According to psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment “may be defined as an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one – a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time.”
Attachment is not just a connection between two people; it is a bond that involves a desire for regular contact with that person and the experience of distress during separation from that person.
This plays a particularly important role during childhood as it causes children and their caregivers to seek proximity. By staying close to caregivers, children are able to ensure that they are cared for and safe.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why and how attachments form and the impact they have throughout life.
Psychology John Bowlby is generally thought of as the father of attachment theory. He defined attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Childhood, he suggested, played a critical role in the formation of attachments and early experiences could have an impact on the relationships people form later in life. Attachments tend to be enduring, meaning they may last a very long time.
The earliest attachments we form are with parents and other caregivers, which is perhaps why Bowlby believed that attachment had a strong evolutionary component.
These early attachments with caregivers serve to keep an infant safe and secure, thus ensuring the child’s survival. Attachments motivate children to stay close to their parents, which allows the parent to provide protection, security, and care. This helps ensure that the child has all of the things he or she needs to survive.
Bowlby suggested that there were four critical characteristics of attachment.
First is proximity maintenance, or the desire to be near those with which we share an attachment. We enjoy the company of those we are attached to, so we strive to be near them whenever possible.
Attachments also create a safe haven, or the need to return to attachment figures for care and comfort. During times of distress, fear, or uncertainty, we may seek out the people we are attached to for care and comfort.
Next, attachment figures also offer a secure base for exploration. This is particularly important during childhood. This secure base allows kids to explore the world while knowing they can still return to the safety of the attachment figure.
Finally, kids experience separation distress when parted from an attachment figure. For example, kids tend to become upset when parents have to leave them in the care of others.