**Attachment Styles and Caregiving from Collins Article

I know it might be difficult for readers to locate the full original article, so I am copying some information from it into this page that describes how the various attachment patterns manifest themselves in caregiving actions and attitudes.  These patterns show themselves in adult romantic relationships in the same way they show themselves in attachment patterns parents have with their children.

The writing below comes from:

Nancy Collins of the Department of Psychology, University of California, University of California in Santa Barbara is one such expert.

Her homepage can be found at:  http://nancy.collins.socialpsychology.org/


I will be working in my writing today with information that can be located at:

Collins, N. L., Ford, M. B., Guichard, A. C., & Feeney, B. C. (2006). Responding to need in intimate relationships: Normative processes and individual differences. In M. Mikulincer & G. Goodman (Eds.), Dynamics of romantic love: Attachment, caregiving, and sex. New York: Guilford.  (pages 149-189)


Please note that the following information presented from this article does not deal with what I consider the most problematic of the insecure attachment patterns – disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment.  The insecure attachments described here are what researchers refer to as the ‘organized’ ones.  It is within the disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment category (not described here) that most of the severely abusive parenting and relationship patterns occur.

This article is also not talking about the ‘earned secure’ attachment category, either.  The earned secure attachment patterns appear to be the ones that adults create in their relationships, including those with their children, that mean they are organizing themselves in THOSE SITUATIONS in a way that allows them to take adequate care of their children so that they do not pass on the abuse that happened to them even though these adults still suffer within themselves from all kinds of inner difficulties related to their own insecure attachment histories.


From the Collins article:

“…[T]here are many reasons to expect a close connection between attachment and caregiving dynamics in adulthood and to expect that individual differences in attachment style will be an important factor in understanding effective and ineffective caregiving processes in couples [my note: and between adults and their children].  Secure caregivers — who are confident that they are loved by others, who perceive others as responsive and available, who are comfortable with intimacy and interdependence, and who effectively regulate their emotions [my note:  I would place this ability first because it corresponds to how the early brain was built and is the foundation for all later interactions that ‘brain’ has with the world] — will be better equipped to provide responsive care because they have more of the necessary skills and resources for attending to the signals of close others and responding flexibly to needs as they arise and because their own attachment needs are less likely to interfere with their caregiving activities [my note: and because their needs are satisfied their own attachment system can be turned off and deactivated so that they can focus on caregiving somebody else].  In addition, secure individuals are likely to have more adaptive beliefs and attitudes about care seeking and caregiving that increase their sense of responsibility for the welfare of others and motivate them to provide help and support for relatively altruistic reasons.  For these and many other reasons, secure individuals will be better able to serve as safe havens for their partners in times of stress and as secure bases for exploration.”  (Collins et al, 2006, pp 164-165)


One of the points that I would like to make most strongly is that people do not choose to have either a secure or an insecure attachment pattern built into their early brain.  These attachment patterns were formed through the face-to-face interactions that the growing brain inside a very young infant before the age of one year old had with its mother and other early primary caregivers.

The actual attachment pattern abilities that an infant is born with is not the reason why it forms an insecure pattern of attachment.  Researchers know that an infant, child, and even an adult can have a secure attachment pattern with one person and an insecure attachment pattern with a different person.  The primary early relationships are the ones, however, that come to dominate the formation of the corresponding brain regions that will become ‘solidified’ within a person’s growing brain and that will then dominate all later attachments.

These early attachment experiences also communicate the level of stress, deprivation and malevolency in an infant’s surrounding environment and tell the infant’s body what kind of a world it is growing up to live in.  In this way even the manifestation of its genetic material will also change in order to adapt to environmental conditions.  An early caregiving benevolent environment produces a more secure attachment to the world as a whole — which the infant has been told is a safe one.  An early inadequate malevolent environment produces insecure attachments within the world — which the infant has been told is an unsafe one.

These patterns of secure or insecure attachment within a perceived secure or insecure world are reflected in the development of an infant’s body, brain, nervous system and immune system.  They regulate or dysregulate all future interactions both on the inside of a person’s body as well as interactions this person has with the external world.

Once we recognize our own attachment patterns we can begin to find ways to change how they ‘control’ our relationships between our self — literally — and the world around us.  We cannot underestimate the amount of work, effort and conscious application of new information that is needed in order to even try to alter the way our hard wired attachment system is operating within our bodies (past the age of one).


