LinkedinTwitterThe DetailsConnectBlog Facebook Meet the TherapistHome For Writers

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought - Ambivalent Attachment

[Feel free to wish me a HAPPY ANNIVERSARY today! 4 years. I know I'll be enjoying myself with a night out on the town, now that I've got the grands close by to babysit!]

So, now that we've covered Secure Attachment in my last Thursday Therapeutic Thought post here, we move on to the second type of attachment style, which is Ambivalent Attachment style.

We discussed the "Strange Situation" in last Thursday's post. An ambivalently attached infant goes beyond usual stranger anxiety to be extremely suspicious of strangers. They display considerably distress when separated from from their parent or caregiver but aren't really comforted by the return of their parent into the room where they were with the stranger. In some cases, the children might passively reject the parent and refuse the comfort offered, or they may display open aggression toward the parent.

Cassidy and Berlin (1994) indicate that only about 7-15% of infants in the USA display this type of attachment style. It's usually linked to lack of maternal availability in the life of the child, and teachers often describe this type of child as clingy and over-dependent.

As adults, these infants might be reluctant to become close to others and develop insecurity about their partner returning their feelings. You can imagine that this leads to multiple breakups due to lack of trust and the maybe-erroneous conclusion that the partner is cold and distant.

Here's the breakdown, thanks to

To recap from last week about the self and other dimensions, here's an excerpt:

"Our core beliefs revolve around two concepts: our thoughts about ourselves (self dimension) and our thoughts about others (other dimension). Each dimension centers around two questions.

For the self dimension, the questions are:

1) Am I worthy of being loved?
2) Am I competent to get the love I need?

For the other dimension, the questions are:

1) Are others reliable and trustworthy?
2) Are others accessible and willing to respond to me when I need them to be?"

Ambivalently attached people have a negative self dimension (they feel unworthy of love and unable to get the love they need without being angry and clingy) and a skewed positive other dimension (they feel others are capable of meeting their needs but might not do so b/c of their flaws and that others are trustworthy and reliable but might abandon them because of my worthlessness).

According to Clinton and Sibcy in Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act The Way You Do, a person with ambivalent attachment has some strong core beliefs of being/feeling incompetent, struggling to handle things on their own, needing a strong protector to care/do things for them (. 83). As a result of these internal beliefs, there are some pretty desctructive behaviors and feelings associated with Ambivalent Attachment:

  • low self confidence
  • fear of making decisions/looking to others to make major ones for them
  • rarely expressing diagreemtn with others
  • frequently seeking assurance, nurturance and support
  • obsessed with the fear of being left alone
  • feelings helpless when left alone
  • desperately seeking new relationships when others end
  • frequently subordinating themselves to others
  • perpetually seeking advice
  • often working below their ability
  • accepting unpleasant tasks to please others
  • having tendency to express distress through medically unexplainable physical symptoms rather than emotional pain
But people with Ambivalent attachment also have a powerful way of making others feel good about themselves. They feel and experience life with intense emotion, love and laughter. They should be cautious about not developing a dependent relationship with their children, but work to foster independence in their children.

Are any of your characters suffering from this type of attachment style? In counseling, it often manifests as dependent personality disorder, which is pervasive dependence on other people. But the roots are usually found in childhood.

Stay tuned for next week when we discuss the Avoidant Attachment style. Till then!

Wordle: signature


Tess said...

Happy, happy anniversary!

PatriciaW said...

Happy anniversary!

Jessica said...

Happy Anniversary!

Hmmm, good questions. I don't think this is me *crossing my fingers* or my kids. LOL I'm glad you listed the positive stuff though.

T. Anne said...

Wow this is a great post. I'm going to have to re-read it several times. Happy Anniversary!

Katie said...

Wow! Something I didn't know about you!! Guess what?? Ryan and I are celebrating our five year anniversary tomorrow! Our anniversaries are a day apart! How fun.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!! Last day of schol was today... how are things going? Shoot me an email when you get the chance. :)

Jill Kemerer said...

Happy Anniversary!! Hope you have fun!

TrophyofGrace said...


Wow thanks. I'm 23yr old female Christian. I have attachment disorder in Ambivalent form and currently working to get some control and understanding over it. Found this through google and i'm stoked! Thanks heaps, look forward to following what you write; i love psychology :)

Hope you had a fab anniversary :)

Post a Comment

Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.