Understanding Attachment Theory

Authors: Brigid Daniel & Sally Wassell

Main components of attachment theory

Holmes (1993) has summarised the main components of attachment theory in the following six points:

  1. The infant develops a primary attachment relationship around the seventh month. Although this attachment is often to the mother - or other primary caregiver - it is not dependent on feeding the infant.
  2. The attachment relationship is demonstrated by the manifestation of proximity seeking, or behaviours that seeks to restore closeness, when the infant is separated from the attachment figure. Proximity seeking can also be seen in older children and adults at times of stress and threat.
  3. A secure attachment relationship creates a secure base from which a child can feel safe to explore the world.
  4. If separated from an attachment figure, infants and young children exhibit separation protest which involves the expression of distress and urgent efforts to be reunited with the attachment figure. Permanent separation from the primary attachment figure can impair a child's security and the associated exploratory behaviour.
  5. On the basis of early attachment experiences an internal working model develops which acts as a template for other relationships.
  6. Attachment behaviour continues throughout life, and develops from immature dependence on caregivers to mature dependence on friends and partners.