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Childhood Attachment and it's Impact in Adulthood

Attachment is based on expectations individuals develop as they relate with others, determined by the nature of relationship they experienced with their parents (or caregiver) in infancy. Infants do not attach to their parents similarly because parents differ in their sensitivity and responsiveness to their needs.

As infants develop socially, their attachment forms one of the 4 main styles, which continue to evolve influencing their social relationships, into adult and older adult lives. Because of the dynamics of various relationships, an individual can apply different attachment styles to different relationships. And they can replicate the same parenting style they received from their parents to their own children, leading to transferable generational parenting and attachment styles.

It is noteworthy that conditions like adverse childhood trauma and neuro-developmental disorders, can affect a child’s attachment style. This is because these conditions challenge the normal trajectory of development, resulting in negative attachment styles being formed. This can be the case with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder where neurodiversity compromises the ability to form a healthy attachment with parents, resulting in relationship difficulties and poor emotion regulation across their lives, unless they undertake psychological treatment to avert this.


This style is developed where a parent uses Authoritative Parenting, that offers consistently high sensitivity and responsiveness to children’s needs, while balancing this with relevant boundaries and guidance. The children attach securely and are confident to seek emotional support from their parents, expecting their difficulties to be understood and addressed unconditionally. They acquire skills in social competency and organisation, enabling them to be mature in developing relationship expectations.

Secure adults have low attachment anxiety, as well as low attachment avoidance – implying that they have healthy self-esteem and freedom to start and maintain health relationships. They are comfortable to express their emotions with openness, can rely on their friends (or partners) and their friends rely on them in turn. Their relationships are founded on trust, sincerity, tolerance, and close emotional bonds. They flourish in their relationships, and do not fear being alone or the ending of relationships. They do not over-rely on the sensitivity and responsiveness or validation of their friends and usually have a positive self-image as well as positive views of others.


This is developed where Neglectful Parenting is at play, which offers low sensitivity and low responsiveness. Parents do not have control or influence over their children, and tend to be emotionally distant and invisible in their role. They lack affection and not give any rules, order, or boundaries, neither do they implement any strong foundational standards and structure. The children learn to adopt a mentality that their needs are not addressed compassionately, as they observe that when they express discomforts, frustrations, and longings, they are naturally disregarded or punished. Their seeking for attachment results in the opposite of their expectations from their parents – irritation and distance instead of attention and closeness. They adopt organised but insecure attachment patterns and become under attached, usually encountering further difficulties such as extreme independence, relationship detachment, and eating disorders.

Adults with avoidant attachment have low anxiety and high avoidance – they are not concerned about being alone and avoid forming bonds with others. They tend to be solitary, bold, self sufficient, and believe they do not require relationships to satisfy their social needs. They avoid close emotional bonds and conceal or repress their emotions when they encounter emotionally challenging situations. They do not rely on the sensitivity and responsiveness or validation of their friends, and usually have a positive image of themselves but not of others.


Ambivalent attachment is associated with a combination of Permissive and Neglectful Parenting, where the child learns that their parent is unreliable and inconsistent in responding to their emotional needs. The parent has low sensitivity and low responsiveness at times, and shifts to high sensitivity and high responsiveness at other times. This is usually caused by the parent’s preoccupation with their own challenges such as mental health problems, or their own attachment difficulties to a level where they are occasionally emotionally unavailable or out of tune with their child’s needs.

The children work tirelessly to get their parents to meet their needs, to the extent of using rageful, disruptiveness, fabrications, threats or over clinging. This is because they do not expect to receive unconditional, spontaneous, and natural responsiveness. But when they have gained that attention, they become angry and resistant to their carer, causing a persistent “push-pull” relationship with them, fuelled by anger (resistance) that concurrently occurs with the desperation for care (anxiety). By this, they learn to revolve between making and breaking relationships, and encounter difficulties such overreaction to emotional pain. They adopt organised but insecure attachment with their social skills.

Adults with this attachment have high anxiety and low avoidance, are unconscious of their strengths and qualities while being conscious of those of others and highly esteeming them. Though they under value themselves, considering that they are undeserving of care, they experience high degrees of anxiety because of fear of abandonment, isolation, vulnerability, or rejection. They fear that their friends are not as committed to them as they are, and find the sensitivity and responsiveness of their relations a soothing ‘remedy’ for their anxiety.

