Essay: Relevance of Attachment Theory for Understanding the Self

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  • Relevance of Attachment Theory for Understanding the Self
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Attachment Theory (AT) is fundamental in understanding the self. This essay will explore the relevance between the relationship of a multi-faceted AT and the self; discussing how different attachment styles (AS’s) influence different self-views and self-concepts which effect different attachments into adult relationships.
Bowlby, (1969) stated individuals inherently form connections to other individuals to survive. The construction of individual’s attachment is paramount in developing the individual’s Self, (consisting of self-beliefs, self-knowledge and self-concept). Bowlby defined these connections as attachment “the organisation of behaviours in young children that are designed to achieve physical proximity to a preferred caregiver at times when the child seeks comfort, support, nurturance, or protection” (as cited in Mikulincer & Shaver, 2004 p.159).
Bowlby, J. (1969). proposed attachment is the ability children use, to draw upon earlier experience with a care-giver to allow safe exploration of the environment. These experiences under pin the structure, known as our internal working models (IWMs) (as cited in Mikulincer & Shaver, 2004 p.159).
Bowlby, J. (1969) IWM’s theory suggests IWMs are cognitive structures comprised of our psychological representation for understanding situations, surroundings, the self and others. Pietromonaco, P. R., & Barrett, L. F. (2000) suggested our IWM’s vary in quality and are paramount in guiding us in future relationships. Our IWM’s guides are prediction and interpretation of others behaviours and facilitates how we plan our responses. If representations from the caregiver is dependable and sincere, the self acquires the ability of self-love and secure dependability. Alternatively if representation is unpredictable, rejecting or undependable, the self develops the ability of self-loathing, insecurity and no self-worth.
Bowlby, J. (1980). AT stated “a person’s self-concept (model of self) and ability to regulate emotions (affect regulation) are products of attachment relationships, beginning with those formed in infancy and continuing with new ones established throughout life” (as cited in Mikulincer & Shaver, 2004 p.159.) Therefore, Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987), inferred the AS’s construction in early life is fundamental in understanding the self and influences later life with our significant others. The self is created from our own internalised blueprints from repetitive interactions with these figures.
Ainsworth, M. D. S., & Wittig, B. A. (1969), investigated AS’s, focusing on mother-infant interactions in the strange situations; this study implement the main AS’s in children. Three AS’s were defined; secure, anxious and avoidant. Further research by Ainsworth resulted in a fourth style, disorganised attachment. Bretherton, I. (1992), suggested individual differences are another factor to be consider in attachment behaviours and AS’s. Continuing research continues to use this highly instrumental framework in addressing AS’s in order to corroborate assessment across an individual’s lifespan.
Bartholomew, K, & Horowitz, L. M. (1991), researched AS’s among young adults resulting in the four AS’s. Firstly, positive esteem for both the self and for others, resulting in a secure attachment, where an individual is at ease with intimacy and self-reliance. Secondly, negative esteem for the self and positive esteem for others which indicates an anxious, ambivalent attachment, where an individual is anxious and worried within relationships. Thirdly, positive esteem for the self and negative esteem for others results in dismissing style of attachment, where the individual is dismissive of intimacy and can be counter dependent. Finally, negative esteem for the self and negative esteem for others results in a fearful style, where an individual may feel fearful in situations including intimacy and socially.
The evidence proposed by Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Pereg, D. (2003), suggests AS’s in childhood predict having a secure base (attachment figure) is paramount in the event of a threat or stressful event. Further research by Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2004), explored security-based representations of self-caregiving and hypothesised differences in AS would impact on the availability of these security-based, soothing representations. Investigating whether positive traits associated with the secure attachment figure in a threat condition would activate our semantic memory and allow the soothing response even when our secure attachment is unavailable. Participants listed three attachment figures and used positive traits in a threat and non-threat environment. Results inferred individuals with a secure security-based representation of self-caregiving also have more access to the attachment figure, allowing easy recall upon internalised blueprints in order to self-regulate even when an attachment figure is absent which causes the IWM’s responds in less intense negative mood and less frequent interfering thoughts. However, insecure attached individual have fewer internal blueprints to recall, due to inadequate and infrequent security-based representations of self-caregiving experiences when an attachment figure is absent, causing the IWM’s responding in negative mood and frequent interfering thoughts.
