Attachment Theory includes ten tenets or understandings of attachment. People are “wired” to need attachment (relationship) which ideally offers a secure base and a safe haven from which to explore the world. When accessibility and responsiveness are limited or non-existent from our primary care givers, or in our current significant attachments, separation distress results.

We then tend to develop or respond from insecure attachment styles, such as:

  • Avoidant (Dismissive or Fearful)
  • Ambivalent/Vacillator (Preoccupied)
  • Pleaser (Anxiously Attached/Other Focused)
  • Controller/Victim (Disorganized, Chaotic)

Attachment involves working models of Self and other. It is important to remember that isolation and loss are inherently traumatizing.

The Ten Tenets of Attachment Theory
Originated by John Bowlby

Summarized and Interpreted by Kira Love Flores

1. Attachment is an innate (natural, in-born) motivating force

Needing people is normal and healthy. Conversely, thinking or behaving as if we do not need anyone else or minimizing human need for relationship is not healthy.

2. Secure dependence (reliance, confidence, trust) complements autonomy (independence)

There is no such thing as complete independence from others. What there is is this: effective and ineffective dependence. Secure attachment leads to being a separate self while in relationship with others. “The isolated self is experienced as a bad self,” (Dr. John Townsend)

3. Attachment offers a safe haven (refuge, shelter, sanctuary)

The presence of an attachment figure provides security, comfort and a buffer against stress. We need this as children with mom and dad or at least one other adult in our lives. We also need this as adults in our significant relationships—with our romantic attachments and with our close friends.

4. Attachment offers a secure base (support, foundation)

Secure attachment enables us to explore, to adapt to our environment and to take healthy risks. Secure attachment enables us to grow as people, to expand in our interests and skills, to become more “us.” When our primary attachments appear to be threatened or non-existent, we become more or less constricted, that is, less involved with all of life and in developing our talents.

5. Accessibility (availability) and responsiveness build bonds

Emotional engagement from the other is crucial. For example, when you are sad, those who care about you notice and/or respond with comfort and are available to your need, at least much of the time. If there is no emotional responsiveness (e.g., you’re crying or clearly upset and the other ignores you), the message is “Your signals do not matter; there is no connection between us.” Note: if you react intensely toward much of the stimuli in life, it will be difficult for others to engage with you when you are upset because you more or less “live there.” However, this fact does not decrease the need for accessibility and responsiveness.

6. Fear and uncertainty activate attachment needs

When we face fear and uncertainty in our lives such as distressing events, relational issues, past or present trauma, emotions intensify and attachment needs for comfort and connection are heightened. This naturally leads to proximity (nearness) seeking. When afraid, when off balance, we naturally want someone close by.

7. The process of separation distress (suffering, anguish) is predictable

If our attachment figure does not respond to us and our needs, a standard process occurs: angry protest, clinging, depression, despair and eventual detachment. Depression is a natural response to loss of connection.

8. A finite number of insecure forms of engagement (insecure attachment styles) can be identified.

When the questions, “Are you there for me?" "Can I depend on you when I need you?” are answered in the negative, our responses organize between anxiety and avoidance (that is, between our desperately seeking for contact to then suppressing and denying our attachment needs). These attachment styles are set in place as various aspects of our psyche, or ego states, and try to protect the self from rejection and abandonment, and indeed, from annihilation (when you’re little, the adults in your life literally spell life or death). These attachment injuries or styles can be modified, but they can also become self-perpetuating (self-enabling, a vicious cycle).

Insecure Attachment
  • Avoidant: Avoiders
  • Anxious: Pleasers, Vacillators
  • Disorganized: Controllers, Victims*
*Note: These five styles of attachment injuries are taken from Yerkovich's attachment theory work found in their book, How We Love.

9. Attachment involves working models of the self and the other

Secure attachment involves having a working model of self (self-identity) that involves believing and experiencing yourself to be worthy of love, and believing and experiencing yourself as confident and competent and able to get the love you need. The secure attachment working model of others involves your experiencing and believing that people are and will be accessible and responsive to you when you need them. Working models are formed through emotional communication and interaction (not merely learning from a book or only changing our cognitions, our thoughts).

10. Isolation and loss are inherently (naturally, innately) traumatizing

Attachment theory describes and explains the trauma of deprivation, loss, rejection and abandonment by those we need or have needed the most, as well as its enormous impact upon us. These stressors have tremendous impact on our personality formation, our ability to be in healthy relationships and our capacity for dealing with stress.