At the same time, they are overwhelmingly demanding and clingy, needy, and desperate, and preoccupied with their relationships, when they get the attention. They are very volatile emotionally, and interchange between making and enjoying relationships at all costs in keeping a friendship (anxiety), to difficult and hostile fights to push their friends away (resistance).


This form of attachment is associated with Authoritarian Parenting, which has low sensitivity and low responsiveness, with extreme parental control. The parents do not embrace or satisfy their children’s emotional needs as they grow. They expect unchallenged obedience and compliance with their strict rules, orders, and boundaries, not permitting freedom of expression from children. This results in the most complex, extreme, and frightening from of attachment, as the children do not experience safety but are exposed to vulnerability. The parents are the triggers and maintainers of the child’s emotional turmoil, though they are expected to respond to and be sensitive to their child’s distress. The child observes that regardless of how relentless their efforts for care are, these do not result in emotional closeness, safety, or consolation from their parent.

The children become chaotic and angry in their relationships, because they have not learnt how to relate in any way - neither have they developed emotion regulation. They adopt disorganised and insecure attachment with their social skills with unusual behaviours. In addition to their disorganisation, they tend to be quite fearful and anxious, angry and bizarre, and at times detached from social norms.

Adults in this category are highly anxious and highly avoidant – with erratic and confusing behaviours. They can become overly attached in relationships to quell their anxiety and uncertainties of expectations, because their relationships are the source of both a longing for love and care, as well as intense fear and frustration. They desire emotional closeness and give overwhelming attention and excessive rewards or compensation to keep relations, but concurrently struggle to trust and rely to others to the extent of controlling how relations progress. They have difficulty in regulating their emotions, and avoid intense emotional bonds to protect themselves from being hurt. Due to poor resilience, they have high risk of experiencing a myriad of personal challenges including mental health problems, and being victims or perpetrators of domestic abuse.


The place to start, is for parents to identify the type of attachment they acquired and the various aspects that have moulded relationship behaviours, and how this influences their parenting and their children’s attachment style. The parents then need to prioritise areas to focus on to start developing their own secure attachment, and then assist their children to do the same. They can use both gradual and immediate interventions.

Psychological interventions will assist the parents and their children to process their life experiences, develop appropriate solutions, and resolve consequences of the diverse difficulties. There will be a need to resolve unhelpful beliefs and assumptions, harm and emotion dysregulation, as well as complex behaviour patterns.

See article on Parenting Syles - Where Can you Improve, earlier in this series for more reading in this area.


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Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. 1 st ed. London: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

Benson, ‎J. B. and Haith, M. M. (2010). Social And Emotional Development In Infancy And Early

Childhood. New York: Elsevier.

Carr, A. (2015). The Handbook of Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychology: A Contextual Approach. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Frick, P. J., Barry, C. T., and Kamphaus, R. W. (2016). Clinical Assessment Of Child And Adolescent

Personality And Behaviour. 2nd ed. New York: Springer.

Grossmann, K. E., Grossmann, K. and Waters, E. (2005). Attachment from Infancy to Adulthood: The Major Longitudinal Studies. London: The Guildford Press.

Hoffman, K., Cooper, G., Powell, B., Benton, C. M., and Siegel, D. J. (2017). Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child's Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom to Explore. London: The Guildford Press.

Hogg, M. A. and Vaughan, G. M. (2021). Social Psychology. 9th ed. Sydney: Pearson.

Lewis, V. (2009). Development and Disability. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Smith, P. K. and Hart, C. H. (2013). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Social Development. 2nd ed. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell .

Sroufe, L. A., Egeland, B., Calrson, E. A., and Collins. W. A. (2005). The Development of the Person:

The Minnesota Study of Risk and Adaptation from Birth to Adulthood. London: The Guildford Press.

Kudakwashe Nyakudya Nurse, Nutritionist & Psychological Practitioner

Kudakwashe is a diversely qualified clinical practitioner who specialises in individualised psychological and nutritional interventions for children and adolescents with mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. She also provides therapeutic approaches for adults - especially women who have experienced mental health problems as a consequence of interpersonal abuse.

She also offer personalised nutritional management for areas like disordered eating, weight management, ARFID, eating disorders, and ASD related eating problems. I have a special interest in neurodevelopmental difficulties, and am certified to diagnose ASD and ADHD and their associated conditions using gold standard assessment frameworks

Kudakwashe provides support through Solihull Well Being Clinic


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