Avoidant Attachment Pattern

Taken from The Relational Soul – When the primary caregivers are consistently unavailable a child learns to avoid trusting others. The learning is not conscious, but it is profound. When mom or dad routinely fails to show up emotionally, a child experiences the pain of anxiety. Over time a child learns to defend against the pain by avoiding others emotionally. The child unconsciously begins to feel it is better to be distant than disappointed.

The avoidant pattern of engaging and connecting keeps a certain distance in even the closest of adult relationships. There is a basic and underlying distrust of others because they probably will not show up when most needed. One does not become too dependent lest one suffers again the anxiety and frustration of others not being emotionally present. If one doesn’t open one’s soul deeply to another then one cannot be deeply hurt by another. One can only trust one’s self.

Ambivalent Attachment Pattern

When the primary caregivers are consistently unreliable a child learns to avoid trusting herself. When there seems to be no reason for mom or dad’s erratic emotional availability, even though they may be consistently present, the child has no other choice than to assume the changes in her parents are due to a major flaw in her soul. Others seem to be trustworthy (at least at times) but I must not be trustworthy. One learns to trust others but doesn’t learn to trust one’s self.

When a child’s attachment need is provoked but not satisfied deeply because the parent’s presence proved unreliable, she typically becomes clingy and dependent. She doesn’t want to risk losing affection and approval. The loss would only prove her to be untrustworthy. Thus she becomes extremely externally focused, desperately looking for someone to attach to who will consistently be emotionally available.

As one grows into adulthood there will always be an exaggerated yearning for something more from others. There is an ill-defined sense of self and thus an over-dependency on others for a sense of identity. Naturally, intimacy is diminished because true intimacy requires two individual persons, not one person psychologically making up for the others deficiency. One has to have a basic level of trust in one’s self to be able to show up for another.

Scattered Attachment Pattern

The third attachment pattern is what typically happens in a child when the primary caregivers are both unavailable and unreliable. When dad and mom are avoidant, chaotic, and overly dependent on the child in capricious and inconsistent ways, the child’s ability to develop trust anyone will be severely handicapped. The child suffers the worse of both the avoidant and ambivalent attachment patterns. He can trust no one, not even himself.

The internal experience of an adult with a scattered pattern is confusing. It is a strange mixture of exaggerated, needy dependency and restless, confusing avoidance. The person pulls others in and then pushes them away. Their experience of emotional closeness is sometimes intense and then quickly cool. Obviously, those with a scattered attachment pattern create substantial relational conflict and confusion in others.

The same characteristics emerge in one’s relationship with God. The experience of communion with God is a troubled journey of strong feelings of dependency and then profound feelings of distance. Often the scattered soul becomes fatigued by the emotionally swings and consequently finds it difficult to cultivate a consistent and stable experience of spiritual maturity.

Stable Attachment Pattern

The fourth attachment pattern is what develops in a child whose caregivers are both reliably and consistently emotionally present. As a result a child progressively learns to trust others and to trust one’s self. This pattern offers the best possibility for a consistent experience of intimacy in adulthood. As an adult the person is able to rely on those who are close, but is also able to stand as an individual. This pattern of attachment leads mature adults to experience intimacy with God. However, it can prove so stable that one feels little need for God. The pride of exaggerated reliance on one’s own abilities and relationships can prove to be a stumbling block to trust in God.

Taken from The Relational Soul by Richard Plass and James Cofield. Copyright (c) 2014 by Richard Plass and James Cofield. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com