What is ambivalent attachment?
Children are born into this world with an intrinsic need for love, affection, and safety from their caregivers. When they get these things, the child may feel a secure attachment to their caregiver. However, when these fundamentals are missing, it may result in early childhood trauma. It may also cause them to have a different attachment style. With ambivalent attachment, a kind of insecure attachment, the child may receive love, affection, and safety, but not in a way that develops healthy relationships.
You may wonder how how you were treated as a baby can affect you as an adult. You could also wonder why this matters. To answer these questions, let’s examine the ambivalent attachment style to understand how it works.
What is ambivalent attachment?
When infants or children receive love and affection sporadically from their parents or caregivers in infancy and childhood, it can result in long-lasting challenges. This may include an anxious-ambivalent attachment pattern. When the parent is inconsistent in their behavior and attitude towards a child, they may struggle to understand why love and affection are randomly given or taken away.
This unpredictability may create fear and confusion because they don't know when they'll receive love or be neglected. They may not feel safe in their environment as securely attached children do, and thus, they can become insecurely attached.
This anxious-ambivalent attachment may follow children as they become adults, and it can show up in their beliefs that love and affection are fleeting and sporadic sentiments. This kind of childhood trauma, which may have prevented them from becoming securely attached to their primary caregiver or attachment figure as a young child, may make them feel anxious, hesitant, nervous, or shy as an adult. They may cry, feel emotional separation from their parents, or be afraid of touch in later romantic relationships.
Children with an ambivalent attachment may believe they’re loved one day and may not be loved the next. As a result, they can develop a fear of abandonment and loss of love. They may desire love, strive for affection, and crave attention, but it can be terrifying if those things are fleeting. They may feel unsafe in their romantic or social relationships since they don't know if their significant other or friend will want them around in a week, a month, or a year.
These insecure feelings may lead them to look for concerns that may or may not exist, and as time goes on, it can result in an internalization of the contentions and repeated insecure attachment patterns.
A child in this family dynamic may believe they’re the cause. Because they may not see any situational reasons for the change in feelings, it can be easy to believe they did something wrong, that their behavior, personality, or, in some cases, appearance are the cause for their attachment figure’s inconsistent affection. They may become convinced they’re not good enough to receive the love and attention they need, or they’re not adequately communicating their needs. They might grow up having difficulties navigating their relationships with others.
It has become increasingly evident how significant the early, formative years are for a child.
According to studies in psychology, attachment theory, and the work of psychologist Mary Ainsworth, there are four styles of attachment:
Approximately 60% of the population has this attachment style. They may have had a safe childhood where they could rely on their parents to have the courage and confidence to venture out independently. When they grow up, they tend to feel safe in their relationships, connected to their partners, and confident in their love and support. They often feel free and independent.
Ambivalent attachment – also known as anxious, anxious-ambivalent, or preoccupied attachment – may develop in children who tend to receive love and affection inconsistently or can’t rely on their parents being available. This is also referred to as anxious attachment.
This insecure attachment style may lead to anger or jealousy in some people and passive acceptance for others. It can also result in a child feeling insecure and looking to fill the void left by inattentive parents. People with this anxious-preoccupied attachment style might feel like they need their partners to rescue them or may believe they need their partners to feel “complete.”
They may seek safety and stability, but their behavior might yield the opposite effect. They might become clingy and dependent to ensure their partner is always around, which can drive their partner away.
People with an avoidant attachment style – also known as dismissive or anxious-avoidant – may distance themselves from their partners emotionally. They might prefer being isolated and not relying on anyone. They can be independent and dismissive of the idea of needing anyone. They often remain detached and unemotional in romantic and social relationships.
People with a disorganized attachment style – also known as a fearful-avoidant attachment – may feel like they live in limbo. They may be scared of getting too close to someone, but they may also fear becoming too distant and being alone. This may lead to an unpredictable and reactive emotional state, and their relationships can be erratic.
