studies dealt with continuity of attachment style in middle childhood and adolescence. Ellen, Allen, McElhaney, Kuperminc, & Jodi, 2004; Ammaniti, Van IJzendoorn, Speranza & Tambelli, 2000, etc.
And finally there were even studies which went into adulthood and investigated whether attachment styles are stable in adulthood.
And so I refer you to Crowell, Treboux, & Waters, 2002; Sharfe & Bartholomew, 1994; Zhang & Labouvie-Vief, 2004.
Okay, so this is a literature review. You see that there are dozens of studies which had dealt with the issue of stability of attachment style across a lifespan.
And the authors of the article that was published in the Australian journal say these studies have also identified variables such as stressful life events, family risk and depression as predictive of change from security to insecurity or disorganization.
And they refer to studies by Allen, McElhaney, Kuperminc, & Jodi, 2004, which I mentioned before, Bai-Haim, Sutton-Fox & Marvin, 2000; Moss, Cyr, Bureau, Tarabulsky & Dubios-Comtois, 2005, the studies that I mentioned.
Okay, where are we going with all this? What are the authors trying to say?
First, they qualify. They say there have been fewer findings regarding the factors that contribute to stable security or change from insecurity to security of the studies that have succeeded in discovering results related to the trajectory towards security, variables such as relationship satisfaction, greater emotional openness, and fewer negative life events have been found to be related to change towards attachment security.
And they refer to studies by Egeland & Farber, 1984; Vondra et al., 1999.
Currently say the author there's a paucity of literature integrating all the findings on attachment stability. There are no reviews that have examined the literature and attachment stability across a lifespan.
The conclusion of the article is this.
In summary, this review documents the variables that influence stability and change in attachment across the developmental periods of infancy, preschool, adolescence and adulthood between infancy and adolescence and adulthood.
This paper provides a unique contribution to the literature and attachment stability by identifying the specific developmental factors that influence continuity and discontinuity across the lifespan.
Additionally, variables that are influential in predicting stable security and change to security were examined.
In infancy, variables such as maternal depression, antisocial behavior, maternal employment, child-rearing methods, etc. seem to have more of an influence in predicting stability and change in attachment across infancy since they directly impact caregiving behavior. And since the attachment relationship is in the process of formation during infancy, variables that directly alter caregiving behavior have a significant impact on the attachment relationship.
Additionally, say the authors, external factors such as negative life events and factors that operate within the marital relationship such as relationship satisfaction also influence stability and change in attachment style during this developmental period.
Therefore, factors that influence maternal behavior directly as well as factors that stem from the environment and within the family, the all-important predictors of stability and change during infancy.
During early childhood, maternal factors appear to play less of a role in predicting stability and change in attachment. While there are still associations between some caregiving behaviors such as maternal sensitivity and change in attachment classification, factors such as negative life events, marital satisfaction, and more than 10 hours a week in child care are just as influential in predicting stability and change in attachment during this period of early childhood.
This makes sense given that developmentally the preschool child is more capable of interacting with their environment and less restricted to proximity seeking behavior.
Across the period of adolescence, factors related to identity and communication in family interactions as well as depression play a role in predicting stability and change during adolescence.
There are important issues that adolescents often struggle with and it seems appropriate that they would be influential in affecting the course of the parent-child relationship during this period.
Negative life events were also shown to predict stability and change during this time of adolescence, indicating that external factors continue to operate in ways that alter or stabilize the parent-child relationship.
In adulthood, variables such as coping, well-being, and environmental stress all influence stability and change in attachment relationships with parents or partners during this period.
It seems that factors which are more prevalent for adults such as coping and well-being have a greater impact on attachment relationships with either a parent or a partner.
These variables along with those which are external, such as environmental stress, work together to either sustain or modify attachment relationships.
In regard to stability from infancy to adolescence to adulthood, negative life events stand out as the strongest predictor in influencing change to insecurity in attachment relationships over time.
Events such as the loss of a parent or family member, parental divorce, living in poverty, parental hospitalization, or abuse, all significantly alter caregiving behavior and dynamics within the family.
Those factors that maintain stability or predict change to security in attachment relationships over time are less clear.
What is clear however is that experiencing a negative life event has a dramatic effect on the quality of the parent-child relationship and this will likely set the stage for other maladaptive outcomes for the child later in life.
