What is Adult Attachment?
Similar to children, adults want to be understood, find support and feel nurtured in their close relationships.
Whether an adult will be able to achieve this in a healthy manner will depend on the combination of early attachment
experiences plus the failures or successes in relationships in childhood and adolescence. Adults who had caring
parents or caregivers and continued to seek and find positive relationships in adolescence will have secure
relationships as an adult. Those adults who had poor early caregiving experiences and continued to develop
unhealthy relationships in childhood and adolescence will have insecure adult relationships.
Research does show that adults, similar to children form both secure and insecure relationships.
Mary Main and Associates, researchers in the Attachment field categorize adults into 4 types of Attachments:
Secure or Autonomous, Preoccupied, Dismissive and Unresolved. 1
- Secure or Autonomous Attachment: Adults with Autonomous or Secure Attachments usually had positive
childhood experiences, are secure within themselves and value relationships. They are able to reflect on their
early childhood experiences with openness, acknowledging both positive and negative aspects. They are aware of
their feelings and are able to establish mutually satisfying adult relationships.
- Preoccupied Attachments: Adults with this insecure attachment had caregivers who were inconsistently
available. Adults with Preoccupied Attachments remain highly sensitive to others not being available, are emotionally
demanding and become preoccupied and suspicious about their partnerís availability and trustworthiness.
- Dismissive Attachments: Adults with Dismissive Attachments had caregivers who were unavailable and or
rejecting. Such adults have learned to avoid intimate relationships believing that no one would be available to meet
their needs. They rely mostly on themselves and focus more on activities and work rather than close relationships.
They are not in touch with their emotions and not able to establish emotional intimacy.
- Unresolved Attachments: Adults with Unresolved Attachments have a history of neglect and physical or
sexual abuse and continue to perceive relationships as dangerous. They may be avoidant of relationships, victims
in relationships, aggressive and abusive in relationships or have dissociative symptoms.
Thanks to Annette Kussin, credentials, Director of Leaside Family Therapy for her contributions to the material presented in the Adult Attachment Section.
1 Cassidy, Jude; Shaver, Phillip, Handbook of Adult Attachment, Guilford Press, New York, 1999.