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Attachment: The Science of Love

February is the month of love! A month where people celebrate love, and the role it plays in your everyday life.  Love sometimes feels like an intangible thing that can be hard to quantify or even describe.  Did you know love is a necessity in our lives? Even as infants, humans desire a caregiver-child connection. Attachment theory, is the science behind that theory and how we can better understand ourselves and our loved ones through an attachment lens. A secure connection is one which is attuned, reliable, and engaged.  When these needs are met, people are more resilient.

Learning about our attachment style can help us reflect on our relationships and how we show up in them, or how our loved ones show up in relationships with us.  Attachment should be viewed on a spectrum.  Secure attachment is at the center of the spectrum.   People who show secure attachment in relationships are less critical of their loved ones, more able to regulate self, show empathy and understanding, and be more resilient. A secure child will display distress when separate from caregiver, but is easily soothed and will return to caregiver and a positive mood around reunification.  Secure adults are able to discuss conflict while engaging both their emotional and logical viewpoints. On another side of the spectrum there is dismissive/avoidant attachment. People who are avoidant are more likely to be uncomfortable with emotional contact and deal with the comfortability by withdrawing.  In children, this may look like not showing distress when separated from caregiver, and showing little interest in the mother’s caregiver.  In adults, people who are withdrawers tend to avoid conflict, and may show withdrawing behaviors that look like being dismissive, ignoring, turning away from, people pleasing to avoid conflict, or a variety of different ways.  On the opposite of the spectrum is anxious/preoccupied attachment, this attachment style people are uncomfortable with conflict and often pursue the other party in their discomfort. The anxious/preoccupied attachment in children may look like showing intense distress when caregiver leaves, and is difficult to console upon return.  Anxiously attached adults tend to be pursuers in their relationship, including being emotionally reactive, testing for love, and blaming behaviors.

It is important to recognize that all styles of attachment are on a spectrum, and things that feel more emotionally intense may intensify behaviors. It is also important to know that moving towards a more secure attachment is possible.  Practice self-regulation before engaging with loved ones.  Notice how you are feeling before the interaction, are you feeling particularly anxious or tense? Feeling numb or apathetic? Try going for a walk, breathing, or another coping strategy before engaging.  Particularly with children, adults and caregivers should regulate self in order to provide a safe space for calming the child down.  Weather an adult– child relationship or an adult– adult relationship, it is difficult to move towards resolution or repair when both parties are dysregulated.

Learning about your attachment style and those around you can help you better understand behaviors and issues.  Attachment theory is just a door way into building better relationships.  Seek counseling and support from a therapist if high conflict is occurring in your life.   A less conflictual and more supportive relationship is possible.

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