Attachment, or the attachment bond, is the emotional connection you formed as an infant with your primary caregiver—probably your mother. According to attachment theory, pioneered by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, the quality of the bonding you experienced during this first relationship often determines how well you relate to other people and respond to intimacy throughout life.
If your primary caretaker made you feel safe and understood as an infant, if they were able to respond to your cries and accurately interpret your changing physical and emotional needs, then you likely developed a successful, secure attachment. As an adult, that usually translates to being self-confident, trusting, and hopeful, with an ability to healthily manage conflict, respond to intimacy, and navigate the ups and downs of romantic relationships.
If you experienced confusing, frightening, or inconsistent emotional communication during infancy, though, if your caregiver was unable to consistently comfort you or respond to your needs, you’re more likely to have experienced an unsuccessful or insecure attachment. Infants with insecure attachment often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others, limiting their ability to build or maintain stable relationships. They may find it difficult to connect to others, shy away from intimacy, or be too clingy, fearful, or anxious in a relationship.
Of course, experiences that occur between infancy and adulthood can also impact and shape our relationships. However, the infant brain is so profoundly influenced by the attachment bond, understanding your attachment style can offer vital clues as to why you may be having problems in your adult relationships. Perhaps you behave in puzzling or self-destructive ways when you’re in a close relationship? Maybe you repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over? Or maybe you struggle to form meaningful connections in the first place?
Whatever your specific relationship problems, it’s important to know that your brain remains capable of change throughout life. By identifying your attachment style, you can learn to challenge your insecurities, develop a more securely attached way of relating to others, and build stronger, healthier, and more fulfilling relationships.