*Attachment Simplified – Organized Insecure Attachment – Preoccupied-Ambivalent

AMBIVALENCE child turns into a preoccupied adult


“…a fourteen-month-old boy who wants to climb onto a table with a lamp on it.  One possible parental response would be…for the parent to yell “No!” and reprimand the boy, hug him out of guilt, then distance herself from him because he has disappointed her.  (siegel/tdm/282)”


all one para

“In the third approach, parental facial expressions of continued disapproval, eye gaze aversion, and body language of disconnection or anger are all perceived by the child.

The child’s high-arousal states may be attuned to sometimes, but if they are not, disconnection and shame may be associated with humiliation and may thus become toxic, especially if disconnection is prolonged or associated with parental anger.

The child’s range of tolerable emotional arousal may (siegel/tdm/283) be broad, but uncontrollable swings beyond the window of tolerance may occur.

Inconsistent attunements and repair may lead to excessive arousal, so that the sympathetic system may often be unchecked because of a diminished parasympathetic system response.

Alternatively, prolonged despair may result if the parasympathetic system is excessively activated.

Anticipatory anxiety and fear of separation may be evident.  Separation in the ambivalently attached child means having to rely on the self for ineffective emotion regulation.

Repeated experiences of going beyond tolerable levels with excessive arousal or despair teaches these children that they themselves are unreliable affect modulators; this is the reason for their paradoxical excessive reliance on the inconsistent attachment figures.

Such experiences may produce an apparent increase in a child’s sensitivity, especially in relationship to interactions with others and to situations of loss and separation.

Overall, there is a maximizing of the expression of attachment-related emotions, which some authors suggest may serve to attempt to enhance the chances that the inconsistent parent will pay attention to the child.  (siegel/tdm/284)”


“In a dynamical sense, an ambivalent attachment can be seen as a system that cannot dyadically regulate itself in a way allowing for a healthy resonance between two individuals.  The state of the child is intruded upon by that of the parent.  There is often an inability to sense and respect the child’s oscillating need for internal versus external connection.  [Would this include extensive periods of time when the child is neglected and left alone – as a abuse toward internal constraints in a very negative way?]  In this way, maximal complexity cannot be achieved by the two as a dyadic system.  Instead, a lesser degree of complexity must be settled for, because the parent rigidly defines the nature of the interaction.  [This would mean that grandma did this to mom, as well]  There is no true collaborative communication.  The dance of attunement is severely constrained by the parent’s entangled preoccupations with the past and inability to align states with the child [or with herself].  (siegel/tdm/295)”



Fears of annihilation and of abandonment are the origins of the desperate withdrawal and anxious approach common in ambivalently attached individuals.  The excessive parcellation of the parasympathetic “brakes,” proposed to be one adaptation to inconsistent and intrusive parenting, may make these states especially vulnerable to dysregulation.  An adaptive, public self may emerge at these times to avoid the dreaded state [of shame and humiliation] by meeting the needs of others.  The adaptive defenses of such a public self vary greatly and can include primitive modes, such as denial and the projection of the sense of disconnection onto other people or life events.  In contrast, some individuals may utilize more mature approaches, such as seeking emotional connection with others or sublimating their painful experiences into efforts to help others through professional work….  (siegel/tdm/291)”

“From primitive, “nonproductive” defenses to mature, “socially helpful” ones, an ambivalently attached (preoccupied) individual may experience any of a wide range of adaptive modes within differing emotional and social contexts.  The relative distance of a work setting may permit sublimation to flourish; the close quarters of a romantic relationship or a parent-child relationship may periodically activate an intense sense of intrusion or other forms of misattunement, and yield a sudden emergence of the dreaded states of shame and humiliation.  In an effort to avoid these painful states, activation of more primitive modes of defense filled with fear, anger, and associated distortions of perceptions and misinterpretations of other’s behavior may occur.  These are moments of intense vulnerability and risk for dyadic dysregulation.  (siegel/tdm/292)”

[My mother, if she fit the preoccupied category, certainly suffered fromactivation of more primitive modes of defense filled with fear, anger, and associated distortions of perceptions and misinterpretations of other’s behavior”]



++ mother persistently engages infant even when the infant is looking away from her

++ mother “successfully serves as a source of high-intensity affective stimulation, enabling the characteristic high-arousal affects of the early practicing period.  However, during these high-arousal states this type of intrusive caregiver does not sensitively and appropriately reduce her stimulation, and thereby interferes (Schore/ad/28) with the infant’s attempt to disengage and gaze avert in order to modulate ergotropic arousal and high-intensity affect.  (Schore/ad/29)”

“Field (1985) noted that if the mother does not respond to the infant’s dyadic affective cues of hyperarousal by diminishing her stimulation, especially during periods of infant gaze aversion, the child’s aversion threshold will be exceeded and he/she will experience a distress state (Bowlby’s protest).  She thus does not alter the tempo or content of her stimulation in response to a monitoring of the infant’s affective state; instead, she overloads him and interferes with his ability to assimilate new experiences.  It is well known that the capacity of an organism to learn effective patterns of responses is negatively affected by heightened levels of arousal.  (Schore/ad/29)”

“This type of mother inconsistently permits access to the infant who seeks proximity at reunion.  She may engage in positive affect amplifying transactions, but be inefficient in limit setting, regulating shame induction, and aggression socialization in the late practicing period.  Due to her lability and to the unpredictable nature of her emotional availability, even when she is present the infant is uncertain as to what to expect with regard to her being responsive to his/her signals and communication.  ….The insecure-resistant infant thus intermixes proximity, contact seeking behaviors with angry, rejecting behaviors toward the mother at reunion; it is thus ambivalent.  (Schore/ad/29)”