Ambivalent attachment concerns
Children growing up in ambivalent homes may feel emotional and highly sensitive. They may have difficulty being alone and struggle with a fear of abandonment. Children and adults with anxious-ambivalent attachments can be clingy or insecure in their social and romantic relationships, which may create challenges in maintaining those connections.
People with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style may desire intimate relationships and yearn for increased intimacy but may struggle with these needs because of their insecurities. Additionally, they may be concerned about rejection and seek support from others when distressed.
They may require proof of love and affection from their friends and partners but struggle with trusting them. This experience might jeopardize those relationships because they may attempt to get others to prove their feelings. People with ambivalent or anxious attachment styles may have relationships breaking down over time from insecurities. If this happens, it can confirm they were right to be doubtful and create a repeating pattern of behavior.
If you feel like you relate to the ambivalent attachment style, you may have spent your life with insecurities around or finding unconditional love and acceptance in your relationships. This may be true whether it's in your friendships, romantic partners, or peers in the workplace.
A big first step towards breaking cycles can be understanding what cycles are present. Reading this article and trying to understand your potential patterns means you’ve already taken the first step. Attachment styles aren’t life sentences, though.
Many people can work through their attachment styles and develop more secure attachments with themselves and others. Attachment-based therapy may help in addressing attachment disorders. Meditation and non-attachment techniques from a qualified therapist specializing in attachment styles may be beneficial.
Our attachment styles may intersect with other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Therapy can help you uncover your anxious attachment pattern, identify how your attachment figures may have affected your attachment security as a child, address any mental health conditions resulting from these interactions, and actively work through these mental health challenges.
Understanding attachment theory with online therapy
Research shows that online therapy is a valuable tool for those struggling with the fear of rejection or other emotions that may have arisen from their attachment style. One study found that internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) effectively helped manage feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, and depression, which researchers note can be due to a fear of rejection.
With CBT, the individual can target the negative thoughts that may lead to dissatisfaction and unhealthy behaviors in a relationship, allowing them to understand the source of feelings of rejection, loneliness, or fear of loss.
Online therapy can offer an effective way of working through challenges with attachment styles and experiences related to ambivalent attachment. If the idea of walking into a therapist's office makes you uncomfortable or you fear judgment and a lack of understanding from others because of insecurities, consider connecting with a therapist through BetterHelp. They have licensed professionals who can assist you from the comfort of your own home.
Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people who experience similar struggles.
"Natasha is a very insightful, kind, and compassionate counselor. Her gentle, professional approach to guiding you through a problem shows her empathy and understanding. She helped me see some childhood issues that I hadn't addressed in years."
"I enjoyed my sessions with Dr. Anstadt. He helped me see how one issue was affecting multiple aspects of my life. He has greatly improved my relationships with the people I'm closest to and even the way I approach work. I have seen a huge difference in my relationships already, and I have several tools to help me manage the issues I started seeking therapy. I cannot express how thankful I am to Dr. I Anstadt!"
By seeking out the help of a mental health professional, it can be possible to work through the trauma, insecurity, and fear. With time and effort, you can change how you approach your relationships and make peace with your past. Fulfilling relationships can be possible with the right tools to begin the process. Take the first step.
How does ambivalent attachment affect development?
Like all four main attachment styles developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, anxious-ambivalent attachment can affect children into adulthood. They may feel affection and love are sporadic and feel shy, nervous, hesitant, or anxious as adults. Unlike a securely attached child, anxious ambivalent children may have felt loved one day and not the next when they were growing up; they may fear abandonment.
Although people with this attachment style may crave emotional intimacy, they can be terrified that these things are fleeting and become clingy. As an adult, an anxious ambivalent child may look for problems that don’t exist, which can affect attachment patterns in their adult relationships. People with this attachment style may struggle to trust their partners and friends and may attempt to get them to prove their affection. This behavior can lead to the breakdown of close relationships over time, confirming to them that they were right to be afraid.
