Ambivalent Attachment

A child will develop an ambivalent attachment when she experiences her primary caregiver as inconsistent and, at times, intrusive. 

When the child becomes distressed, her caregiver may—or may not—provide soothing and comfort. It all depends on what is going on for the caregiver at that particular moment.

In other words, at times Mom is attuned and responsive to the child’s needs, but at other times she is too caught up in her own emotional needs and moods to focus on meeting the child’s needs.

The child learns that she cannot depend upon Mom to be attuned and responsive to her.

Never knowing what to expect, the child develops a sense of anxiety and uncertainty about whether she can depend upon her Mom or not.

Inner Franticness

This creates a sense that others cannot be relied upon to meet her needs. The child develops an inner franticness as she struggles to find relief from her anxiety and uncertainty. Mom’s inconsistency and unreliability may not seem like a “big deal” when you think about it as an adult, but for a child, it is absolute terror.  

Mom’s inconsistency and uncertainty forces the child to become hyper-focused on her mother—that is, to attune to the Mom’s emotional state rather than Mom attuning to the child’s emotions. The relationship becomes primarily one in which the child is responding to the parent's own emotional needs.

How To Know If You're Ambivalently Attached

As ambivalently attached children mature into adulthood, they will tend to:

>    have difficulty regulating anxiety
>    often experience intense emotions
>    feel frantic inside as they struggle to find relief from their anxiety 
>    believe that unless they dramatically expresses pain, it is unlikely that another will respond 
>    be plagued by a deep-seated fear that they are going to be rejected or abandoned, which makes it very difficult to trust anyone. This leads to habitually seeking closeness (which their partner experiences as “clingy”) and often asking for proof that they are loved. “Are you really there for me? Are you? Show me. Now show me again.”
>    always be watching for relational disruptions, and have a deep need for resolution
>    feel like they are too “needy” and that they do not deserve to be loved in the way that they want
>    suffer from self-criticism, insecurity, and a sense that something is wrong with them
>    rely heavily on others to validate their self-worth, often seeking approval and reassurance from others
>    assume the role of the “pursuer” in a relationship.

Attachment In A Nutshell

The three attachment styles can be summarized as follows:

Secure attachment—Mom was often attuned to you and responsive to your needs/wants. 

Avoidant attachment—Mom was rarely attuned to you and responsive to your needs/wants.

Ambivalent attachment—Mom was sometimes attuned to you and responsive to your needs/wants and sometimes she was preoccupied with her own anxiety, emotions, and moods.


copyright © 2016 Adam Young

For additional reading about attachment, check out 
Attachment: What It Is and Why It Matters and Avoidant Attachment.