Author’s Note: A child’s personality is an emerging, complex structure formed from the interaction between her temperament (inborn characteristics) and the environment in which she develops. That environment, in turn, depends on myriad factors, including her parents’ personalities, their life challenges and opportunities, and their internal and external resources. A child’s personality is also strongly affected by her siblings and other close figures.
When two people are married or form a romantic partnership, they bring their already-formed personalities to the relationship. Understanding their different personality types from an attachment perspective can help to demystify and untangle some of the conflicts and problems that may arise in their relationship. While reading Scenarios A, B, and C below, see which child personality you most identify with, and which one reminds you most of your partner. Then see if you can match each scenario to the attachment type described following the scenarios.
A small 4-year-old boy is outside in front of his house, succeeding in getting on his older sister’s bike. Pushing down on the pedal, the bike lurches forward, wobbles, and the boy topples to the ground. The bike crashing noisily beside him, he registers pain. He looks down and sees red blood dripping down his knee. In a panic, he begins to scream.
What happens next?
Scenario A: The boy quickly stifles his cries. His face goes blank. He freezes for several minutes. Slowly and carefully, he stands up and walks away. He is now wary of the bike, and will keep his distance for some time. Inside the house, his mother is preoccupied, and did not register her child’s stifled screams.
Scenario B: The intensity of the boy’s screams increase as his mother comes running from the house. She is frightened, concerned for her child’s well-being. Seeing the scrape on his knee, she quickly reassures him that she will take care of him. She immediately picks him up, carries him to the kitchen, and administers first aid. She is upset that her child had access to a bike that was too big for him, and consequently had this accident. The boy registers his mother’s distress, and stays close for reassurance and protection.
Scenario C: The boy runs into the house to find his mother. “Oohhhhh….” she exclaims, scooping the boy into her arms to comfort him. She sings words like a lullaby to express understanding and reassurance for his panic and pain. As he is rocked and soothed, the boy calms. Talking back and forth, they share the story of what just happened. She explains that the blood is from a scraping off of skin that will soon grow back, that he was scared, and that it’s alright to be scared. She puts on a band-aid, kisses it, and says, “It’s all better now.” She smiles, happy they have pulled through this crisis together. The boy squirms down, eager to run outside and try again.
Now match each scenario with the corresponding attachment type below.
Secure Attachment: I am loved. I am not alone. I can be secure in the knowledge that someone will be there for me if I need them. I need not be afraid to take risks and fail. I am precious and good enough.
Anxious Attachment: Others are responsible for my well-being. I am responsible for their well-being. I need to be careful to avoid being a burden to others. I need to work hard to make sure others will be there for me. I am not sure that I am precious or good enough.
Avoidant Attachment: I am alone. I don’t need to lean on anyone else. I am capable and strong for being able to take care of myself. I will learn about and stay in control of the world around me. I will learn how not to fail. I am not precious to others. I need to stay in control to be good enough.
(Scroll down for the answers to which Scenario matches which Attachment Type)
For adults with an anxious, avoidant, or fearful attachment style (the latter is not described in this article), all known as insecure attachment styles, the first step to moving to a secure attachment style is understanding. It is important that both you and your partner understand that your style was a necessary adaptation to the circumstances you grew up in. With support and understanding, your style can shift to that of secure attachment. Couple therapy or a couple workshop can facilitate this process. Stay tuned for future articles about moving from insecure to secure attachment.
Scenario A: Avoidant Attachment
Scenario B: Anxious Attachment
Scenario C: Secure Attachment