What Is Ambivalent Attachment, And How Does If Affect My Relationships? -- Exploring Adult Attachment Styles

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated April 18, 2022

What is ambivalent attachment?

Many people have heard of attachment styles when it comes to how we relate to each other in the world.

Our attachment styles formed in early childhood set the stage for responding to our environment as adults. When it comes to insecure and secure attachment - there is another form of attachment between these two attachment styles called ambivalent attachment. People with ambivalent attachment styles have different behavior patterns than people with other attachment styles.

This article takes an in-depth look at the ambivalent attachment style related to children and adults. We'll provide an ambivalent attachment definition and dive into the concepts of insecure ambivalent attachment and anxious ambivalent attachment. Let's start with the ambivalent attachment definition.

An Overview Of Attachment Styles

According to Mary Ainsworth's research from 1970-1978, there are three primary attachment styles: secure, insecure, and ambivalent. Securely attached people can feel safe in the world as their needs as their primary caregiver consistently met infants. Securely attached people feel safe in the world due to receiving a sufficient amount of care as infants. People with secure attachment styles feel confident in themselves as children and normally grow into confident adults.

The Ainsworth study of attachment styles was done with the mother in the primary caregivers' role in this case. The study suggests infants who developed an insecure attachment fare worse than infants who developed a secure attachment style. Infants who develop an insecure attachment style do so due to neglect or an inadequate response to the infant child's needs. Findings of the study state that people with insecure attachment styles feel less secure in the world and with themselves as a result of their needs not being met or neglected in infancy and early childhood.

Ambivalent Attachment Style Basics

The ambivalent attachment style falls directly in-between the other two styles as someone suffering from the ambivalent attachment style has received intermittent support and nurturing in infancy. As a result, the ambivalent attachment style lacks the person's security with a secure attachment style. On the other hand, they cannot detach from their primary caregiver (source of affection, etc.), which often leaves them in an internal tug of war resulting from being in this ambivalent state.

Children with ambivalent attachment styles may develop behavior patterns that are clingy toward the primary caregiver. The ambivalent child reaches out excessively to the primary caregiver. When the caregiver eventually responds, the child then rejects the caregiver - and the cycle repeats. People who develop ambivalent attachment styles as children often carry these styles with them into adulthood.

Ambivalent Attachment In Adults

Adults with the ambivalent attachment style can experience turmoil in their lives due to their response to caregivers, partners, and other intimate connections. Like the ambivalent child, the ambivalent adult may consistently seek attention from the desired person. Once they get the attention they crave, - reject the person and then repeat the process. This is not a healthy coping style, and adults who behave have far more serious consequences in their lives than children who have this attachment style.

Issues with attention-seeking followed by indifferent behavior can cause ongoing issues in the ambivalent adult's life that place them on a never-ending cycle of ending jobs and relationships. This never-ending pattern can go on indefinitely without professional intervention. Adults who are experiencing repeated negative results should seek support from a licensed professional. A licensed professional therapist can help an ambivalent adult learn to recognize their negative behavior patterns to prevent repeating them in the future.

Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment

Ambivalent attachment in adults develops from a child having their needs met intermittently in early childhood. People who develop an anxious ambivalent attachment style in childhood feel like they have to cling to their primary caregivers to meet their needs. When they form this style, and their needs are met intermittently where a child doesn't feel soothed or secure about the caregiver, they cannot emotionally break away from the caregiver.

The anxious ambivalent attachment style shows up in adulthood when adults behave in the same way toward their romantic partners as they did in childhood with their caregiver. For example, a husband or wife may repeatedly request and then demand that their spouse spend more time with them. However, if their partner only responds to their request for quality time intermittently, they may respond in a cold fashion when their request for attention is finally honored.

Insecure-Ambivalent Attachment

This attachment style is also referred to as insecure resistance and involves children developing an ambivalent attachment to their primary caregiver. According to the Ainsworth theory of attachment - the insecure ambivalent child behaves in a clingy fashion. However, the child refuses or rejects the caregiver when they offer comfort or support.

In this attachment style, the child has issues with developing security and trust in their primary caregiver. Simultaneously, the child cannot seek comfort in their caregiver offering support - as insecure attachment. The worst part is that they are also unable to emotionally attach - which sets them up for a vicious cycle of emotional turmoil. According to the Ainsworth theory, this attachment method develops due to an inconsistent response by the primary caregiver to soothing the child's needs during infancy.

Online Therapy Options

Various online therapy options make it easier for people with attachment issues to get therapy from their own homes' comfort and privacy. Online therapy provides a convenient, affordable option that connects mental health seekers with board-certified and licensed professional therapists. Leading therapy sites like BetterHelp.com give mental health therapy clients 24-hour access to over eighteen thousand board-certified therapists online.

These highly educated and trained professionals are available online in real-time to provide therapeutic support to clients who have issues with attachment. Online therapists also support mental health clients with other ongoing chronic mental health issues like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other chronic issues. Mental health clients who suffer from these chronic mental health issues can consult with therapists online via desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.

Online Therapy Treatments

Today's online therapists provide innovative treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy to help people with attachment issues learn new healthier behaviors. Online therapists provide an affordable and easy-to-use solution for busy, homebound, or living in a rural area. Regardless of the reason for limited access to therapy, people suffering from attachment issues have an online solution to improve their quality of life.

Online therapy treatments include a combination of talk therapy, medication management referrals, and supplemental resources for therapy support. Common talk therapy treatments for attachment disorder issues are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy (ERP). Cognitive-behavior therapy focuses on teaching individuals how to learn new social behaviors and apply them to their lifestyle. This brain-based therapy functions under the principles of maladaptive beliefs, rewards, and punishment.

In the case of attachment theory for negative attachments, a cognitive behavior therapist will likely apply techniques to let you know that your original beliefs about the amount of support available to you in the world no longer apply. In this case, that means the belief is maladaptive and doesn't really apply - this is supported by the fact that you now have access to a licensed therapist for support. That idea negates the original idea that there isn't any support available to you in the world - at least anymore.

Getting started with online therapy is easy. The first thing you need to do is register for an account on a leading therapy platform like BetterHelp.com. When you register your new therapy account, you have the option to register using your real name or to remain anonymous. People choose to remain anonymous for many reasons. It is completely up to you to decide if you want to use your real name or a nickname on the platform. The only identifying information required is an email address for receiving notifications of your therapy appointments, logging in to the therapy platform, and reviewing online sessions.

Final Thoughts

If you or a loved one is suffering from issues related to ambivalent attachment, you're not alone. The good news is - there are options for getting help. Online therapists provide talk therapy treatments online, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, that help people develop healthier behaviors.

Ambivalent attachment is not a choice; this attachment style is developed due to engagement in early childhood. If you're ready to take the next step and start therapy - contact a BetterHelp.com professional to start today.

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