Why Does Your Attachment Style Matter? – Kati Morton Response (Understanding Attachment Styles Part 1)

This blog is a response to her insightful Youtube video, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.

I highly recommend watching the video for those who have yet to do so, as it is crucial for understanding the topic comprehensively. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pq_UoY4rqGo&t=0s

After watching, I would appreciate it if you could focus on three key points. I like it when she explains confusing words you may not know. Jargons of psychology we use are insecure, avoidant, ambivalent, and preoccupied. Those types of fancy words are interesting but also, at times, confusing. I would also like to introduce a scientific background to support her ideas and provide a deeper understanding of the topic. She has done a great job paying attention to the main attachment styles, addressing the implication of those needing awareness and why they are essential for us to understand the connection between Early Attachment Styles, what to do about them, and the possible development of some mental health problems.

However, there is more to that. John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist and psychologist laid the groundwork for attachment theory, which later evolved through research by Mary Ainsworth. A key experiment involved observing how infants around one year of age interacted with strangers in the presence of their mothers. This led to the development of a model of early attachment styles, which has since been expanded upon and popularized by Katie Morton in her video. Understanding the five attachment styles helps shed light on how individuals interact with strangers and the influence of early experiences on long-term relationships. It accurately emphasizes the crucial role of attachment in human survival, based on John Bowlby’s foundational research.

Early attachment experiences with the primary caregiver shape a person’s style of relating to others, including in romantic relationships, with co-workers, employers, role models, and other important figures throughout their life. These attachment styles gradually develop and become deeply ingrained. Our early attachment experiences influence our attachment style, impacting how we react to stress. Research has found that attachment is vital for infant survival and shapes our attachment styles throughout our lives. The strange situation experiment was instrumental in identifying different attachment styles. Understanding attachment styles can help us better comprehend how individuals react to stress differently.

At first, there were only four attachment styles. However, further research by Dr. Mary Main and her partner Dr. Erik Hesse at Berkeley revealed a fifth category, disorganized. They have studied attachment styles, including early and adult attachment, for over forty years. Their research has helped expand our understanding of the different attachment styles. When it comes to attachment styles, there are two major categories: the Organized Category and the Disorganized Category. The Organized Category consists of four styles – secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. On the other hand, the Disorganized Category consists of only one style, which is the disorganized attachment style.

To truly understand attachment styles, we need to look at two different dimensions – anxiety and approachability. The anxiety dimension refers to the level of anxiety someone experiences in a relationship. In contrast, the approachability dimension refers to how comfortable someone is with being close to others. These dimensions are what contribute to the different attachment styles. As infants, we are born into a completely new environment that is vastly different from the safe and secure womb we had been in for nine months. This new world is filled with unfamiliar sensations, feelings, and interactions, which can cause anxiety in newborns. Understanding the dimension of anxiety is crucial to comprehend how infants resolve their anxiety when forming relationships with others. This is where attachment theory comes in. We can represent these dimensions as a spectrum. On one end, we have low anxiety; on the other, we have high anxiety. I will provide a diagram below to better illustrate these dimensions.

On the first axis, we have low and high anxiety, with low anxiety indicating that the infant is generally calm and secure and high anxiety indicating that the infant is easily distressed and may struggle to regulate their emotions. The second axis is labeled as avoidance but can be better understood as approachability. Low approachability indicates that the caregiver is emotionally unavailable, rejecting, or neglectful. While high approachability means that the caregiver is sensitive, responsive, and consistently available to the infant. These styles are determined by the infant’s level of anxiety and approachability, and they have been linked to different outcomes in adulthood.

The disorganized attachment style, characterized by contradictory and disoriented behavior, is not organized along these two dimensions but is considered a separate category. The precise use of “avoidance” is crucial in understanding attachment. A secure attachment style is developed through interaction at home, where an infant feels covered and protected, creating a secure base. This secure base serves as a ground zero, where a person feels safe and confident to explore the world. In times of anxiety, agitation, or fear, the secure base becomes a safe haven to which they can return.

These two dimensions of anxiety and approachability lead to the development of a secure attachment style, where individuals display a lower level of anxiety and higher approachability and seek out an emotionally available person as their caregiver. The Strange Situation experiment has observed that infants with a secure attachment style display this type of behavior not only with their primary caregivers but also with strangers. A sample situation could be where an infant is placed in a new environment with a stranger. Suppose the infant has a secure attachment style. In that case, they can explore the environment confidently, knowing that their caregiver is present as a secure base. They can return to their caregiver for comfort and reassurance in stressful situations. This behavior is consistent with the infant’s confidence and trust in their caregiver’s approachability and emotional availability.