Mikulincer, M. (1998), research study explored how AS regulate defence mechanisms; emotions are extracted from evaluations of events that cause specific reactions. Results indicated individuals with different AS’s exhibit different methods of affect regulation based on their own self view. Individuals with avoidant attachment exhibit defensive strategies to deactivate attachment systems, use self-reliance to prevent distress and have a high positive regard of their self-view. Individuals with anxious avoidant AS’s are hypervigilant in order to activate their hyper activating defence mechanism due to insecurity and fear of rejection, thus ratifying an individual low negative self-view of oneself. Individuals with a secure attachment system are confident in their methods of affect regulation and t do not activate either hyper activating or defensive strategies.
Mikulincer, M. (1998), study established participants’ AS’s prior to commencement. Completion of a cognitive task was undertaken and participants were given feedback only if they passed the test. Participants believed they completed a lie detector test and were motivated to be truthful. Four studies were completed to assess the three different AS’s, and these were assessed to find whether affect regulation is activated when threat variables are added.
Mikulincer, M. (1998), concludes avoidant individuals are compulsively self-reliant and any threats causes them to inflate the value they place on themselves, hence a positive self-view. When distressed, avoidant individuals cope by validating their sense of self-reliance, suggesting their self-esteem is very low and fragile as they cannot tolerate discovering any flaws, and this idea of the self, acts as a defence against others’ rejection once they have recognised personal deficiencies. For anxious-ambivalent individual, threats to attachment links activate self-devaluation, causing an over-emphasis on the negative value placed on themselves. Secure individuals have a stable self-view if their attachments are secure, leading to a positive self-view and optimistic attitude.
Hepper, E. G., & Carnelley, K. B. (2012), investigated different AS’s in adults and how the effects of both agentic feedback, which involves concerns of competence and self-reliance and interpersonal feedback, which involves concerns with respect to acceptance and rejection affect self-esteem. There were nine hypotheses in total, however due to the brevity of this essay only two will be discussed. Methodology consisted of a self-report feedback diary detailing day to day implications to examine which cognitive and affective mechanisms account for self-reported changes in self-evaluation. Results indicate AS’s can predict the sources on which individual’s base their self-esteem. Affect-regulation strategies are the processes used to regulate emotions. Secure attachments are based on optimal caregiving, allowing individuals to regulate their self-esteem internally. Caregiving which is below the optimal level creates insecure attachments, resulting in individuals relying on external sources for self-esteem. Furthermore, avoidant individuals shut off their attachment system and rely on other sources of self-esteem, including self-reliance and competence. Anxious individuals overwork their attachment system and rely on the approval of others’ and their affection for self-esteem. Fearful individuals who are high in anxiety and avoidance can rely on interpersonal sources of self-esteem. Self-worth; which is reliant on external sources, is linked to low trait self-esteem. Self-relevant feedback can affect trait self-esteem, moreover, interpersonal feedback affects anxious people’s self-esteem more and avoidant people’s self-esteem is mostly affected by agentic feedback.
Hepper, E. G., & Carnelley, K. B, (2012). results supported their first two hypothesis, indicating participants which scored high for anxiety and high avoidance, correlated with low self-esteem due to high levels of rejecting interpersonal daily feedback. Participants with both high attachment anxiety and high avoidance are correlated with low daily self-esteem; implying interpersonal feedback can affect level of self-esteem. Interpersonal feedback affects anxious individual’s use of cognitive mechanisms such as hyper activating strategies to analyse the impact of negative feedback on an individual’s state self-evaluations which in turn results in further avoidance. Avoidant AS individuals use deactivating strategies to analyse the impact of positive interpersonal feedback, and this indicates positive feedback doesn’t increase their self-esteem. In conclusion, this indicates a link between our emotional reactions regulation and the level of feedback and the AS’s on the self.
Limitations of self-reporting include participants failing to follow correct procedures, interpretations can be subjective, exaggeration (social desirability bias) and research shows retrospective information entry is less accurate than immediate entry as information is less accessible in the mind. For future research replication, consider an online diary task. Entries submission by a time limit, include a date and time stamp and meet standardised instructions. These requirements would verify the entry time and counteract any retrospective issues to ensure optimal and accurate information submission.
Therefore in conclusion, evidence has shown there is a fundamental link between attachment theory in understanding the self and it is paramount in the research of Self.

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