I've read the whole very long article. I think it was about 30 something pages and what the authors are actually saying is that sometimes after adverse childhood experiences, ACE, and negative life events or life crisis, sometimes people develop insecurity or increased insecurity but we don't know whether people transition from insecurity to security and if so, what causes it? It's as simple as that.
So it's easy to become less secure. We have not proper documentation of cases where people became more secure.
And even in transition from secure to insecure, this is usually in the margins and usually temporary and so it looks much more like a modification of behaviors, intensity, and the internal working model than anything fundamental because people afterwards default to the original attachment style.
So yes, attachment styles can be suspended, can be modified to some extent. They can be played with, they can be neutralized but there is no proof at this stage in any study that attachment styles, one attachment style disappears and another one appears and is god awful confusion between attachment styles, behavior, attachment behaviors, and internal relationship models.
Let's go to another article, 1997. Why does attachment style change? J. Davila, D. Burge, and C. Hammen. It was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, October 1997.
Again, I'm going to read to you the abstract.
Adult attachment research has proceeded on the assumption that attachment style is relatively stable and affects future functioning.
However, researchers have become interested in attachment instability, mind you, not change, instability, I repeat. However, researchers have become interested in attachment instability and predictors of attachment style change.
In this article, two conceptualizations of attachment style change were examined.
Attachment style change is a reaction to current circumstances and attachment style change is an individual difference in susceptibility to change that is associated with stable vulnerability factors.
A total of 155 women were assessed after high school graduation and six months and two years later.
Results primarily supported the conceptualization of attachment style change as an individual difference.
Specifically, some women may be prone to attachment fluctuations, not change, fluctuations, because of adverse earlier experiences. As I said, bad relationships, abuse, trauma.
And women who show attachment fluctuations, say the authors, are similar to women with stably insecure attachments.
In other words, some women who are vulnerable, susceptible, who had gone through bad life experiences, these women show fluctuations in their attachment style.
But these fluctuations are indistinguishable from a stable, insecure attachment.
Okay, we proceed.
From the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Review, a 2017 article Revising Working Models Across Time: Relationship Situations That Enhance Attachment Security. The authors are Arriaga, Kumashiro, Simpson, and others. It was published in June 2017.
Now, this is a very interesting article because it is among the first to link attachment fluctuations or attachment instability with internal working models.
The authors proposed the attachment security enhancement model, ASEM, Attachment Security Enhancement Model, to suggest how romantic relationships can promote chronic attachment security.
One part of the ASEM examines partner responses that protect relationships from the erosive effects of immediate insecurity. But such responses may not necessarily address underlying insecurities in a person's mental models.
This is a very important distinction.
What the authors are saying is, if you have a good partner, a loving, caring, empathic partner, supportive partner, the expression of your insecure attachment style can be mitigated and ameliorated.
Outwardly, you will appear to be more secure, but it has nothing to do. I repeat, it does not necessarily address underlying insecurities in the person's mental models.
So the insecurity is still there. Attachment style is stable. The working model is unchanged, but you trust your partner. Your partner loves you, cares for you, and you let go. And by letting go, you appear to be more secure.
But it's not real security, because it's actually relegating several ego boundary functions to the partner.
This is what many borderlines do.
In this kind of situation, it's like the person with the insecure attachment style says, okay, I'm going to let you secure my attachment style. You will be my attachment style. He's telling the intimate partner, I trust you, I believe in you, I know you love me. So I'm going to let you dictate how I am to behave in this attachment relationship.
The intimate partner kind of regulates the fluctuations of the insecure attachment style.
I continue with the article.
The authors say, therefore, a second part of the ASEM, and to remind you, ASEM is Attachment Security Enhancement Model. So a second part of the ASEM examines relationship situations that foster more secure mental models. Both parts may work in tandem.
We posit that attachment anxiety should decline most in situations that foster greater personal confidence and more secure mental models of the self.
In contrast to the other side, in contrast, attachment avoidance should decline most in situations that involve positive dependence and foster more secure models of close others, which is a fancy way of saying what I just said.
The ASEM integrates research and theory, suggests novel directions, etc. That's the propaganda bit.
Let's go really back to the founding fathers of the whole thing.
Bartholomew, Horowitz, and others. I'm going to read to you the abstract of a very, very ancient article, 1991, Bartholomew and Horowitz, Attachment styles among young adults: a test of a four-category model, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, volume 61.
Here's the abstract.
