Personality: Attachment Theory

Abstract

This paper is a comprehensive research on the developmental theory of personality specifically the attachment theory. Attachment theory is the common theory used in psychology especially when dealing with infant and mother relationship. This theory has played a critical role in the establishment of child care policies as well as child social development programs that help in child growth in the early years of life. In order to understand human behavioral responses in different situation, understanding attachment theory is of essence.

This is the basis through which human beings relate and interact. It explains and identifies the roots where such traits as fear, intimidation, low self esteem withdrawal and antisocial behaviors come from. Attachment of an infant to the parent is such an interesting psychological event although study has shown that it is not only a psychological process but also biological, physical and cultural response. Child development responds to the social and cultural exposure.

Introduction

Defining personality

Psychologists are always in the business of studying and finding out why people behave as they do. Why people behave the way they do is therefore the essence of personality. Personality is an intrinsic development caused by certain body responses and traits that define an individual. There have been a number of developments to explain these traits and why thy happen as well as how they happen.

Consequently, this has led to psychologists developing theoretical explanations to define personality. Mikulincer & Shaver (2001) defines personality as “patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that make a person unique.” Personalities have several characteristics including the fact that they are consistent through out an individual’s lifetime; they are both psychological and physiological processes, they influence behaviors and actions and that they are exhibited in more than just behavioral traits (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001).

Types of personality theories

There are a number of categories of personality theories depending on different psychologists. Some of these categories include behavioral theories, cognitive theories, developmental theories, humanistic theories, personality theories, social psychology theories as well as learning theories (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001). In this paper I will be referring to most of these theories but mostly I will be dealing with the developmental theories and more specifically the attachment theory. As noted by Mikulincer & Shaver (2001), development theories are characterized by the thoughtful aspect of looking at human growth, development and ability to learn. This theory helps one to understand what exactly motivates human behavior and thoughts as Mikulincer & Shaver (2001) asserts.

Personality theory; attachment

Attachment theory is one of the developmental theories. The others include; Freuds theory of psychosexual development, Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, kohlberg’s theory of moral development, attachment theory and parenting styles (Feist & Feist, 2009). My focus however will be on the attachment theory of the developmental category. To begin with, there are different factors that influence personality development. These factors are Genetic factors, early experience, Primary groups and Cultural factors

Factors influencing personality development

Genetic factors

These are as a result of the universal notion that heredity plays a major role in shaping an individual’s personality. All of the personality theories that exist today are developed in the same principal that human behavioral structure is largely influenced by parental biological characteristics. This is an assumption that has valid scientific backing especially going by the view of some of the renowned psychologists like Freud who holds the view that personality is purely a biological process (Feist & Feist, 2009). Nonetheless, environmental and social factors can not be overlooked under all circumstances.

Early experience

Early experiences are factors that contribute to an individual personality based on early years of life. This is based on the belief that personality development is actually a continuous buildup process as opposed to an instant characteristic. It is believed that early years of age contribute a lot in the personality development of a person and are critical in defining a person unique character. While this is true, the immediate environment is more likely to have the greatest impact on the shaping of a personality.

Primary groups

Primary groups involve family interactions and early relationship with family members. It has been establish that problems seen in adults in relations to personality development are greatly influenced by the individual’s background from the early age relationship with their family members. A child brought up in ineffective childrearing practices portrays more problems in their adulthood as opposed to children who had a good childrearing background. Early childhood relationship is what gives a child identity and builds their self worth. When this is not well grounded there will be negative repercussions on an individual’s adulthood personality development.

Culture

Culture is another aspect of our lives that actively contributes to personality development. The society has expectations on how people should behave a factor that shapes our behavior in response to these expectations. Due to the norms and cultural expectations, characteristic behaviors are developed and upheld hence defining our personality. Each society has specific and defined expectations on how both boys and girls are to behave. Children are consequently brought up to respond and live up to these expectations. This not withstanding, the effects of culture are not the same to all the individuals exposed to that culture. The response to these effects is greatly influenced by the differences in the way of administering cultural norms.

Characteristics of attachment personality theory

Attachment was first developed by a psychologist named John Bowlby who described attachment as “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Feist & Feist, 2009). This attachment as Feist & Feist (2009) asserts is built during the first early years when an infant is born. This close relationship between the child and their mother is important as it increases the chances of the child’s survival.

This bonds that are developed between the child and his or her parents are very important and greatly impact the quality of one’s personality later in their adulthood. Children brought up by parents who are always there for them and whose presence is always felt grow up to be very secure adults and confident to explore the challenges of life.

