Attachment theory traditionally revolves around infant-parent bonding, but modern psychopathology has begun to examine the effects of attachment on adolescent and adult relationships, behavioral and emotional processes, and even various Mental Health Disorders.
Understanding how attachment influences mental and emotional development allows Licensed Clinical Psychologists to address the role that insecure attachment plays in patients’ mental health challenges. Read on to learn more about attachment theory and how it might affect your mental health treatment with a Skilled Psychologist with our guide to an attachment perspective on psychopathology.
An Introduction to Attachment Theory
In psychology, attachment refers to the emotional bond between a child and their parent or caregiver. On an evolutionary scale, attachment is a survival skill. As infants, our desire to stay close to caregivers keeps us safe by putting us beside the people who will protect and provide for us. In psychology, secure attachment plays a key role in building positive mental representations of yourself and others.
When a child has a stable emotional bond with a parent or primary caregiver who is available, responsive, and supportive of their needs, they develop a secure attachment. Secure attachment creates a healthy, stable framework for positive relationships and higher emotional resilience throughout adolescence and adulthood.
However, a bond with an absent, unsupportive, or otherwise unreliable attachment figure leads to insecure attachment. This, in turn, leads to a negative mental representation of yourself and others, thus making you more susceptible to emotional, mental, and developmental issues as an adult.
Changes in Attachment From Infancy to Adulthood
Attachment styles are rooted in early childhood and infant relationships with parents. However, modern studies show that these attachment styles can change with relationships or experiences throughout adolescence and adulthood.
Meaningful relationships—both positive and negative—with other family members, role models, friends, and romantic partners can all change or redefine attachment style. As such, Licensed Clinical Psychologists must keep adolescent and adult experiences in mind when analyzing how attachment style influences a patient’s current mental health challenges.
Insecure Attachment and a Predisposition to Mental Health Disorders
There are two forms of insecure attachment: anxious attachment and avoidant attachment. Both attachment styles hinder the development of healthy mental foundations. Low confidence, poor stress management, low emotional resilience, and other factors increase your chances of developing a Mental Health Disorder at some point in life.
Effects of Attachment Insecurities on Mental Health
When considering an attachment perspective on psychopathology, three primary links tie attachment insecurities to mental health. These links are self-representation, emotional regulation, and interpersonal relations. These concepts create a mental, emotional, and behavioral foundation that influences how you view yourself, others, and the world around you. Licensed Clinical Psychologists look at how attachment style affects these traits to better evaluate and treat Mental Health Disorders.
When insecure attachment stems from parental figures who lack sensitivity and responsiveness, it can lead to poor self-esteem, an unreliable view of yourself, and dependence on external approval. People with poor self-representation due to insecure attachment tend to be overly self-conscious. You might also turn toward defense mechanisms, such as severe perfectionism, to combat low self-esteem.
Emotional regulation is the ability to control your emotional state and think critically through your feelings. This skill is essential for managing emotions, navigating stressful situations, and finding mental and emotional balance throughout everyday life.
Individuals who experience secure attachment as children learn crucial emotional regulation skills that will benefit them into adolescence and adulthood. However, individuals with insecure attachment styles have more difficulty learning these skills.
People with an avoidant attachment style tend to present a mask of composure through cool, emotionless thoughts and actions. This leads to unresolved distress that creates more complications down the line. On the other hand, people with anxious attachment styles tend to amplify negative emotions. This can lead to outbursts of anger, moments of overwhelming fear or sadness, and other impulsive emotional and behavioral tendencies.
Your attachment style heavily influences your social skills throughout life. Insecurities, poor emotional regulation, and feelings of loneliness or isolation impact interpersonal relations.
Those with avoidant attachment styles often struggle with shutting down potentially close relationships by acting distant, competitive, or coldhearted. In contrast, individuals with anxious attachment styles might harm relationships by being overly expressive through intense emotion, oversharing personal details, and other similar behaviors.
Mental Health Disorders Associated With Insecure Attachment
Anxious or avoidant attachment styles create an unstable mental framework that makes individuals more susceptible to a wide variety of Mental Health Disorders. These disorders range from mild challenges to multiple comorbid disorders that severely harm their quality of life.
Mental Health Disorders that are frequently associated with insecure attachments include:
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Antisocial Personality Disorder
- Anxiety Disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Addiction to Alcohol, Drugs, Gambling, Porn, Sex, Gaming, Etc.
Personality Disorders—such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder—are also commonly associated with insecure attachment styles. Skills such as lack of emotional regulation and low distress tolerance are crucial for individuals with a Personality Disorder, and insecure attachments hinder the development of these skills.
Does Insecure Attachment Cause Mental Health Disorders?
It’s important to note that, in some cases, attachment insecurities are not the only source of Mental Health Disorders. While there are some exceptions to this rule—for example, issues like separation anxiety can stem directly from insecure attachments—attachment insecurity tends to exacerbate issues rather than cause them.
The root of most Mental Health Disorders also lies in other factors such as genetics, predisposition, family history, childhood PTSD, abuse or neglect, past traumatic experiences, or personality types.
Secure Attachments Improve Mental Health
If insecure attachments cause problems, secure attachments can fix them. Moreover, as stated above, attachment styles can change over time. Secure attachment creates skills—such as emotional regulation and self-confidence—necessary to manage stress and maintain mature relationships. As such, creating, cultivating, maintaining, and nurturing a secure attachment style with a healthy adult helps individuals build better emotional and mental resilience against Mental Health Disorders and the challenges they present.
If you struggle with anxious or avoidant attachment, it’s important to work with a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who understands the role attachment security plays in Mental Health Disorders and it’s treatment. Dr. Blair is a Skilled Psychologist in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Century City, Brentwood, Westwood, Irvine, Newport, Orange County, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Corona Del Mar, Dana Point, Mission Viejo, and Aliso Viejo. With evidence-based treatments and concierge-style psychology services, Blair Wellness Group offers the treatment you need to heal from insecure attachment and achieve your clinical goals.