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- Comprehensive: Covers everything you need to know.
- Psychotherapy: Talking to a trained person to feel better in your mind.
- Nuances: Small differences that are not easy to see.
- Theory: An idea used to explain something, but not proven.
- Attachment: A strong feeling of liking or needing someone or something.
- Strange: Different from what you know, sometimes in a way that is surprising or hard to understand.
- Ambivalent: Having mixed feelings, liking and disliking something at the same time.
- Situation: What is happening at a certain time and place.
- Secure: Safe and protected.
- Avoidant: Trying to stay away from something or someone.
Hi there and welcome to this podcast. Today, let’s talk about a psychological theory that’s becoming more well known. This is something which affects all of us - or at least all of us who have relationships. And this theory wasn’t much talked about, outside of psychology or psychotherapy until a few years ago. But now - so many people research this online to try to understand and solve perhaps their problems in relationships. If you’re dating someone, and it’s not going well or perhaps things aren’t great in your relationship, people tell you to ‘do some research on Attachment Theory. And they’re not wrong! Attachment Theory is really important to helping us understand our relationships. Particularly when the same thing keeps happening again and again. And you don’t want it to.
So learn English with me today - while you learn about an important and useful psychological theory that people like me use every day!
Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
So vocabulary first. A ‘theory’, THEORY - it’s an idea, a set of thoughts or a model for how something works. And the word ‘theory’ means that it may not yet have been proved. There may be evidence for it, or there may not yet be evidence for it. So a ‘theory’ could be wrong, it could be right, perhaps we’re not sure. But it could still be likely and useful even if it’s difficult to prove. So that’s ‘theory’, what about ‘attachment’?
ATTACHMENT. Well, you may know the verb ‘to attach’. If you send a letter through the post, you may ‘attach’ a stamp to it. But here, ‘to attach’ and the noun ‘attachment’ - it means ‘to make a link, to make a ‘relationship’. So the way that I’m using this word ‘attachment’ here - is specific. I’m talking about relationships - and the connection and the feelings we have about other people. ‘How do we make our attachments?’ is a good question. And that’s what Attachment Theory is concerned with.
You may know something of this already. You may have heard of the work of a British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst - called John Bowlby - that’s BOWLBY. He developed Attachment Theory - quite rightly emphasising the importance of ‘emotional attachment’ or ‘emotional relationships’ early on in children’s lives. Good, secure early attachments - and you have more chance of having a good life and good relationships. Not so good, insecure early attachments - this may affect all kinds of things later on in your life, including again, the way that you have your relationships. This is the kind of theory that most of us ‘take for granted’ now - it means we kind of accept it, it’s normal. But it was a really different idea at the time John Bowlby developed it. I’m not sure why - I’m sure any 5 year old could tell you that their relationships with the people around them, usually mum and dad, brother and sister, grandma and granddad - that those relationships are the most important thing to them. And actually, it doesn’t really matter who the people are - is the quality of the attachment that’s important. And we use that word ‘secure’, SECURE with attachment - the child feels confident that the person they’re attached to, the person they love - isn’t going to leave. And more than that - they’re dependable, consistent and treat them well. This helps a child form what we call ‘secure attachment’. So later on, when they make their own adult relationships, they have a great advantage. It’s more likely to be able to go well.
Another name that is associated with Attachment Theory - Mary Ainsworth. She made a contribution too. She was an American-Canadian psychologist who did experiments with mothers and babies, famously one called ‘The Strange Situation’. That’s STRANGE. What’s meant by this experiment - ‘The Strange Situation’? Well, Mary Ainsworth set up situations with mothers and babies. So a mother and baby would come into the room and the baby was settled and given toys to play with. Then a new person, usually a psychologist, that the baby didn’t know, would come into the room and interact with the baby. Then the mother would leave the room, leaving the baby with a stranger. The psychologist would watch how the baby reacted. And then after three minutes, the mother would come back into the room and again the psychologists would observe - how does the baby react to see the mother again?
Gain Fluency With Attachment Theory-Unlock Your Path To Better English Communication Ep 612 Article Image
A Doctor examining a baby. Discover how to apply the attachment theory to your own English language learning journey and take action to improve your fluency.
