Relationships between Attachment and Personality Disorder Symptoms of Chinese College Students

Article excerpt

According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994), a personality disorder is characterized by pervasive and inflexible patterns of inner experience and distorted perceptions that deviate significantly from most socially and culturally acceptable behaviors. Characteristic features of personality disorders usually emerge during adolescence or early adulthood, after which they tend to remain stable over time, in some cases eventually leading to serious distress or impairment for the individual (American Psychiatric Association). In recent years, there has been a great deal of research from the attachment perspective and researchers have traced links between attachment in childhood and the development of personality disorders later in life. This line of research reflects the interest in the broader question of relationships between attachment and later mental health. The consensus in the field at this point is that attachment insecurity in childhood is best thought of as a major risk factor for the later development of psychopathology. These recent developments reflect a return to Bowlby's (1988) original interest in the formulation of attachment theory.

According to Bowlby (1988), attachment behavior is an instinctive propensity, shared by humans and other higher order animals, to seek safety in proximity to a specific individual perceived to be protective, in situations where fear or other feelings associated with perceived vulnerabilities have been aroused. Attachment was postulated as the most influential of behavioral systems in human development, because the expression of attachment goals involves complex negotiations with the attachment figure, through which the child learns enduring and generalized lessons in social behavior. Social skills learned through the attachment relationship, including the ability to trust others and to value oneself, serve as a foundation for social relationships across the life span. Emotional security results from a child's perception of safety and protection, and is achieved in relationships with attachment figures. Emotional insecurity arises when, despite a child's attempts at modifying goals in relation to attachment figures, safety and protection from the attachment figure remain unforthcoming.

Although Bowlby originally sought to understand how insecure attachment influences affect regulation, personality development, and psychopathology in children, his ideas also help to explain how these phenomena are woven together in close relationships between adults. When assessed with self-report questionnaires, insecure attachment in adults varies along two separate dimensions: anxious attachment reflects worry about being abandoned or rejected by others, and avoidant attachment reflects discomfort with close relationships with, and dependence on, others. Anxiety and avoidance dimensions in adults are analogous to similar dimensions that have been observed in infants in a strange situation (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978). Anxious and avoidant attachment styles may provide a useful conceptual framework for understanding the interpersonal dysfunction that is salient in personality disorders.

Personality disorders in mainland China were long neglected and rarely examined or given a formal diagnosis by psychiatric doctors and researchers, who recently realized the urgency of carrying out research in personality disorders and began to do practical work in this area (Fu & Yao, 2004; Hu, Yang, & Wu, 2001; Huang, Ling, Yang, & Dou, 2007; Yang, Shen, & Liu, 2000b). The studies include assessment and screening of personality disorders, analysis of relevant factors, and so on. The purpose in the present study was to explore the relationship between attachment quality and personality disorder symptoms of college students in mainland China.

METHOD

Participants

A random sample of 1,611 college students participated in this study. …