During the strange situation experiment, researchers observed that infants with a secure attachment style displayed consistent behavior towards their primary caregiver and strangers. For example, when the mother left the room, the infant interacted with the stranger in a secure manner without feeling anxious or frightened. This behavior demonstrated the confidence and safety that infants with a secure attachment style feel with their caregivers, which allows them to explore the world without fear. Even when the caregiver is not present, the infant continues to enact their secure attachment style with strangers. Moving on to the other quadrants, let’s explore the four attachment styles that fall within the organized category. As the name suggests, these styles possess a sense of order and predictability. This is because they adhere to specific patterns in two dimensions of human functioning. Consequently, we can anticipate and forecast their behavior and reactions, setting them apart from the disorganized category.

The key to understanding these attachment styles lies in their predictability. With organization comes a level of dependability and reliability, allowing us to confidently predict the actions of individuals with these attachment styles. In contrast, the disorganized category needs this organization, making predictions about their behavior, attachment, and reactions impossible. Therefore, the difference between the organized and disorganized attachment styles lies in the ability to anticipate and forecast an individual’s actions. The organized category gives us a sense of order and reliability, while the latter presents unpredictability and inconsistency. Now that we’ve delved into the organized attachment model, let’s take a closer look at its specific attachment styles. Out of the four, the first and most desirable is the secure attachment style, while the remaining three fall under the category of insecure.

In the lower left quadrant of the model, which represents low anxiety and low approachability, there is a sense of disconnection between the infant and the caregiver. While the infant is not experiencing much stress, they don’t feel inclined to approach the caregiver. This is because they perceive the caregiver as emotionally unavailable and thus need to avoid them. It’s important to note that this perception is based on the infant’s experience and sensation. In their view, the caregiver may not provide the emotional support they need, leading them to avoid seeking comfort from them. This disengagement can have significant implications for the infant’s development. It may affect their ability to form secure attachments in the future.

If an infant exhibits high anxiety and low approachability, they will likely have an ambivalent attachment style. On the other hand, if they show low anxiety but are still avoidant, they may have a fearful-avoidant attachment style. In both these cases, the infant avoids seeking comfort from the emotionally unavailable caregiver. It’s important to note that these terms and labels have been developed over the years, and some may be interchangeable. Additionally, there are distinctions between early childhood and adult attachment styles, which can add to the confusion.

Let’s simplify things and focus on the avoidant attachment styles within the organized category: ambivalent/fearful-avoidant. Both styles exhibit low intensity on the approachability dimension, leading to avoidance of seeking comfort from the caregiver.
In contrast, a person with high intensity of approachability and low anxiety will have a secure attachment style. However, suppose a person is highly anxious and seeks constant proximity to the caregiver, becoming clingy and inconsolable. In that case, we cannot separate them from the high separation anxiety they experience. This child is preoccupied and stressed, leading to an insecure attachment style. These attachment styles can significantly impact how we react in stressful situations and how we approach our relationships. By understanding these styles, we can better understand ourselves and those around us.

As children grow up and engage in relationships with others, their attachment styles can have significant implications, particularly in romantic and intimate relationships. These attachment styles tend to reenact and manifest in these later relationships, which can lead to adverse effects and perceptions of the individuals involved. In Kati Morton’s video, she does relate some of these to specific disorders that develop, such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, which is what I would like to suggest that again due to Mary Main and Eric Hesse’s research from Berkeley, they have actually found out that the conduct disorder and oppositional disorder and truly antisocial behavior and more.

I would say the research they have done is based on many individuals who have been incarcerated, so the incarceration status or individual criminal behavior has been linked to a disorganized attachment style. And again, the disorganized attachment styles are the ones that are all over the place. We can’t recognize or predict and create any reliable way of foreseeing how a person may react in a particular situation. As a result, they tend to have many problems and serious issues in their lives without regard for consequences. So we find a high prevalence of disorganized attachment style with conduct disorder, oppositional disorder, antisocial behavior, and incarceration. While organized attachment styles tend to correlate with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and personality disorders like borderline, avoidant, and dependent, the disorganized category and insecure attachment styles can have even more detrimental effects. They can lead to incarceration and significantly impact how individuals interact with one another.

