Relationships between Adolescents' Attachment Styles and Family Functioning

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ABSTRACT

This study examined the relationship between university students' perceptions of their familial attachment and the manner in which their families cope with life's difficulties. It was hypothesized that individuals with high levels of secure attachment would perceive their families as using more active coping strategies (e.g., mobilizing the family to deal with a problem and making efforts to acquire social support). The results supported this hypothesis. Further, individuals with high levels of anxious/ambivalent attachment perceived their families as using a passive appraisal coping strategy, possibly because of a desire to avoid confrontation for fear of disturbing family accord. The findings are discussed in terms of individuals' dispositional coping styles formed as a function of type of familial attachment, as well as situational factors that might serve to mitigate the use of their basic coping strategies.

The emotional bond, or degree of attachment, between child and parent has become a major area of research interest. Researchers have identified a number of attachment patterns (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) and have shown that the manner in which children establish emotional ties with caregivers influences development not only in childhood, but also in adolescence and adulthood (Hazan & Shaver, 1994; Rothbard & Shaver, 1994).

Bowlby (1969, 1988) and Bretherton (1985) have suggested that infants have an innate attachment system designed to maintain homeostasis between them and their environment. The function of this attachment system is to establish the child within the context of a familiar and safe enviromnent so that biological growth may be nurtured. This bond between the child and his or her caregiver ensures that proximity is maintained and basic physical needs are met. Later, this includes psychological needs as well (Bretherton, 1985).

Not all children develop the same attachment with their caregivers. Ainsworth et al. (1978) identified three basic types of caregiver-child attachment: (1) Secure, in which the child and caregiver develop a warm and loving relationship; this relationship is thought to foster feelings of safety and security, thereby giving the child the confidence necessary to explore his or her environment. (2) Anxious / ambivalent, in which the child develops a fearful relationship with his or her caregiver because of excessive concerns of abandonment; these fears result in the child seeking to maintain nearness with the caregiver. (3) Avoidant, in which the child establishes only minimal levels of attachment with his or her caregiver; this type of relationship is believed to produce emotional detachment.

Although infants' attachment systems are thought to develop by focusing on the primary caregiver (Bowlby, 1969), it must be emphasized that the system is dynamic and rapidly expands to allow infants to become attached to others (Bretherton, 1985), such as the secondary caregiver (usually the father) as well as siblings. According to Marris (1982), as this attachment system expands to others, its basic nature remains consistent. That is, if the infant develops a secure attachment with the primary caregiver, then it is likely that secure attachment with others will follow. Thus, the relationship with the primary caregiver establishes the type of attachment style, and that style is extended to other family members, who are thought to form the same emotional bonds with the infant (Marris, 1982). Moreover, the individual usually extends the pattern of attachment established in childhood (which is reinforced by familial interactions) to relationships in adolescence and adulthood (Hazan & Shaver, 1994).

The processes underlying the development of attachment with caregivers, family, and friends are believed to be governed by an "internal working model" of the relationship between attachment figure(s) and one's self (Bretherton, 1985). …