PSYCHOLOGY: Basics of attachment theory - How first relationships affect our adult ones?

in psychology •  last year
Today, it will be a bit more scientific, but I hope that this form will estrange you from psychological issues.
The 1940s can be considered the beginning of research on attachment (Bowlby, 1958). Previous studies on children and babies during separation from the mother haven’t been identified. The first of them, conducted by Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham, concern healthy children between the ages of birth and the age of four. These observations were carried out at the Humpstead Nursries under the best conditions (when we consider that it happened during war). Much of what has been recorded during the study, despite the unsystematic nature of the observations, is now regarded as typical phenomena.

Since the pioneering research of the war period, many others have been created (involving children in a nursery, in hospital or in their own environment). All of these observations, although very different in terms of the circumstances in which they were carried out, age of children or their relationship with the mother before separation, allow one common conclusion that a child who was six months old and separated from the mother, will react on this situation in a typical way.
Using the data collected by Robertson (observation of behaviors of two and three years during their stay in a 24/7 nursery under traditional care), it can be established that a child between fifteen and thirty months who was in a safe relationship with the mother will show a specific a predictable reaction in which three phases can be distinguished (protest, despair and disconnection) (Bowlby, 1968).

John Bowlby

The protest phase, lasting from a few hours to about a week, can start immediately or occur with a delay. In this phase, the child seems to be in severe distress due to the loss of the mother. Behavioral indicators of this phase include acute crying, high physical activity (throwing), shaking the cot and rejecting alternative figures (although some children have "desperate adherence" to the nurse). In addition, the behaviour suggests that the child is convinced of the mother's return. The child's preoccupation with the lost mother is still visible in the despair phase, although his behaviour is characterized by helplessness. Previously large physical activity significantly weakens or ceases completely. Often this period is confused with the weakening of distress. This is related to the passivity and withdrawal of a child who, in comparison to the previous phase, behaves quietly, while at the same time gives the impression of being in a state of strong regret.

The disconnection period is characterized by the increase of the child's interest in their own environment. The reactions of rejecting alternative figures from which the child begins to receive care and food are inhibited. A smile appears on their face, which is often welcomed, but when interacting with his mother in this phase, there are behaviours that aren’t characteristic of strong attachment. The child behaves as if he did not know his mother and remained "distant and apathetic" (Bowlby, 1968).

Childhood vs Adult attachment
(my own presentation)
Depending on the duration of the child's stay in the nursery, the child experienced further frustrations connected with bonding to other carers (nurses) and subsequent loss of that relationship, which makes the child experience the original loss from the beginning. After a long time, the child behaves as if contact with people and maternal care was of no importance to him. This observation seems to be extremely important both for the creation of attachment theory and this work.
For the emergence of Bowlby's attachment theory, the bonds between child and the mother are fundamental. Understanding them is important for understanding the child's reaction to loss of figure (of attachment) and separation.
The theoretical solution that Bowlby proposed in 1958 differed, as he himself assured of it from all other solutions proposed then. The first one was the view called by the author the theory of the secondary drive or the love of calculation in relation to the object, according to which the mother providing the child's physiological needs is a source of gratification for him. The second solution was the theory of sucking the original object that implies the innate tendency of infants to establish relationships with the human breast and suck it and "take it oral" (Bowlby, 1968).


This theory assumes that after some time the child realizes that he can also establish a relationship with his mother, whom he perceives as a breast owner. The third theory mentioned by Bowlby is based on the assumption about the innate tendency of infants to be in touch with the human view that there is a "need" to have an object that is not dependent on food. This view was called the theory of sticking to the original object. The last solution is the theory that infants are dissatisfied with "exile" from the mother's womb. It is called the original desire to return to the womb. and they are striving to return to this place.