A new four-group model of attachment styles in adulthood is proposed. Four prototypic attachment patterns are defined using combinations of a person's self-image, positive or negative, and image of others, positive or negative.
In Study 1, an interview was developed to yield continuous and categorical ratings of the four attachment styles. Intercorrelations of the attachment ratings were consistent with the proposed model. Attachment ratings were validated by the self-report measures of self-concept and interpersonal function.
Each style was associated with a distinct profile of interpersonal problems, according to both self and friend reports.
In Study 2, attachment styles within the family of origin and with peers were assessed independently. The results of Study 1 were replicated.
When you see someone who used to be needy and clinging and became avoidant, someone who used to be anxious, preoccupied, and avoidant, or dismissive, and became secure, someone who used to be secure and is suddenly insecure. When you see these things, you say, wow, attachment styles are fluid. They're in flux. They change.
But that's not true. We know it's not true because people default after some time to the original attachment style.
So what does change? Because clearly there's a change. Any therapist will tell you. So what does change?
Well, first and foremost, self-awareness. Self-awareness creates a feedback loop that modifies attitude to an attachment.
In attachment, we have three elements, attitude, desire, and behavior. And self-awareness modifies attitude and, to some extent, desire.
And this, of course, leads to behavior modification. And the more you behave, the more feedback you get. And the more positive the feedback, the more self-efficacious you feel.
So this gives you an incentive. It incentivizes you to behave in certain ways. We call this positive reinforcement.
And so this is one trajectory, one way that visible attachment changes.
The other way is by changing the way you see the world. The way you see the world, the way you see yourself, and the way you see yourself in the world, interacting with other people. And this is known as the internal working model, IWM, internal working model.
Like many other things, it was invented by John Bowlby, a brilliant psychiatrist. He came up with the theory of attachment, later modified by Mary Ainsworth and others.
I recommend to you to watch my videos on attachment, including the latest one about DMM.
But John Bowlby's theory of attachment asserted that infants are born programmed to seek connection and proximity to caretakers, because they need to survive. They need to create an attachment bond because otherwise they die. They need food, they need shelter, they need to motivate their mothers and fathers to take care of them. Smiling, crying, these are all signals, bonding signals, attachment signals.
Over time, children learn to internalize the whole process of attachment. And they use these base relationships with primary objects, primary caregivers. They use these base relationships and they form a kind of narrative or script or prototype. And this becomes a template upon which they construct all future intimate relationships. Honestly, all future relationships, not on the intimate.
And this prototype, the prototypical relationship, it's a kind of an archetype. It's a set of archetypes. And it's called the internal working model. It's very symbolic. It's highly symbolic. It consists of how the child interprets and responds to the caregiver's behaviors.
The child forms an expectation and then he uses the expectation to plan and to decide on acting. And then he acts and then gets feedback. And the feedback modulates and modifies his behavior. It's kind of a loop.
And so internal working models are very, very significant, very important in developmental psychology, in child's development, because they're kind of an inner navigation system, inner guidance system. All future behavior is literally dictated by the internal working model.
If you have a view of the world that is hostile and dangerous, it's one thing. And if you have a view of the world that most people are good, you will have a different life.
Internal working models influence emotions, behaviors, cognitions, interactions with others, expectations about relationships, you name it. These are models of the whole world. It's a model of the world. It's a theory of the world. Like we have a theory of mind. Theory of mind is we're trying to decipher what makes people tick, what people are thinking. So theory of the world is the internal working model.
These models operate outside of conscious awareness. That's why they're so powerful. They unconsciously direct the attention and the behaviors in relationships.
Internal working models are dynamic. Don't misunderstand me. They're not set in stone. They are dynamic. They can change under certain conditions. They tend to remain stable over time, but as opposed to attachment style, they are amenable to change. And very often they do change, of course, with experience, with information. So they change. And they're so powerful that they change, they affect behavior.
And then you say, oh, you see the attachment style changed. No, the behavior changed within attachment relationships. The behaviors within attached relationships had to change because the model has been modified and is now dictating different expectations and different behaviors.
It's the quality of the parent child in early life, has huge effect on future relationships.
Boulby says that babies start to form internal working models in early childhood around the age of three. In early infancy, these models are available only for the recognition of the attachment figures and short-term anticipation, of course. They're very kind of animalistic or binary things.
