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The 4 classifications of attachment styles

In this article, read about the four classifications of attachment styles. We will discuss each style in more detail.
Child staring out of window at rain
© Anastasia Tveretinova,

The quality of relationships that children and adults have with other people, particularly those with whom there is an attachment relationship, will depend on the physical and emotional availability, sensitivity, responsiveness, reliability, and predictability of the other person.

Attachment figures

Attachment figures who are warm and attentive, create secure attachment relationships. Relationships that are inconsistent, cold or confusing increase levels of anxiety, producing attachments that feel less secure.

Each attachment type witnesses children needing to develop an internal working model of and psychological adjustment to the relationships in which they find themselves.

Consequently, children develop different attachment styles/strategies, dependent upon their caregiving experience. These can be classified as:

  • Type A – Anxious avoidant
  • Type B – Secure
  • Type C – Anxious ambivalent
  • Type D – Disorganised

1. Type A, Anxious avoidant

Distress/crying from the child leads to parental anger or rejection. The infant learns to inhibit distress and this keeps the infant safe and parent available. Older children may become compulsively compliant or caretaking.

Children may become self-sufficient and avoid emotional closeness.

2. Type B, Secure

Distress/crying from the child leads to prompt and reliable soothing. The infant is able to predict parental availability and sensitivity and they become secure and trusting – able to explore.

Older children are able to express genuine feelings and learn easily. In addition, they are able to form close relationships, develop empathy and have good self-esteem.

3. Type C, Anxious ambivalent

Distress/crying from the child lead to an insensitive or unpredictable response. The infant learns to escalate arousal to ensure a response. The parent remains available but the infant’s distress is not soothed.

The older child splits the effect – alternating between positive and negative effects in order to control the parent.

4. Type D, Disorganised

Distress/crying from the child leads to a frightening parental response. The infant experiences unmanageable anxiety and confusion and is unable to develop a coherent strategy, they appear disorganised.

This creates a dilemma for the infant in that the attachment figure who is needed to protect against danger is the source of the danger. Older children often become vulnerable and may require formal support as a consequence of serious behavioural, emotional and cognitive difficulties

© University of Strathclyde
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Caring for Vulnerable Children

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