“Additionally, during preseparation episodes the child is often so preoccupied with the mother and with monitoring the mother’s face that he can not [sic] play independently, since the mother does not function as a reliable, secure base for refueling that enables exploration.  This infant shows high separation distress and is notoriously difficult to comfort at reunion, and thus presents with “difficult temperament,” the central attributes of which are tendencies to intense expressiveness and negative mood responses, slow adaptability to change, and irregularity of biological functions.  (Schore/ad/29)”

“Most importantly, this type of caregiver does not provide an environment that is conducive to the expansion of lateral tegmental catecholaminergic system in the late practicing period.  The autonomic balance of this affect regulating system is thus biased toward a predominance of the sympathetic, excitatory dopaminergic ventral tegmental, over the parasympathetic, inhibitory noradrenergic lateral tegmental limbic circuit.  Insecure-resistant attachments are associated with undercontrolled and impulsive personality organizations, biochemically manifest by elevated mesolimbic dopamine activity during stress (King, 1985), which are biased toward ergotropic high-arousal states and avoid trophotropic low-arousal affectsThe heightened display of emotionality and inefficient capacity to regulate the high levels of anger and distress which characterizes these infants reflects a sypatheticontonically biased affective core which displays a pattern of heightened emotion expression, one that poorly maintains positive mood in the face of stress.  They are, therefore, susceptible to underregulation disturbances and to undercontrolled, externalizing developmental psychopathology.  (Schore/ad/29)”

[sypatheticontonically biased affective core :  This sounds like what I first was reading in Allen about the inability to control emotions, which would be much more of a problem in cases where the individual HAS lots of strong and easily triggered emotions than it would be in the avoidant case.

Inactive vs reactive – depressive vs expressive – too calm vs too “anxious”]


AVOIDANCE child turns into a dismissing adult


“…a fourteen-month-old boy who wants to climb onto a table with a lamp on it.  One possible parental response would …be not to notice the attempt to climb, to hear the lamp come crashing down, to pick it up, and either to tell the boy quietly not to do it again or just to ignore him the rest of the evening.  (siegel/tdm/282)”


all one para

“The avoidantly attached [unfortunate] child…learns little about the emotional state of the parent, with no warning about the parental response, which in fact may be quite uninvolved (neglectful) or severe and misattuned (rejecting).

In such a dyad, it is likely that the general level of shared emotion is quite low, possibly resulting in an underdevelopment of the child’s capacity for normal levels of interest/excitement and enjoyment/joy.

Prohibitions may be behaviorally severe and emotionally disconnected.

This, coupled with the generally low levels of attunement and sensitivity to the child’s signals, may produce an excess in overall parasympathetic tone.

The child’s early experience may have a significant impact on the expression of affect and access to conscious awareness of emotion.  The child learns to minimize the expression of attachment-related emotion, which may serve to reduce the disabling effects of overwhelming frustration in the face of continuing interactions with the caregiver.  (siegel/tdm/283)”


Avoidantly attached child’s and dismissing adult’s experience can be understood in part as dominated by a primarily left-hemisphere form of communication.  These interactions may stem from the parent’s tendency to access primarily the nonmentalizing representations of a dominant left-hemisphere interpreter…studies of the correspondence between affective expression (right hemisphere) and verbal communication (left hemisphere) reveal such a dis-association in these dyads.  The capacity to blend the nonverbal/prosodic elements of dialogue with those of semantic/linguistic meaning requires the harmonious collaboration between the hemispheres….Thus avoidant attachment reveals an emotional impairment in the ability of two minds to communicate fully.  Resonance and the capacity to integrate experience in a complex and interhemispheric way are significantly restricted.  This absence of emotion produces a severe restriction in the level of interpersonal connection that parent and child are able to achieve.  Such a condition reflects the central role emotion plays as an integrating process, both within the mind and between minds.  (siegel/tdm/334)”


“In an avoidant [dismissing] attachment, maximal complexity is also not attained because the states of the two individuals are so independent of each other.  The parent’s dismissing approach leads to an emotionally disconnected form of communication which minimizes the resonance between the parent and child.  In this sense, the two systems act independently of each other, and the dyad remains in a segmented and noncomplex mode of existence.  (siegel/tdm/295)”

“…isolation and emotional distance take their toll – within this person’s [dismissing states of mind] romantic relationship; within relationships with others, including children; and within the self.  His intense emotions and enjoyment in life may be severely muted.  Part of this neutral emotionality may be attributable to the proposed parcellation of the sympathetic (accelerator) branch of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for heightened states of arousal.  His mindsight – the ability to sense the subjective mental life of others, or of himself – may also be severely restricted.  The result is that his basic emotional needs are not met by anyone.  However, the avoidantly attached individual does not believe this, (siegel/tdm/287) because it appears to his adaptive self that his approach to survival has been successful thus far.  His private self remains highly underdeveloped and consciously unaware.  (siegel/tdm/288)”

“The avoidantly attached (dismissing) adult often comes to therapy at the insistence of his securely or ambivalently attached romantic partner.  The partner feels that the relationship is too distant, too emotionally barren, to tolerate. Ironically, the partner may have been initially attracted to the patient because of his “independence and autonomy – he didn’t have to rely on anyone.”  This autonomy gives the ambivalently attached mate a feeling at first that intrusion (the dreaded experience of the mate’s own childhood) need not be feared.  As adult development progresses, however, the ambivalently attached partner may change and come to feel the need for more emotional intimacy.  The avoidantly attached partner is less likely to develop as quickly toward models of security, because he often lacks awareness of internal pain or dissatisfaction with the relationship, which might otherwise serve to motivate change. (siegel/tdm/288)”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s