But then the child evolves. There's memory. Memory creates identity. All kinds of cognitions are linked together. And then they're linked, they're connected to emotions and feelings. And so the model becomes much more complex and more enriched. And these models become general mental representations of other people and of yourself, of oneself.
You suddenly get a model of yourself and you have a model of other people. It's the same model. And then you put the two parts together and suddenly there's an interaction, like sparks in a plug, you know. Suddenly there's an interaction, like two magnets, if you wish, attracting each other.
The two parts of a model are indistinguishable. If you modify one part, for example, how you see other people, you modify the other part, how you see yourself, and vice versa. That's why personal experience constantly alters, changes the internal working model and experiences you've had with other people, more so.
In adulthood, this representation, this internal working model affects everything in your life, your thoughts, your feelings, behavior, human relationship, but especially love relationships, which tend to replicate the first love you ever had. Love of mommy.
An internal working model of the self arises exactly because you are interacting with other people. It's relational. That's why the very concept of individual, the concept of individual, the concept of personality are highly suspect because the model, the internal model that represents you, the internal model that is you, is totally dependent on interactions with others, starting with very intimate and close others like mommy and daddy.
A child derives beliefs about how acceptable the self is through the gaze of the primary caregiver. He judges himself by how responsive they are to him. A child whose caregiver responds reliably, predictably, lovingly, embracingly, empathically. This kind of child develops a representation of the self as lovable, acceptable, worthwhile. He has what you can call a positive self-image.
These children see mother and father and whatever attachment figure there is, they see them as a secure base, a safe base that they can turn to whenever in trouble, whenever in doubt. These attachment figures represent safety.
But imagine that you grow up with an inconsistent or unresponsive attachment figure and then you develop a view of yourself as unacceptable, unworthy, unlovable.
So you have a negative self-image and low self-esteem and the lack of attachment security means that you don't believe that your caretaker is accessible for safety and comfort so you have to either refer to yourself which creates narcissism or excessively rely on others which creates all the varieties of codependency.
Researchers have identified four attachment styles in adults according to different combinations of these inner working models of self and others.
There is secure attachment, a securely attached person possesses a positive sense of worthiness and the expectation that other people are generally accepting and responsive.
There's a preoccupied attachment that kind of person has a sense of unworthiness but a positive evaluation of others. The person strives to be accepted and valued by other people.
Then there is the fearful avoidant attachment. It's a person who has a sense of unworthiness and expectation to be rejected by others who are untrustworthy. This kind of person protects himself from anticipated rejection and abandonment by avoiding close involvement with others and yet they have a strong dependency on others to maintain a positive self-image. So they approach all the time, hot and cold. It's very typical of borderline personality disorder.
And finally there's the dismissive avoidant attachment and that's an individual who has a sense of love worthiness. He thinks he's worthy of love, thinks he's lovable but he has a negative disposition towards other people and so he protects himself against disappointment. He says I'm worthy of love but I'm not going to get it.
So he doesn't want to be disappointed and what he does he avoids close relationships. He maintains a sense of independence and invulnerability. I'm self-sufficient. I don't need you go away.
These people are detached or dismissing of attachment in an intimacy and in many ways they dread intimacy because it results in hurt and rejection.
Attachment styles are not only stable across a lifespan. They are little like communicable diseases. They can be intergenerationally transmitted.
So if a parent has a working model pattern, if a parent has an attachment style, especially if it's an insecure attachment style, the parent tends to pass it on to his or her offspring.
There have been studies that showed that children have a history of secure attachment at one year old and they have more adaptive interaction subsequently not only with parents but also with peers and with teachers. These children behave in predictable ways including with their own children when they become parents. So they tend to pass it on.
And similarly, maltreated abused children, they form insecure attachment and they tend to become abusive parents and they create insecure attachment in their own kids. There are many many studies that show this.
And this maltreated maltreating hurt people hurt, maltreated maltreating cycle. It's very striking because you see how the internal working model is formed in early attachment relationships and then carried forward and reenacted in subsequent relationships. It's what Freud called a repetition compulsion.
So attachment styles are actually stable across generations. That's how stable they are.
However, we are not automatons, we're not robots, we can become self-aware, we can work on our behaviors, we can modify the way we see ourselves and others. A good therapist will help you with this, a good friend will help you with this and a good partner is better than both.
So work on yourself. Try to be less scared of the world and less terrified of yourself. Try to be more vulnerable, more open to the inevitable hurt of loss. As it is loss that is the engine of personal growth and personal development.