This is not true to children whose parents are so busy to spend time with them. The later display a sense of fear and insecurity even in their adulthood compared to the former. Creating a sense of security in a child is essential if the child is expected to have a strong personality and to be a secure individual in their adulthood. According to Feist & Feist (2009), the attachment theory is characterized by four main principles which are; the safe haven principle, the secure base principle, and the proximity maintenance and separation distress. The safe haven principle is displayed when a child feels intimidated or threatened; they will always run to the guardian for protection. Proximity maintenance is the tendency for a child to always endeavor to maintain a close distance to the parent or guardian.

The last one is the separation distress which is displayed when a child is separated from the caregiver. At this instance the child becomes very disturbed and uncomfortable and probably they may begin to cry.

Characteristics of attachment personality theory

The attachment theory was further expounded to cover more specific characteristics in the 1970s by Mary Ainsworth a psychologist (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008). In her research, she observed that children under the age of 12-18 months when left alone by their guardians for minutes, they expressed some responses (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008).

She went ahead and classified these responses into different styles of attachment which are; secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment and avoidant-insecure attachment (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008). Secure attachment is displayed by children who get very distress when they are away from their guardians and return to normalcy when the guardian gets back. However, at the event that he or she leaves, the child expresses confidence that the guardian will return.

Rational of theory selection

Securely attached children run to their guardians for protection when frightened. A child with ambivalent- insecure attachment to their guardian gets very agitated when not in the comfort of their guardian (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008). This as John, Robins, & Pervin (2008) asserts is as a result of probable deprived motherly availability. Avoidant attachment is displayed by children who prefer total strangers rather than their own caregivers. Children with this kind of attachment when asked to choose between their own parents and strangers they opt for the stranger. This as many research findings have established is as a result of negligence and abusive caregivers (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001).

My selected theory was reached upon the insightful principles the theory is built on. Attachment theory of personality development is the solution for future problems in adulthood with regards to personality and the best explanation of how personality characteristics are built. Attachment theory explains the buildup of an individual personality from the root of its formation which is at birth all the way to growing up as an adult.

This theory provides an understanding to parents that it is important to cultivate a close relationship to their children from an early age in order to provide and influence room for healthy and effective normal growth to their children.

As discussed earlier, early family attachment or parent/child relationship determines the quality of development in terms of character formation and personality which are highly influenced by these relationships. Secure attachment is of essence to growing children as it give a child a sense security and confidence hence facilitates effective growth and preparedness to face later adulthood challenges. Attachment is an interactive development of the child’s personality aimed at assisting a child to cultivate and develop “effective and positive emotional connections” with the parents (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008).

Attachment is basically any action or feeling of the need for proximity maintenance to a different person. As a child grows, they have to be protected and their safety assured in order to create a fertile ground for positive emotional growth as I mentioned earlier. Children are vulnerable to emotional distress as they have a very unstable mind. The tragedy to this effect is the fact that negative or positive, the experiences leave a lasting impact that would be manifested for the rest of the child’s life. Children brought up in fear will always remain intimidated and frightened.

On the other hand, a child brought up in peaceful conditions and are protected by the parents will most probably cultivate a strong personality and respond more positively emotionally as compared to the former. “Attachment strategies focus on parenting trauma, therapy cognitive-behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, psycho-drama, object relations therapy, family therapy, reality therapy, etc” (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008). Most of the children suffering from attachment personality disorders are mostly victims of abuse and deprivation (Feist & Feist, 2009). These cases have become so serious in the recent past growing in prevalence worldwide.

Application of the theory

The attachment personality theory is one of the most commonly used theories in the field of psychology. Research on human and animals’ behavior shows that they both display similar characteristics at the infant stages of life. Both express similar emotional responses to separation from their mothers in three similar ways which are; Protest, Despair and detachment. By protest, an infant, human or non-human responds in protest when the parent leaves and efforts to comfort them are fruitless. Secondly, infants despair and get angry with the guardian when left alone and the ultimate results will be that the infant will not be receptive to the parent when he or she returns. This is called detachment.

Attachment theory is fundamental in not only displaying emotional reactions but also in other aspects of the general human life. Human life and existence is characterized by other social parameters such as love, loneliness and grief (Feist & Feist, 2009). The attachment theory has been used in quite a number of practical applications and mostly in child care policies. Other practical applications of the attachment theory include Clinical practice in children as well as Clinical practice in adults and families.

Child Care Policies

Attachment theory is the basis in which most of the child care policies are built on. The reason why this theory is the basis for child care policies is the emphasis it lays on the need and importance for sensitive care giving and an early relationship between the caregiver and the child. Unlike other theories that concentrate on behavioral stimulation and reinforcement of child behaviors, the attachment theory is more concerned on the relationship between infants and caregivers to establish a strong and positive character and personality (Feist & Feist, 2009).