The authors continue:

“In contrast, the caregiving behavior of insecure adults is likely to be impaired in a number of important ways, and different forms of insecurity should be linked to different patterns of unresponsive care and to different underlying dynamics.  Individuals who are high in attachment-related anxiety — who are worried about being rejected and unloved, who depend a great deal on others for a sense of personal well-being [my note:  researchers call this a lack of autonomy], who are uncertain of the responsiveness of others, and who have a hyperactivating style of emotion regulation. — may have some of the skills necessary for effective caregiving (e.g., compassion for others, comfort with intimacy and emotional expression) but may lack some of the resources and adaptive motivation needed to be truly responsive to the needs of others.  Specifically, anxious individuals may be preoccupied with their own attachment needs and highly self-focused [my note; a direct indication that they have unresolved traumas], which leaves them with fewer cognitive and emotional resources for understanding and responding to the needs of others.  In addition, although they may be highly motivated to provide care to their partners, they may do so for largely egoistic reasons (to satisfy their own attachment needs).  Thus they are likely to provide care that is intrusive, overinvolved, controlling, or otherwise out of synch with their partner’s needs.  Moreover, anxious caregivers may sometimes fail to provide adequate secure-base support — failing to support or encourage their partner’s exploration — if they perceive that such exploration may threaten their relationship.  For these and many other reasons, the caregiving style of anxious individuals is likely to be relatively ineffective, although not neglecting.”  (Collins et al, 2006, p 165)

“A very different pattern may characterize the caregiving behavior of individuals who are high in attachment-related avoidance.  Avoidant individuals — who value independence and self-reliance, who view others as generally unresponsive and unreliable, and who have a deactivating style of emotion regulation [my note; their brains formed an emotional disconnection ability that allows them to not even notice the emotions even though they are registering within their brains] — are likely to lack many of the important skills that are necessary for effective caregiving.  In addition, avoidant individuals are less likely to develop the deep sense of closeness, commitment, and interdependence that is necessary for understanding another’s needs and for creating a sense of felt responsibility for another’s welfare.  Moreover, their need to minimize attachment concerns will tend to direct their attention away from partners who are in distress and to provide support for relatively egoistic reasons (to avoid sanctions [negative consequences], to eliminate a source of annoyance [my note:  I would add, also so that they can continue to get what they want]).  As a result, they are likely to discount or minimize their partners’ worries and needs and, when they do provide support, they are less likely to do so in a manner that makes their partners feel loved, valued, and cared for.  For example, because they are apt to provide support with reluctance or annoyance, they may deliver support in a manner that makes their partners feel weak or needy, inadequate or incompetent, or like a burden.  For these and many other reasons, avoidant individuals are likely to be relatively neglecting, and when they do provide support it is likely to be insensitive (out of sync with their partners’ needs) and unresponsive (given in a manner that is relatively unhelpful).”  (Collins et al, 2006, pp 165-188)


I will present information in future posts that show exactly how these insecure attachment styles described above become built within the brain circuitry of an infant’s brain through similar interactions with the early caregivers that built its brain in the first place.

Both the preoccupied and the avoidant patterns described above are within the organized insecure attachment categories.  My mother operated, I believe, in part with both a preoccupied and an avoidant attachment pattern.  Hers was, however, a disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment pattern that included additional complicating factors within itself.

My father’s attachment pattern was partly avoidant.   Because of the way he was treated as an infant and young child (being by far the youngest child of his family and unwanted by a depressed mother), my father had the circuitry built within his brain that allowed him to simply shut off his emotions, and to shut off what he might have known about the conditions his wife created within his home.

Researchers have found that humans require interactions with others of their species in part because we help regulate one another’s emotional states.  In cases where partners do not have safe and secure conditions within themselves, they often choose partners unconsciously that provide their own brains with an external regulatory ability that they, themselves, are missing.

In my parent’s case, my mother ‘chose’ a partner that would never be able to overwhelm her emotionally.  In fact, his ability to NOT display emotion helped her on some level to feel ‘safe’.  My father gave her a large arena within which she could ‘act out’ emotionally without ever stepping into it himself.  He, on the other hand, possibly used his wife’s extreme emotionality as an external source of emotional stimulation that somehow prevented him from ever growing or improving his own ability to ‘feel’ his way through his own life.  He remained completely closed while she remained completely open to emotional eruption.

Together they made a dangerous union.  She remained completely out of control emotionally and he remained completely in control emotionally.  This strange balancing act meant that we children had no hope of our father ever intervening on our behalf.  He could evidently lock himself away somewhere far away within himself and distant from us that meant that while his body might have been present in our lives, he was not.

As someone pointed out to me in conversation yesterday, my mother never acted out in public because someone would have stopped her.  She continued to act out in her private life BECAUSE nobody was ever there to stop her.  She did not WANT to be stopped.  There were no limits ever placed on her emotional dysregulation except for one — the boundary between public and private.  With most of our family’s activities occurring on the remote side of a mountain, that boundary was of little help to me, or to my siblings, at all.


All the links are contained together here:  +CAREGIVING IN ADULT ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIPS

Links in the series separately:







**Attachment Styles and Caregiving from Collins Article



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