Attachment theory has been around for decades and is widely accepted by those who study human development and social psychology. Here’s the core idea: Human beings are born helpless, so we are hard-wired at birth to search for and attach to a reliable caregiver for protection. Usually this is the mother, but it can also be the father, grandparent, or other adult. The quality of that first bond—loving and stable or inconsistent or even absent—actually shapes the developing brain, influencing us throughout life in how we deal with loss and how we behave in relationships.
Researchers speak of three different types of attachment that can be created in infancy and that typically continue into adulthood: secure, anxious, and avoidant.
Secure: When infants receive care that is reliable and responsive, they are likely to develop a secure attachment. Adults with secure attachment easily trust others, are comfortable with intimacy, are resilient in the face of loss, and are able to enjoy long-term, stable relationships. About 55 percent of people have secure attachment.
Anxious: When the care an infant receives is unreliable—sometimes available, sometimes not—it can produce an anxious attachment. Anxious adults often crave intimacy yet never quite trust their partner’s affection and require frequent reassurance. About 15 percent of people have anxious attachment.
Avoidant: Infants who consistently fail to receive responsive care come out of childhood with an avoidant attachment. As adults, people with avoidant attachment tend to be uncomfortable with intimacy. They’re often not deeply invested in relationships and instead prefer to be independent and self-reliant, and so when a relationship ends, they’re able to get over it without too much time dwelling on the loss. About 25 percent of people have avoidant attachment.
We can easily learn our attachment type by taking a simple five-minute quiz developed by attachment researchers. The Experience in Close Relationships Quiz includes 36 statements about how you generally feel in emotionally intimate relationships. You can take the quiz here.