This morning, bleary-eyed and still in bed, I found myself thinking about psychologist Dr. Ainsworth’s study on attachment styles in infants and how it affects relationships in adults.
In the experiments, researchers studied how infants responded to their mothers’ departure and return. Some of the children were friendly when mom was present, sad when mom left, happy when mom returned (secure attachment). Other children were distressed when mom left, shocked at the presence of a stranger, and clingy when mom came back (anxious). And yet other children were indifferent when mom was around, ambivalent about the stranger, and distant when mom returned (avoidant).
Later, they added a fourth style: disorganized attachment style, where avoidant-seeming babies were, deep down, anxious babies, and behaved incoherently, both clingy and aloof.
Researchers followed the infants into adulthood and assessed their attachment styles in romantic relationships. In many instances, attachment styles endured. But there was also room for flexibility. With temperament and environment coming into play, some avoidant babies were later securely attached as adults. Or previously secure babies might become insecure anxiously attached adults, sabotaging relationships.
Every now and then, I find myself wondering what attachment style I have, what attachment styles others have, and remembering the time I blurted out to my best friend that she must have been an anxiously attached baby. She gave me a withering look. I backtracked and said it was a good thing, because I must have been an avoidant baby, and together, we were anxious and avoidant babies, so we balanced each other out.
So having always scored highly on the disorganized-avoidant baby side, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, as time passed, the more highly I scored on secure attachment. When I think about it now, I can see why. When I explained these articles brightly to le beau, he nodded in support, offered a fist-bump, and joined me in playing air guitar and thrashing my head to Billie’s new song, Happier Than Ever. (She goes full rock at 3:01. It’s fantastic.) She sings:
When I’m away from you
I’m happier than ever
Wish I could explain it better
I wish it wasn’t true
As I read the lyrics out loud, I declared that Billie must have been an avoidant baby. But attachment styles can change, and we can heal while we love.