What is most likely the cause of an ambivalent attachment style?
Ambivalent attachment may result from receiving inconsistent love and attention as a child during the attachment process. These children may feel they were unable to rely on their parents being available to meet their needs.
How does an ambivalent attachment style affect adult relationships?
Ambivalent attachment style can affect adult relationships in a few ways. People with this attachment style may get angry and jealous. They may feel insecure and look for people to fill the void left by their parents, or they may feel like they need a partner to save them or make them feel whole. People with an ambivalent anxious attachment style may seek stability, but they may be clingy and dependent on their partners and need constant reassurance, which can drive their partners away.
What kind of parenting leads to ambivalent attachment?
Ambivalent attachment may result from inconsistent, unpredictable parenting, although there are a few ways this can happen. Inconsistent parenting can occur when parents are responsive to their children’s needs sometimes but not all of the time. The child may feel as if they are getting mixed signals from their parents; sometimes, they may be available and loving; other times, they may be insensitive, cold, or emotionally unavailable.
Caregivers who are intrusive can also lead to ambivalent attachment. Because the parents have poor emotional boundaries and may have an ambivalent attachment parenting style, they can be overbearing and intrude on their child’s thoughts and feelings. Children may feel smothered and like they don’t have the freedom to be themselves.
Sometimes, caregivers may seek closeness to their children to fulfill their own emotional needs, which can lead to them ignoring the needs of their children. These caregivers may also be intrusive or overinvolved in their child’s life.
How do you deal with an ambivalent person?
If you are in a relationship with someone with an ambivalent attachment style, they may be clingy or afraid that you will leave them, or they may struggle with trust. While these things can be very frustrating, it can help if you try to understand that they may stem from experiences they had in their childhood and, to some extent, they may not be able to help it.
It is possible to change attachment styles, though, so if you are committed to staying in the relationship, encourage your partner to seek help from a therapist. You may also choose to attend couple’s therapy together, which can get you the support you need and show your partner that you’re committed to the relationship and helping them work through their challenges.
Why do most people have attachment issues?
There is no research or data on how many people have attachment issues, but there are many reasons why some people may have difficulty forming a secure attachment. Most of these issues stem from childhood. Children who were neglected, mistreated, or endured abusive behavior of any form can develop attachment issues as adults.
What role does ambivalence play in your life?
Regarding parenting and attachment, ambivalence is generally considered to have negative consequences. People with ambivalent attachment tend to have challenges in relationships at any age. But as for how ambivalence affects your life, research has found that there are pros and cons. Ambivalent behavior can lead to a negative affect, but some researchers believe it can be used as a means of self-protection. In education, employment, and consumer choice, when people are unsure that they will be able to get what they want, ambivalence can protect their feelings.
What is the importance of being ambivalent?
Being ambivalent can be used as a shield to protect yourself against rejection or disappointment. Some studies also show that ambivalence can lead to the incorporation of diverse and broader perspectives and more balanced judgment.
How do I get rid of ambivalent anxiety attachment?
Changing your attachment style is possible but requires a lot of time and effort.
In some cases, attachment styles can change naturally. Having a relationship with someone with a secure attachment style can help you become more secure. Aging can also play a factor. As we get older, we may have less time for relationships that don’t make us happy or meet our needs.
For people with insecure attachment styles, there are some steps they can take to try to change it. If you know someone who has a secure attachment style, try to learn from them, whether it’s a romantic partner or close friend. Doing so can help you observe secure behaviors and give you someone to form a secure bond with.
Working with a therapist can help you learn more about your attachment style, the reasons behind it, and the steps you can take to try to change it. Working with a mental health professional may be particularly important if you are living with a mental health condition that can affect your attachment style.
Why is ambivalence important in a relationship?
Ambivalence is generally not considered important in a relationship and is something people may strive to avoid. Ambivalence can lead to mixed feelings and uncertainty and can have significant negative effects on the relationship as time goes on.
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