Ambivalent attachment: what is it and what are its consequences?

Have you heard about ambivalent attachment? First of all, it should be remembered that attachment is the affective and emotional bond that is established between a baby and its caregiver, or between one person and another. It is characterized by the search for proximity, support and intimate interaction. In addition, they tend to develop from an early age.

Based on different investigations (Bowlby, Ainsworth, Main, as main references), it was established that attachment impacts on the idea that the person has about himself, on the attachment figure and on the relationship itself. These are the so-called 'active internal models', which then tend to carry over to other relationships.

When the attachment relationship is well established, feelings of trust and security develop, and you learn about empathy, communication and self-esteem. However, this does not always go in that direction and may have weak foundations. Therefore, relationships become unstable or conflictual. So let's see what ambivalent attachment is.

Ambivalent attachment theory

Based on the investigation of the "strange situation" carried out by Ainsworth, different types of attachment were detected. Among them, the insurance, the avoidant insecure and the ambivalent insecure. Furthermore, subsequent investigations by Main and Solomon identified a fourth type, which is disorganized attachment.

Regarding secure attachment, it occurs in those situations where children seek contact with their caregiver figure, they are capable of expressing their discomfort and anguish, at the same time that they can resume their exploration activity.

Regarding ambivalent attachment, refers to cases in which the behavior is ambiguous, that is, there is interest in resuming contact, at the same time that it is avoided when it appears. There is a tension between proximity and resistance. In the case of the avoidant attachment pattern, the child seems not to feel anguish and rejects his caring figure when it appears.

Examples of ambivalent attachment

Some behaviors in which we can detect ambivalent attachment are situations in which the child feels insecure in the absence of their caregiver, but when they return, they get as close as they reject them.

In adult cases it is reflected in relationships in which there are "twists and turns" or interest but also rejection is shown. The same way, there is a demand for contact, attention and proximity, that when one of the members does not have it, it seeks to make the other feel guilty.

Ambivalent attachment tends to manifest itself from infancy.

It may interest you: Avoidant attachment and its influence on emotional health

Causes of ambivalent attachment

To understand the causes of this form of attachment, it is necessary to think beyond the individual and relational level, since contextual elements also contribute. For example, it is said that the basis of an ambivalent attachment has to do with inconsistency or unavailability in the response of the figure of the caregiver to the demands of the child.

When the explanation only focuses on this aspect, it seems to be responsible and guilty. However, it is also necessary to analyze what are the conditions and impediments to establish healthy relationships. Do not lose sight of the influence of different systems and context.

What are the characteristics of ambivalent attachment?

In ambivalent attachment the typical behavior is that children are anxious and insecure in the presence of strangers, even reaching tears. However, when the parents return, they find no comfort, the anguish continues and they oscillate between approaching, withdrawing and rejecting.

The child interprets the bond as intermittent and that generates insecurity, since he understands that sometimes he receives attention and sometimes not, and the problem is that uncertainty of not knowing when. Inconsistency could be the word that synthesizes this type of attachment.

What are its consequences?

Attachment theory has as its main starting point that this defines the basis of what future relationships will be, at the same time that it has an impact on a personal level, on issues such as self-esteem and security.

Different authors emphasize that there is a parallel between the relational experiences of adults and attachment theory. Therefore, from this idea, it is considered that those who have an ambivalent style are insecure, distrustful adults, afraid of being abandoned and who find it difficult to commit to relationships.

In some studies, there is even talk of the presence of hypervigilance behaviors. The presence of anxiety, strong need for closeness and fear of rejection and separation is also recorded. For his part, Garrido (2006) mentions that people with ambivalent attachment report high levels of negative affect, with discomfort and anger.

It may interest you: Attachment in couple relationships

Is there a treatment for ambivalent attachment?

Given that attachment is related to the ability of parents and caregivers to read about the needs of boys and girls, research suggests carry out actions related to sensitivity, especially during early childhood.

On the other hand, it is necessary to work with adults who have attachment difficulties (ambivalent, disorganized or avoidant), especially in cases of mental health problems. This is recommended for a second stage.

First, it is about intervening on specific issues, which are more sensitive to change, and then on deeper and far-reaching problems, which require more time to address.

In addition, when it comes to an already established situation, psychological therapy is recommended. In these cases, much work is done on individual aspects, such as self-esteem, security, trust, emotional dependence and also on relational patterns.

Depending on the magnitude of the situation, it can be approached from the theory of trauma, especially in the presence of situations of violence.

Psychological therapy may be necessary to overcome ambivalent attachment and its consequences.

Secure attachment is always a protective factor

It is important to bear in mind that the quality of the bond is what influences the development of boys and girls. Like any bond, it is the construction, the time, the successive approaches and the contacts that favor the knowledge and understanding of what the other needs.

Secure attachment will always be a protective factor for different life circumstances. However, also it is necessary to consider that this it is not something isolated, without contact with the context.

In this sense, one must always ask oneself what are the conditions that are influencing the development or maintenance of a certain type of link. In the responses it will not be surprising to find that, many times, economic and social conditions have a greater influence than would be desired.

So it is appropriate to remind Bowlby:

«Just as children depend on their parents for their maintenance, there are fathers, especially mothers, who depend on the bulk of the society to obtain economic resources. If a community values ​​its children, it must value their parents.

Therefore, thinking about attachment also implies accompanying the people they care for, through resources such as parental education programs, conciliation policies, family support, employment, among other measures.