Persistence of Attachment Styles

Each style of attachment, once developed, tends to persist (R. Bowlby, 2008). R. Bowlby (2008) reported that one reason for this persistence is that the way a parent treats a child tends to continue.  A second reason is because each style of attachment is self-perpetuating (R. Bowlby, 2008).  In the case of a child with an anxious-avoidant style, the child’s behavior can result in an unfavorable response from the mother, thus reinforcing the original parental stimuli (Zepf, 2011).  However, as Zepf (2011) noted, change is sometimes possible; thus, early insecure attachment is not always a predictor of future difficulties.

In comparison to securely attached children, the adjustment of insecure children is not as soundly based (R. Bowlby, 2008).  For example, although the association has not yet been fully established by research, there are other causal factors besides attachment that can result in securely attached infants becoming more socially proficient than their insecure peers (Fonagy, 2011).  Relationships developed with peers and other attachment figures can have an influence on the formation of social skills, intellectual development, and social identity (Zepf, 2011).  According to R. Bowlby (2008), the classification of a child’s status with peers (e.g., popular, neglected, or rejected) can be a predictor of future adjustment.  Subsequently, as a child continues to grow developmentally, the style of attachment becomes a part of the personality of the child, which means that the child will impose that style or some derivative of it, in the formation of new relationships (Zepf, 2011).

Children’s social contexts can be considered an important determinant of attachment security (Zepf, 2011).  The reason for this is that parents with healthy functioning personalities are more likely to have infants who are securely attached (Fonagy, 2011).  Children with high exposure to severely depressed mothers are much more likely to be insecurely attached (Keren & Mayseless, 2013), as are children who live with significant marital disharmony, or with mothers who have inadequate social support (Fonagy, 2011).  An early, healthy, secure attachment seems to provide long lasting protective functions. 

Disorganized attachment styles can be considered as the most concerning.  According to Zepf (2011, p. 24), “About 80% of maltreated infants are likely to be classified as disorganized, as opposed to about 12% that were found in non-maltreated infants.  Only about 15% of maltreated infants were likely to be classified as securely attached.”  It has been theorized that emotionally affected maltreated children are also more likely to become maltreating parents (Keren & Mayseless, 2013).  A minority of maltreated children do not continue the cycle of ill treatment but instead are able to achieve secure attachment, good relationships with peers, and possess non-harmful parenting styles (Zepf, 2011). 

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