Links between Perceived Parent Characteristics and Attachment Variables for Young Women from Intact Families

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ABSTRACT

This study examined links between perceived parent characteristics and attachment variables for young women from intact families (biological parents still married to each other). One hundred fifty-four female college students served as subjects. They rated both parents using items derived from Secunda's (1992) descriptions of father characteristics, and also were assessed on measures of adult attachment, self-esteem, and interpersonal trust. Positive correlations were found between secure attachment and self-concept, good father characteristics, and doting mother characteristics. An insecure attachment pattern was associated with lower self-worth, less interpersonal trust, distant and demanding father characteristics, and absent mother characteristics. A fearful attachment pattern was associated with distant father and absent mother characteristics. A preoccupied attachment pattern was linked to absent, seductive, and demanding father characteristics and demanding mother characteristics. A dismissive attachme nt pattern was associated with distant father characteristics. Collectively, father characteristics related more strongly to an insecure attachment pattern, while mother characteristics related more strongly to a secure attachment pattern.

The relevance of attachment theory for adult relationship functioning has become an increasingly popular research topic. Attachment theory, based on the early work of Bowlby (1969, 1973, 1982) and followed by that of Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978), holds that the infant's initial experiences of attachment become cognitively represented in the form of internal "working models" of the self and others. These mental models incorporate expectations about how worthy one is and how accessible and responsive the primary caregiver is in regard to providing support and protection. Based on early learning experiences with primary caregivers, working models are presumed to shape adult relationship expectations and behavior.

The patterns of child-caretaker attachment identified by Ainsworth et al. (1978) were applied by Hazan and Shaver (1987) to three adult attachment types: secure, anxious/ambivalent, and avoidant. Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) extended this model to four adult attachment patterns, one secure and three insecure, which are defined in terms of the intersection of two dimensions, the positivity of self and the positivity of others. The positivity of self refers to one's overall level of self-esteem, or a sense of one's own worthiness, and the positivity of others refers to the overall level of interpersonal trust, or the belief that others are generally accepting and responsive. Each of the four patterns, secure (positive self, positive other), fearful-avoidant (negative self, negative other), preoccupied (negative self, positive other), and dismissive-avoidant (positive self, negative other), is characterized by distinct patterns of emotional regulation and social interaction (Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994). Sec urely attached adults are comfortable with intimacy and autonomy. Fearful-avoidant adults have difficulty trusting others and avoid intimacy. They are likely to become dependent on a partner and then withdraw because of fear of rejection. Preoccupied adults are likely to be dependent on others, but do not withdraw. They tend to be overly concerned about abandonment and make unreasonable demands upon a partner for reassurance and nurturance. Dismissive-avoidant adults tend to distance themselves from others to maintain a positive self-image. They avoid intimacy, preferring autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Main, Kaplan, and Cassidy (1985) classified adults into attachment patterns based upon retrospective reports about childhood relationships with parents. Secure adults had positive memories and valued their parents. Avoidant adults rated parents as being distant, rejecting, or unavailable when needed. Preoccupied adults recalled being close to parents, but being annoyed by their lack of support. …