Through the attachment theory, parents are educated and informed about the importance of early childhood child-parent relationship and its benefits. Policy makers too have been able to formulate policies concerning child care through the ideology of this theory. Attachment theory has been very instrumental in finding and understanding matters on early childhood development hence policy makers created numerous programs that deal with the issue of the same. Parents today are well informed on early childhood social and personality development needs.

It is as a result of the attachment approach of human early life development that maternal and paternal responsibilities policies are based on. Today, pregnant women are entitled to maternity leave to give them time to develop the much needed child-parent relationship. Policies protecting pregnant women and children are all based on the attachment theory. This theory has brought a clear understanding of social relationship between parents and their children

Clinical practice in children

Attachment theory can be used to solve a number of psychosocial problems in children. Understanding the effects of child relationship with their parents is crucial in solving some of the problems that children go through in their early age. It is essential to have a clear understanding of this theory in order to be able to use the same for clinical purposes. The theory highlights the quality of parenting behaviors and consequently creating programs that address this issue.

Some of the programs developed as a result of attachment theory include treatment, prevention and intervention programs that focus on child development in social psychological frameworks. Mikulincer & Shaver (2001) submits that these programs are designed to offer guidelines on the best way to bring up a child especially with foster care service providers. Adults are taught to give special attention to their younger ones and informed about the importance and benefits for this. To the infants, these programs are designed to help increase the child’s responsiveness and sensitivity to their caregivers therapy (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001).

This is a crucial stage and needs to be approached with care. It is important to acknowledge the fact that attachment is a two way process and needs to be developed in both parties. The child’s attachment to the caregiver is mostly depended on the caregivers approach and responsiveness to the child’s needs. Avoidance security as mentioned earlier develops when the child can not depend on the caregiver to be there for him or her. In this discontinuity on the parent’s presence, the relationship between the child and the parent is not well developed (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001).

Clinical practice in adults and families

In clinical practice in adults, the attachment theory gives the therapist a better understanding of the human functioning from the early years to adulthood. This makes their work easier and at the same time very effective due to a clear understanding of the root problem. Attachment theory is incorporated in some of the major psychoanalysis programs where the theory has help yield a lot of progress and effective help.

Attachment theory also has been instrumental in relational therapies mostly the behavioral couple therapy (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001). It has also been used to develop other therapies such as the attachment-based family therapy as well as the emotional focused therapy (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001). In psychopathology, the attachment theory was instrumental in the development of reflective functioning (Feist & Feist, 2009).

This includes its presence, absence or even distortion (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001). The reflective function ability helps an individual to reflect on his or her internal emotional feelings and decipher why things are the way they are and also do the same on others. This gives an individual the ability to be able to respond to the social infant needs as the caregiver is in a position to read the verbal and nonverbal communications from the child and respond effectively. With this communication the child finds an attachment figure in the care giver and hence through this attunement and contingent communication a personality begins to build up.

Unsystematic attachment may crop up once the child’s parent is equally the cause of fright as well as the only protective figure hence running to them crates stress and anxiety to the child. In such occasions, neither closeness seeking nor closeness avoiding solves the problem of rebuilding the child’s attachment and fear behavioral systems (American Psychological Association, 2010). If the strain remains unsettled and is passed into adulthood, it leaves the person exposed to dysregulation in internal inconsistency situations that provoke fear, hate, shame and rage (American Psychological Association, 2010). In these extremes, the individual may result to drug abuse in an attempt to reduce and suppress the effects of psychobiological effects (American Psychological Association, 2010).

Conclusion

The attachment theory is one of the most effective explanations of the human character and personality as well as being the most viable way of explaining human behavior. As discussed in the study above, many other theories have also made an attempt to clear the air as far as human personality is concerned. However, in my own opinion I believe the developmental approach of understanding human personality is the most effective approach.

Human beings adapt to their environment and respond to the same differently according to the circumstances through which one is exposed to societal up bringing. Giving a developmental explanation on human personality growth and factors influencing the same growth is the most accurate account of an individual’s personality. Attachment theory as one of the developmental theory is a perfect approach to explain the unique and divergent human behaviors.

References

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Feist, J., & Feist, G. J. (2009). Theories of personality (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN: 9780073382708. Print.

John, O. P., Robins, R. W., & Pervin, L. A. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. ISBN: 9781593858360. Print.

Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2001). Attachment theory and intergroup bias: Evidence that priming the secure base schema attenuates negative reactions to out-groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 97-115. Print.

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