Dissociative Experiences and Anger Proneness in Late Adolescent Females with Different Attachment Styles

By Calamari, Elena; Pini, Mauro | Adolescence, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Dissociative Experiences and Anger Proneness in Late Adolescent Females with Different Attachment Styles


Calamari, Elena, Pini, Mauro, Adolescence


Bowlby's attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980) pointed out the evolutionary function of the mother-child relationship, which inspired Ainsworth's research on the "Strange Situation" (Ainsworth et al., 1978)--a structured observational procedure designed to investigate attachment behavior in the child. Ainsworth described four response patterns, foremost among them being a secure reaction, namely distress during separation with rapid recovery on the return of the mother (caregiver) and also the use of the mother as a "secure base" for exploration. Insecure reactions to separation were classified into two main types: avoidant and ambivalent-resistant. Avoidant children exhibit little negative emotion together with strong physiological activation and a persistent attention to toys after reunion with the mother; children defined as ambivalent express love and hate, and resist the mother's approaches: "... these insecure-resistant infants became markedly upset upon separation from the mother, yet appeared unable to obtain comfort from her when she returned. Reunions were marked by continued displays of distress, intermittent displays of anger, and an apparent inability to return to exploration and play" (Main & Morgan, 1996, p. 113). The fourth attachment style, insecure-disorganized-disoriented, is a residual category of "unclassifiable" reactions, and includes children who show stereotypic movements or immobilized behavior with a dazed expression or a contradictory approach to the caregiver, keeping the face averted.

Attachment theory has inspired research on attachment styles in close relationships over the life-span. Hazan and Shaver (1987; Shaver & Hazan, 1992) extended the three main attachment styles to young adults in order to examine romantic relationships. They found the same relative frequencies of secure, avoidant, and ambivalent-resistant patterns observed in infancy.

The recent literature on attachment has provided support for the hypothesis that attachment style influences the management of emotion in childhood and adolescence (Mikulincer, 1998; Spangler & Zimmerman, 1999; Grossman et al., 1999; Phipps, 2000; West et al., 2000; David & Ronitte, 2000). In particular, insecure attachment has been reported to be a predisposing factor for disorders involving affect regulation and modulation of autonomic arousal (Taylor et al., 1997; Bekendam, 1997; Zimmerman, 1999). Mikulincer (1998) evaluated attachment style in self-reports of anger, measured via the Multidimensional Anger Inventory (Siegel, 1986), and noted lower levels of anger proneness and more adaptive responses in secure than in insecure individuals. Moreover, escapist responses and lack of awareness of the physiological signs of anger were noted for avoidants, while ambivalent-resistants tended to direct anger inward, coupled with a lack of control. In contrast to Mikulincer, Biernbaum (1999) reported the tendency to turn anger against the self in both styles of insecure attachment.

Anger is considered a basic emotion, often connected with fear; it can be expressed outwardly, inwardly, held in, or controlled and resolved (Izard, 1993; Spielberger et al., 1995; Pavek et al., 1995; Parker, 1998). Expressed anger may lead to interpersonal, occupational, and family conflicts, negative evaluations by others, negative self-concept, and low self-esteem (Kassinove, 1995). The experience of anger is salient in female development, and there are social pressures toward the assumption of traditional sex role coping strategies (Cox et al., 1999). In certain socio-cultural contexts, anger in females has been, and continues to be, especially threatening for gender self-image (Dutton & Aron, 1989; Thomas, 1991). Anger is just as significant in male development (see Kring, 2000), but the issue of gender differences in the experience of anger is not dealt with in this study.

From the point of view of self-psychology, G. …

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