The Echoes of Childhood: Can Past Attachments Haunt Our Current Relationships?

John Bowlby, through the joint association with Mary Ainsworth, transformed the view of the attachment relationship by drafting the attachment theory, a milestone in the scientific history of the study of human development. Bowlby's attachment theory states that an individual's attachment history in infancy is mirrored in their attachment pattern in adulthood, which influences relationships. 

By the end of the first year of life, the infant has formed expectations about their relationship with their caregiver. These expectations are known as internal working models that determine an individual's attachment style. 

According to Bowlby, these internal working models are relatively constant and gradually become more steady and immune to change throughout life. As hypothesised by Bowlby, attachment classifications persist across the lifespan yet are subject to change in light of experience. 

The effect of early attachment styles on those in adulthood and adolescence remains ambiguous, with the growth of various viewpoints raised on the matter and empirical data resulting in contradicting conclusions. The two main perspectives regarding attachment stability that have evolved are the revisionist and prototype perspectives.

The revisionist perspective states that the representations formed in early childhood change due to the various experiences faced by the individual. It holds that alterations in current attachment representations can potentially dilute or even override early childhood representations. Therefore, it is believed that an individual's attachment becomes difficult to indicate based on their past attachments.

Research on attachment has indicated that shifts in the internal working model are caused by changes in the caregiving environment, such as the death of a parent, parental divorce, substance abuse, severe illness of a parent, and parental psychiatric disorder, which may affect attachment continuity by changing the parent-child relationship. 

The internal working models are most likely to alter due to actual changes in the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver. For instance, a mother facing marital issues could have mood effects or cognitive demands interrupting her ability to be available and respond to her infant. Alternatively, the caregiver may become chronically ill, leading the child to believe they are less available. Gradually, the child may experience a shift in their representations due to changes in caregiver behaviour.

The change in the internal working model can also be attributed to the drastic cognitive, emotional, and biological changes that an individual goes through in childhood and adulthood. This builds abstract representations of attachment-related concepts, causing re-evaluations of early childhood attachments. 

Additionally, adolescence is characterised by social plasticity, rapidly shifting social environments, social roles, and relationships with attachment figures. Thus, adolescents are highly susceptible to changing attachments.

On the contrary, the prototype perspective maintains that the representations produce a prototype that remains constant, influences and shapes attachment behaviours, and reactivates during new interactions. As Bowlby proclaimed, "Whilst especially evident during early childhood, attachment behaviour is held to characterise human beings from the cradle to the grave".

Collin and Reed (1990) proposed that the basis of an internal working model of adult relationships is their early attachment history. This model believes that children with a secure relationship with their parents will form a similar model for future relationships. 

Likewise, children with insecure relationships with their parents will grow anxious or avoidant attachment styles. For example, Hazan and Shaver (1987) found that adults with secure romantic relationships were more inclined to recollect their early relationships with their parents positively. 

Several experiments and theories imply that childhood attachments affect relationships later in life, and object relations theorists have long argued that the parent-child relationship provides a prototype for later romantic relationships. 

However, it may be wrongly assumed that early childhood attachments are the sole criteria that shape adult and adolescent attachment styles. A person's subsequent attachment style may be understood better by considering current interpersonal relationships than distal ones alone. Even though early childhood relationships leave a mark on adult relationships, there is ample evidence that current relationships are vital for understanding interpersonal functioning. 

Besides the general working models, people can develop relationship-specific attachment styles in response to the other person's behavioural style. 

For example, Cohn and his colleagues, in 1992, found that insecure women who were married to securely attached men were able to develop a harmonious marital relationship. Despite problematic childhood attachment relationships, their working models of intimate relationships were recast due to supportive spouses. 

Likewise, even if adolescents have a secure relationship with their parents, they may develop insecure relationships with their peers due to negative experiences and eventually with their spouses. This shows that even though individuals have an insecure model of childhood attachments, they can form secure current relationships and vice versa. 

Therefore, even if the study of early childhood attachments is necessary for understanding relationships later in life, it may not be the only component responsible for shaping a lifelong attitude toward relationships.

In essence, the attachment theory posits that early childhood relationships with the caregiver form internal working models in the infant that influence subsequent relationships in the individual's life. 

The prototype view argues that these representations are invariant over time and form the base for adult and adolescent relationships. On the other hand, the revisionist perspective proposes that those representations evolve throughout life and are inconsistent. 

However, attachment styles in early childhood may remain relatively stable and affect relationships later in life but are open to environmental influences. 

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Huda Fatima

A passionate bookworm, Huda has always dreamt of sculpting a reader's imagination. Driven by an everlasting passion for language, she strives to craft captivating narratives, twisting, and combining the words she holds much love for, taking her readers on cultural journeys around the globe.

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