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To What Extent Is Attachment Theory Useful in Explaining the Origins of Personality Disorders? Discuss Critically.

Understanding Human Personality

Every infant need to stay close to the family and in particular to the principal caregivers, in order to feel safe and protect. When a person is threatened or under stress, he or she usually seek social support and security; this is basically known ‘Attachment Theory’, and the principal caregivers are therefore, his or her attachment figure (Howe, 2011). In other words, attachment theory is known also as a spatial theory because the child feels good when he/she is close to the caregiver, while sadness, loneliness and anxiety are the main feelings when the child is far away from his/her caregiver (Holmes, 1993). Moreover, Bowlby (1998) stated that if the relationship between the attachment figure and the individual attached goes well, there is joy and sense of security; whereas, if it is frightened, there is anger and anxiety. Instead, grief and depression are of first essence if the relationship is broken.

In particular, the attachment figure is seen as a safe haven and a secure base. When children have difficulties or problems, they know that there is a safe haven where to find protection and safety; they can also use that safe haven as a secure base from which to explore. One important concept in the relationship between the attachment figure and the child, is the Attachment Behavioural System. Ethologists refers to behavioural systems to describe the ways in which animals reproduce. When the senses are stimulated by specific environmental cues, each system is automatically activated; when it achieved its ‘set goal’ (for instance when a meal is eaten or a place of safety is found), the system ends. Therefore, the attachment system is that behavioural system which gets activated whenever the individual feels in danger, in distress or in need.When activated, it lets the attachment behaviours achieved its set goal, to recover physical or psychological proximity to one of the child’s caregivers, where security and safety are located (Howe, 2011). A concept that also explains the shades of attachment system is the notion of “working models.” Bowlby stated that every individual creates representations in the mind, which provide them with models of the workings, characteristics, properties and behaviour of attachment figures, the self and others. These models are represented like cognitive maps which consent the navigation of organism’s environment; however, they are not static images but are flexible representations.These models are essential to the child to asses the situation and plan his behaviour, they can also influence feelings, memory, attention and cognition. Morevore, these models can become automatic over time; a child can have a working model as available of his mother when needed may spend less time checking her movements respect to a child who is unsure of his mother’s availability. When working models are no longer reliable and become outdated or inaccurate, they may remain to conduct an individual’s behaviour in pathological ways (Greenberg, 1990).

This concept explains why relationships matter and how their quality influence interpersonal behaviour, psychological experience, cognitive modeling and relationship styles. Every parent will have his own attachment organizations and distributional representations of self and relationships with others, including the one they have with their children. This mean that they will understand and process the children’s needs in different ways, with a consequent different response. The attachment figure can then be loving or not, sensitive or not, emotionally available or not; in other words, he or she can behave positively or negatively. Consequently, children’s attachments may vary depending on the type of caregiving environment in which they find themselves, they need to adapt to the behaviours of their mother, father and others. Regarding this, it is possible to identify four combinations of the way the child experience and modeled behaviours within the parents; these are also called patterns of attachment: avoidant, secure, ambivalent, and disorganized, also referred to as A (avoidant), B (secure), C (ambivalent) and D (disorganized). Each pattern of attachment behaviour shows a distinct adaptive strategy adopted under different parenting managements. The secure patterns of attachment (Type B) explains that in situations of distress the child knows that the caregiver will answer unconditionally, with comfort and understanding; there is a sense of trust, and the child can express his or her needs liberally and directly. In the avoidant patterns of attachment (Type A), the parent rejects the child’s requests of need; when the child shows distress , the attachment figure seems agitated and annoyed. The parent has usually an irritable attempts to control, denying the infant’s need or anxiety. As a result of this behaviour, children learn to contain their feelings and emotions. Their affect is over-regulated and the caregiver has been described as consistently unresponsive. The ambivalent pattern of attachment (Type C) is when the parent is insensitive, unreliable and inconsistently responsive, children can also use an ambivalent strategy, overdoing their needs and distress, in order to increase their chances to get a response. Their emotions are under-regulate. The attachment behaviours of ambivalent children are the ones relative to an angry approach; they cry, shout and worry. Children begin to doubt that they are reliable of interest. These three types of attachment are all known as ‘organized.’ Each attachment pattern represents the best way of organizing the attachment behaviour in order to achieve set goal required, that is to maintain and increase intimacy to the attachment figure at times of danger and need. It is possible to explain these three organized subgroups with their subdivisions: A1 (extremely avoidant, showing no discomfort in being left alone), A2 (moderately avoidant), B2 (essentially secure but they show some avoidant tendencies), B2 (some avoidant behaviours initially, but then with the increase of stress, they show proximity-seeking behaviours with their caregiver), B3 (infants define as very secure), B4 (show more distress at separation), C1 (angry or resistant, demanding contact but pushing parents away), C2 (distress on separation but behave in a passive manner when the caregiver return). Finally, the disorganized (Type D) attachment occurs when the attachment figure is actually the source of the child’s distress, when parents are confused, dangerous or emotionally unavailable, or also fail to offer protection, frighten their children and fail to recognize or do anything about their children’s fearful state. The attachment system of these children remain chronically activated. Moreover, a child might slowly come close to the attachment figure, turning away a moment later, children’s attachment behaviour becomes incoherent and disorganized (Howe, 2011).