In these experiments, Mary Ainsworth identified ‘three attachment styles’ - three different types of attachment between mother and baby. Later on a fourth attachment style was added, a fourth ‘way of relating’. But let’s just focus on the first three. All of us human beings - we’re in there somewhere. We have one of these attachment styles. Maybe not ‘purely’ one of them, but we probably have an attachment style that happens more than any other. Our ‘main attachment styles tend to fit within these three categories.
What are the three categories? I’ll describe how each ‘attachment style’ looked in the ‘Strange Situation’ experiment, first of all:-
Secure attachment - basically this is where the baby is ‘securely emotionally attached’ to the mother. ‘Securely attached’ babies will explore the room, the toys and while the mother is present, perhaps play and smile at the ‘strange person’, the psychologist. These babies have a ‘sense of adventure’, but they also keep ‘checking in with mum’ too. These babies will respond pleasantly to the ‘stranger’, the psychologist - but they will also get upset when the mother leaves the room. When the mother comes back into the room, after about 3 minutes, ‘securely attached’ babies are pleased to see her and stop being upset. They’re pacified by the mother’s presence.
So that’s ‘secure attachment’. The rest of the attachment styles are called ‘insecure attachment’ - it feels ‘wobbly’, it doesn’t feel certain. The baby is not so certain of the relationship with the mother. I’ve simplified the names a little here - but if you research this yourself, you’ll recognise these types. So we have...
Avoidant attachment - these babies don’t seem as connected with their mother. They don’t explore as much - they don’t play so much with the toys and don’t seem as happy to relate to the stranger, the psychologist. When the mother goes out of the room, they don’t’ really get that upset and don’t seem to react much when she returns. Or they may even ignore the mother. This is called ‘Avoidant Attachment’ because these babies, and the people they grow into, are anxious underneath about relationships. But they deal with uncertainty by ‘avoiding’, by trying not to get so involved! ‘Trying not to need’ the relationship. Then there is...
Anxious Attachment - these babies seemed to want to hold onto mother, even at the start of the experiment. They were anxious, more easily upset - they didn’t have that ‘spirit of adventure’. And these babies also became very upset and cried a lot when the mother left the room. And even when the mother came back, they couldn’t easily calm down. They weren’t easy to pacify. These babies had learned to deal with uncertainty in relationship by clinging on, by not letting mother out of their sight. And they were visibly anxious.
OK, so how does this description relate to us as adults, in our dating relationships? Well, clearly these babies grow up into adults like you and me. And the theory is that they way that they learned to relate early on can determine the way they relate to other people as adults, the way they ‘form their attachments’ in other words. Well, how it works is most clearly shown in dating - romantic dating situations. Going on a date with somebody.
If you are a ‘securely attached’ person, it’s possible that you quite like dating. Getting to know someone on a date or a number of dates is reasonably comfortable. You’re open about your feelings and you can make attachments, you can make relationships with other people. But you do it gradually. You get emotionally involved, but you do this with in line with how well you know the person. You can be upset if a relationship ends, but it’s also not the end of the world - you will get over it and move on. Securely attached people move on and make new relationships.
If you have ‘avoidant attachment’, then you are ‘ambivalent’, AMBIVALENT about relationships. ‘Ambivalent’ means you’re ‘in two minds’. So if you’re dating, part of you wants relationship, but you can easily feel ‘This is all too much - I want to get away!’ And this Avoidant Attachment can end up in a pattern of ‘push me, pull me’ - sometimes you’re ‘up for’ the relationship and you want to see the other person. At other times, you want to get away. It can run ‘hot and cold’. And people who have this avoidant attachment can find it really difficult to commit to someone. You deal with uncertainty in relationships by avoiding and having difficulties making commitments.
If you’re anxiously attached, then when you’re dating you attach very quickly. You might barely know the person and yet you find yourself already emotionally attached. Very quickly you place great importance on a relationship - and you automatically fear the ending of a relationship. And you may look for signs of this, even where they’re not there.
Obviously there’s a lot more to say about all of this ‘Attachment Theory’. No matter what the attachment style, we are all individuals with our own patterns in relationships. It’s more complicated that these simple ‘styles’. But nevertheless, ‘Attachment Theory’ is useful. It can be good to understand what your own attachment style might be.
Let me know if this is interesting, if it helps you with your English language learning and if you want to know more about it!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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