In particular, the disorganized category and insecure attachment styles can affect how individuals present themselves to others, even if they are unaware of the underlying causes. Understanding these dynamics can help us approach interactions with more empathy and compassion. Have you ever noticed how some couples seem to be complete opposites? One person may be highly anxious and clingy, while the other looks emotionally unavailable and avoidant. Well, these seemingly paradoxical relationships can be explained through attachment styles.
Individuals who display highly anxious preoccupied attachment styles tend to attract partners who exhibit avoidant attachment styles, either low anxiety or high anxiety. The resulting dynamic between these individuals can be pretty interesting. It often triggers each other in ways they may not even be aware of.

In my next video, I’ll go in-depth into these paradoxical relationships and the complex dynamics at play. But for now, let’s focus on some quick markers. An anxious person in this type of relationship may struggle to calm down and appear clingy. At the same time, the avoidant partner may seem emotionally unavailable and distant. As we’ve seen from the strange situation test, individuals with different attachment styles may struggle to regulate their emotions and behavior in relationships. Understanding these attachment styles can shed light on the underlying issues and help couples navigate their relationships with greater empathy and understanding.

Let me break down what’s happening in these paradoxical attachment-style relationships. Picture this: one partner is highly anxious and can’t calm down without the help of their significant other, while the other partner is avoidant and tends to see interactions as a source of conflict. When these two styles collide, it can create a codependent relationship that can harm both parties. The anxious partner relies on their significant other to soothe them and resolve conflicts quickly. Suppose they can’t come to a resolution. In that case, it’s like the end of the world for them, and they may resort to black-and-white thinking or even borderline personality tendencies. They think that if they can’t rely on their partner to help them regulate their emotions, the entire relationship is dangerous.

On the other hand, the avoidant partner sees conflicts as inevitable and tends to shy away from engagement altogether. They view relationships as something that will inevitably lead to a significant conflict, so they don’t even want to bother trying. So, what’s the result of these opposing attachment styles? A dynamic that triggers each other creates an unbalanced relationship that’s hard to maintain. In relationships where one partner has a highly anxious preoccupied attachment style, and the other has an avoidant attachment style, we can observe a paradoxical dynamic. The anxious partner relies on the other to calm them down, leading to codependency and conflict. They might engage in long, drawn-out conversations that need to end in a resolution, or else the anxious partner becomes upset. This black-and-white thinking can even lead to rash judgments and borderline personality traits.

On the other hand, the avoidant partner has learned to manage their anxiety by avoiding conflict altogether, leading them to see interactions with others as a source of conflict. This approach can trigger the anxious partner even further, creating more anxiety and conflict, and making the avoidant partner withdraw even more. Their attachment style is activated, pulling them away from the situation. It’s important to note that the avoidant partner may not be able to articulate their inner feelings and obstacles, leading them to walk away from the situation.

In summary, these paradoxical attachment styles can lead to a cycle of conflict, codependency, and avoidance in relationships. Attachment styles are deeply ingrained patterns of behavior that are formed early in life and can persist into adulthood. These attachment styles can be secure or insecure, including anxious-preoccupied and avoidant attachment styles. Without intervention, these insecure attachment styles can last a lifetime. However, research has shown that individuals and couples can work to convert their insecure attachment style into a more secure one with therapy. This can be achieved through experiences promoting self-regulation, self-soothing, and healthy interactions. By fostering room for self-differentiation, acceptance, and tolerance, individuals can learn valuable skills that lead to secure attachment styles, resulting in healthier relationships.

It can be challenging to differentiate between attachment and personality styles and understand how they overlap. For example, if someone walks away from a conversation, is it due to their avoidant attachment style or simply because they’re narcissistic? Understanding the nuances between the two is essential to properly address and treat related issues. However, research shows that through therapy and secure attachment experiences, people can shift from insecure to secure attachment styles. This includes learning to self-regulate and self-soothe, building skills, and witnessing secure ways of interacting with others.

Thank you for taking the time to read. I hope you found it informative and engaging. Remember to check out Katie Morton’s video Why Does Your Attachment Style Matter for even more insights on attachment styles. If you have any suggestions for future blog topics or would like to see more content on this subject, please let us know in the comments below. Stay tuned for more posts on this and other related topics.