There is an important link between attachment and development: development is continuous, events that occur at any point in the life time, which have implications for subsequent results (Atkinson, 1997). These developments bring to different types of adults. Secure adults are comfortable with being with parents and other people, but they are also independent. Avoidant attachment in adulthood is slightly different: avoidant individuals are worried of make emotional demands on others and to appear vulnerable. The ambivalent adult could be friendly and love being in parties or meetings, but feelings of dissatisfaction and being deprived of love and attention are typical. The disorganized adult is fearful avoidant, and usually has unresolved states of mind related to attachment, which can affect personality across the lifespan (Howe, 2011). These different types may also bring to personality disorders. The most commonly classification of personality disorders (PD) is contained in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders): cluster A (paranoid, schizoid personality, schizotypical), cluster B (antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic), cluster C (avoidant, dependent, obsessive compulsive) [Claridge]. Many studies propose that personality disorders are influenced by attachment difficulties; for instance, the emotional needs of schizoid individuals (distrust of others) were not met appropriately by the caregivers in their childhood, then they try to avoid pain of further rejections being self-sufficient . This PD is related with dismissing avoidant attachment. Instead, the borderline PD (indifference from social relationships) is characterized by an impairment in the capacity to form representations of thoughts and feelings of the individual and also those of the caregivers. Researches had suggested that this detachment indicates early attachment failures, in particular those of certain insecure patterns of attachment. The primary caregiver of narcissistic and antisocial individuals (grandiosity and need for admiration, ignore and violation of others’ rights) is usually unable to underline in response to child’s needs, with excessive adoration; children therefore grow up thinking that others exist only to gratify their narcissistic needs. This PD has been associated with the dismissing attachment style. Anxious-avoidant PD (social inhibition and anxiety, submissiveness and clinging behaviour) concerns the fact that individuals appear to need closeness with others but they are likely to avoid social interaction. Researches found a relationship with preoccupied attachment. Finally, obsessive compulsive PD (perfectionism and control) has been associated with fearful attachment (Sinha, 2007).

Attachment Theory has evaluated many different kinds of personality and relatives disorders; it is logically important to understand what are the best styles of education for children. It is in fact known that parents play a main role in the development of the children, especially of their personality. Attachment Theory is notably useful in the explanation of personality but also in that of personality disorders; nevertheless, all the researches that has been done are not extremely clear, some are controversial, and there is still many shapes of the theory to study and to examine in depth.

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To What Extent Is Attachment Theory Useful in Explaining the Origins of Personality Disorders? Discuss Critically.
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