A Secure Base by John Bowlby
The basis of the hypothesis proposed by Bowlby in 1958 was the instinctive behaviour thery. The author postulates that the bonds that connect the child with the mother are "a product of the activity of a number of behavioural systems whose predictable effect may be closeness to the mother" (Bowlby, 1958). The ontogenesis of behavioural systems is different in different children and its complicated course, therefore, it is difficult to define them clearly in children before they finish one year. Entering the second year of life means the opportunity to observe typical attachment behaviours in almost every case, which is associated with the appearance of the child's ability to move, be mobile. The integrated system of behavioural systems is activated especially when moving away from the mother or when there is a stimulus that arouses fear. Suppression of such a reaction is most effective through the mother's voice, her touch or sight. The ease of activation of these systems decreases with the entry of the child into the third year of life, because the proximity of the mother is no longer as important to them as before. In this approach, created by John Bowlby instead of referring to needs and urges, it is stated that specific attachment behaviours are a consequence of the activation of specific behavioural systems. The development of these systems occurs as a result of interaction with the environment and, above all, with the mother, the attachment figure.


  1. Ainsworth, M.D., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E., and Wall, S. (1978).Patterns of Attachment: Assessed in the Strange Situation and at Home.Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  2. Bowlby, J. (1973).Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation, New York:
  3. Stroufe, L.A. and Fleeson, J. (1985). Attachment and the construction of relationships. In W. Hartup and Z. Rubin (Eds.),The Nature and Development of Relationships (pp. 51–71). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  4. Stern, D. (1989). The Representation of Relational Patterns. In A. Sameroff and R. Emde, (Eds.),Relationship Disturbances in Early Childhood. New York

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This is a huge concern for me as we are adopting and attachment issues can cause a lot of issues.

Side note have you heard of the @asapers, its a new curation thing I started with a few others, we opened up a post promotion channel and we are always looking for great stuff to curate life this.


I guess the best thing one could do is to prepare as much as possible. The fact that you're self-reflective and rational enough to already know that attachment-styles could be a potential issue, is encouraging. You're on the right track.

I don't have kids of my own but have many surrogates (I'm a teacher). In the end, and as cliché as it might be, a lot can be accomplished with love, discipline, boundaries and consistency. I'd encourage you to not just look at the possible problems (like attachment styles) but to look at possible tools, like how children learn (positive and negative reinforcement). What environment will be the most conducive.

In the end you are the parent, and you know better. Never forget that. Also, it's probably going to be 50% preparation and 50% "winging it". Sorry for randomly popping in on your comment. Just wanted to wish you good luck!


Thank you, we appreciate your feed back. Im sure there will be lots of winging it. Haha. And welcome to @asapers.


Just opened it. Great idea! I hereby declare to write more quality content!

I agree with you. It mat cause The problem but There is posibility of compensation in attachment area. Great work for you nad your hubby but I am sure you will manage!


Haha you already write quality content 😁


Hi there insideoutlet. I understand. I encourage you to go and read the book called 'Attached' by Amir Levine. It was revelatory book for understanding this subject. I work with helping people 'go secure', healing old attachment wounds. I have worked through many of my own issues, and I watch my clients go secure after the work.

I've been looking at attachment styles again recently. Working as a teacher they help me identify ways children act and react to their peers and me, as their teacher.

More precisely, I want to help steer them in the right direction in terms of relationships later in life. It is often easy to see if a child comes from a difficult home. The challenging part, is changing their perspectives on relationships and their relationship templates. In the limited time I spend with them, it's probably impossible, but we try.

Understanding attachment styles and that they affect our relationships as adults help us too. I can honestly say there is a pattern in ALL of my relationships and I am starting to clearly see what it is (especially in terms of romantic relationships).

Keep up the good work! You definitely have a gift and a passion which will carry you on this path. Psychology, therapy, counselling, whatever it might be, isn't an easy road but those that actively choose it definitely live fulfilled lives! You have gained a follower! Good luck on your journey :)


Thank you for your thoughts. Child's background is very important when you work with them! Especially for teacher. From my experience: teacher calls adoptive parents that their child (in new school) is "rude" and please do something with it.

Noone cares that the child is adopted, after long adoption process ... after being taken from family. School wants kid to be nice. Just nice.

Thank you for you point of you. We need more people like you @rionpistorius :)

Hey @smashedturtle

Thank you for contributing with quality content to the psychology hash-tag.

You did nice introduction to this issue :)

Personally I would love if you had included a bit more of A. Freud. Hopefully you will in the next posts to follow ! Cheers !


I am really into psychoanalysis so you will find some here for sure:)

I meant to create short overview, so I basically made short intro.

Thank you for stopping by!

I will follow you to see your future posts!


Thank you

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