We are naturally wired biologically to desire attachment to others. Learning how to attach to others begins from the day we are born. We begin learning from birth about attachment and how relationships work through the interactions and care we receive from our primary caregiver (usually mom or dad).
The attachment of an infant to parent (or caregiver) can have a lasting impact on an individual and their adult relationships. Our relationships in infancy can have a profound affect on our future relationships because of what we learned in our earliest relationships.
When insecure attachment takes place during infancy and childhood, this can wreak havoc on adult relationships. Problems such as abuse, clinging to abusers, low self esteem, control issues, jealousy, emotional dependency, and relationship paranoia can become prevalent when insecure attachment in infancy/childhood affects adult relationships.
Not to fear though; there are many individuals who have experienced insecure attachment in infancy and childhood and have healthy relationships in adulthood. The key is recognizing the behaviors that may stem from insecure attachment and learn how to handle them.
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What Causes Insecure Attachment?
As infants, we need a caregiver that is loving, attentive, and affectionate. The relationship between the caregiver (typically a parent) and baby creates a bond or attachment. A healthy and secure attachment occurs when the caregiver meets the babies needs and is loving. When there are problems with the care that is provided, insecure attachment occurs.
Healthy attachment is known as secure attachment. When secure attachment doesn’t occur, then by default an insecure attachment takes place. It is helpful to understand why insecure attachment may have occurred, so you can understand how your adult relationships have potentially been affected by your first relationships in life.
Insecure attachment can happen for a variety of reasons. There are also levels of insecure attachment based on the severity of the situation.
Physical Abuse and Neglect by Caregivers
For example, a baby that has endured physical abuse and neglect by their caregiver will likely be highly insecurely attached. They have a distrust of their caregiver because of the abuse. They will likely also have fear of this caregiver.
The infant desires love and care from the caregiver, but what they are given is harm and lack of care. This will affect their adult relationships, because they intrinsically learn that the one that they are supposed to trust the most harms them.
No Affectionate Interactions
Another way that insecure attachment occurs is when the physical needs for the baby are met, but there is no affectionate interactions. You can see extreme cases of this example in orphanages. The babies are provided with basic essential needs such as a crib to sleep and milk to drink. They are clothed and diapers are changed.
However, these babies do not receive affection and interaction from their caregiver. They are left alone in their crib for most of the hours of the day. They have learned that crying for affection and attention has not brought anyone to meet this need, so they have stopped crying for these emotional needs to be met.
Instead, they have a lack of emotional attachment or an insecure attachment because they do not have an interactive, affectionate relationship with a caregiver. This insecure attachment will likely affect their adult relationships.
A child can also grow up in a “normal home” and not have these emotional needs met. Their primary caregiver may attend to the physical needs, but fail to interact with them. The caregiver does not talk to the baby, play with the baby, or give the baby cuddles, hugs, and kisses. The caregiver, for whatever reason, does not provide the emotional interactions that are needed for the baby to bond and attach. Thus, insecure attachment occurs and adult relationships are affected in the future.
Inconsistency in Meeting the Baby’s Needs
Another example of why insecure attachment occurs is that of inconsistency in meeting the baby’s needs. In this situation, the baby’s needs are sometimes met when they cry and fuss. However, other times the baby is left to cry and cry without their needs being met.
There is an inconsistency in the care from their primary caregiver. This creates a distrust from the child to parent. The baby learns that they cannot fully count on their caregiver to provide for their needs or comfort them all of the time.
An insecurity within the child will develop because they do not know when they can count on their caregiver to provide for them. There is an uncertainty in having their needs met which creates anxiety as well as distrust.
This can obviously carry into adult intimate relationships and wreak havoc.
10 Signs of Insecure Attachment
There are some behaviors that are caused by insecure attachment. A variety of unhealthy behaviors can present in early childhood because of insecure attachment.
This article will focus on the behaviors that are evident in adulthood because of insecure attachment. Here are some behaviors that can result from insecure attachment in infancy which results in unhealthy and insecurely attached adult relationships:
1. Demand Time
For example, you do not want your spouse or partner to do things without you. Your desire is to spend all of your and their spare time together. You demand their time and attention, to the exclusion of other friendships and relationships.
2. Suspicion or Jealousy
For example, you are suspicious of your partner or spouse’s behavior and the people they work with. You question their work relationships and who they interact with in the workplace.
You are suspicious of anyone that you feel they are getting to close to, as you fear they may leave you for another individual.
3. Lack of Emotional Intimacy
For example, your spouse or partner feels that they emotionally can’t get close to you. They describe you as someone who “puts up walls” or that you are generally hard to get close to emotionally.
4. Emotional Dependency
For instance, you depend on your spouse or partner for your emotional well-being. Your expectation is that your happiness comes from your relationship.
If you aren’t happy, it’s because you feel you aren’t being fulfilled by your partner or spouse.
For example, you desire closeness in your intimate relationships. However, your experience has been that if you get too close to your loved one, they will hurt you. This causes you to be a mix of emotions.
You draw your loved one near and then you push him or her away. Your fear of getting too close because you don’t want to get hurt causes relationship dysfunction.
6. Lack of Trust
You don’t trust your spouse or partner to do right by you. You fear they may cheat on you or you fear that they will leave you. You cannot seem to bring yourself to fully trusting him or her.