Mental disorders today are believed by many researchers to result when a biological predisposition is triggered by the environment. There are many types of environmental stimuli that are thought to have the ability to trigger mental disorders.
Early childhood experiences may be one such trigger. Many adults who grew up in families with less-than-ideal parents wonder if their troubles coping with lifeâ€™s difficulties could have something to do with their early childhood experiences.
Some idea about whether or not early childhood experiences influence the development of mental disorders might be found in research on Attachment Style. Attachment Style in adulthood has been studied for the past 25 years.Â Recent research combined all the results from all the studies to find out how early childhood experience with attachment might influence adult mental health (Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van IJzendoorn, 2009). this research involved over 10,000 people and over 200 studies.
What is Attachment Style
We find many people in life to love, but we form attachments to only a few people. Attachment is deeper than love. The attachment relationship is reserved for our parents, significant others, and children.
Attachment style is generally Â handed down from one generation to the next. You are likely to have the same attachment style that your mother had, and your children are likely to have the same attachment style as you do.Â Attachment style can be upgraded in situations where one has a very caring spouse. It can also be downgraded by situations of lossâ€”for example, having a child with a handicap.
What is Your Attachment Style
Adults have three basic attachment styles:
- Secure-Autonomous Attachment
Securely- attached adults value relationships.Â They describe their relationship to their caregivers as â€śimportantâ€ť to their personality formation. They are able to talk about their early childhood experience with their caregiver, whether those experiences were positive or negative, in a straight-forward and coherent manner.
- Insecure-Preoccupied Attachment
Adults with Preoccupied Attachment tend to ruminate their early childhood experience. They believe their relationship with their caregivers was critically important to their personality formationâ€”perhaps impairing them in some way. Â They tend to be passive or angry when they describe their relationship with their caregivers.
- Insecure-Dismissive Attachment
Adults with dismissive attachment tend to minimize the impact of their early attachment experiences.Â Alternatively, adults with dismissive attachment will idealize their attachment to their caregivers but not be able to provide concrete evidence to support their claims.
Evidence that Attachment with Caregivers Has an Influence on Mental Disorder
The result of combining all the research samples studying adult attachment styles suggested that an insecure style of attachment, whether it is Preoccupied or Dismissive, appears to increase the likelihood that a person will have a mental disorder.
Here is how persons who with no know mental disordersÂ compared with persons with a known mental disorder:
- No known mental disorder: Â Secure Attachment: 58 %; Insecure Attachment 42%
- Known mental disorder:Â Secure AttachmentÂ 27%; Insecure Attachment 73%
There is not enough evidence to definitively say that insecure attachment predisposes one to mental disorders.Â The people with no known mental disorder had never sought treatment, while the persons with a known mental disorder had sought treatment. The groups that had not sought treatment had also not been screened for a mental disorder. The researchers were able to identify that many of the group that had not sought treatment had unresolved attachment issues (18%).
The most we can get from this study is that there appears to be a relationship between early childhood attachment experiences. People who have been diagnosed with mental disorders are more likely to have insecure attachment to their caregivers.Â People who do not have a diagnosed mental disorder are more likely to have secure attachment. How that relationship comes about will need further study.
Finding out what causes mental disorders is important because it will lead to treatments that are even more effective than what we currently have.
Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2009,Â May). The first 10,000 Adult Attachment Interviews: distributions of adult attachment representations in clinical and non-clinical groups. Attachment and Human Development, 11(3), 223-263.