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Attachment in psychology

Attachment is a fundamental human need that shapes our relationships, emotions and wellbeing. However, not all forms of attachment are healthy or beneficial. In this article, we will explore the difference between attachment and ego attachment as understood by psychology. We will define what these terms mean, how they affect our behaviour and happiness, and how we can cultivate a more balanced and authentic way of relating to ourselves and others.

Attachment defined

Attachment is a term used by psychology to describe the emotional bond that forms between a child and their primary caregiver, usually the mother. This is generally regarded as a natural process and is based on attachment theory, which was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. This proposes that attachment is an innate and adaptive process that helps the child survive and thrive in their environment. According to attachment theory, there are four main types of attachment styles: secure, anxious-avoidant, anxious-resistant, and disorganized. These styles reflect how the child responds to separation and reunion with their caregiver, as well as how they seek comfort and support from them. Attachment styles are influenced by the quality and consistency of the caregiver’s responsiveness and sensitivity to the child’s needs and signals. Attachment styles can have lasting effects on the child’s development, personality, relationships, and mental health throughout their lifespan.

Attachment styles

Attachment theory is a psychological framework that describes how humans form emotional bonds with others. According to this theory, there are four main attachment styles that reflect different patterns of behaviour and expectations in relationships. These are:

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Secure attachment: This is the ideal attachment style, where the person feels confident, comfortable and trusting in their relationships. They can balance their own needs and those of their partners, and they can cope with stress and conflict in healthy ways. They tend to have high self-esteem, emotional intelligence and social skills.

Anxious attachment: This attachment style is characterized by a strong need for closeness and approval from others, often accompanied by fear of rejection or abandonment. They tend to be clingy, needy and dependent on their partners, and they may have low self-worth, anxiety and mood swings. They often seek reassurance and validation from their partners, and they may have difficulty trusting them or respecting their boundaries.

Avoidant attachment: This attachment style is marked by a tendency to avoid intimacy and emotional connection with others. They value their independence and autonomy more than their relationships, and they may have difficulty expressing their feelings or showing vulnerability. The individual will often distance themselves from their partners, either physically or emotionally, and they may have trouble committing or staying loyal. They may also have a dismissive attitude towards their partners’ needs or feelings.

Disorganized attachment: This attachment style is the result of trauma or abuse in childhood, where the person experienced inconsistent or unpredictable care from their caregivers. They may have conflicting feelings towards their partners, such as love and hate, or attraction and fear. The individual may also have difficulty regulating their emotions, coping with stress, or forming a stable sense of identity. They may exhibit erratic or impulsive behaviour, or they may dissociate from reality.

ego Attachment defined

ego Attachment is a term used in psychology to describe the tendency of the ego to cling to certain beliefs, identities, values, interests, or circumstances that define one’s sense of self. The ego is the part of the mind that is engaged in self-justification and self-protection, and it often resists change or challenge to its established positions. ego Attachment can be seen as a source of suffering and conflict, as it prevents one from being open and flexible to new experiences and perspectives. ego Attachment can also interfere with one’s ability to form healthy and secure relationships with others, as it may lead to distrust, defensiveness, or avoidance.

According to some psychological theories, ego Attachment develops from early childhood experiences with one’s primary caregivers. Depending on the quality and consistency of the care received, one may develop a secure or insecure attachment style that influences how one relates to oneself and others later in life. A secure attachment style is characterized by a balanced sense of self-worth and trust in others, while an insecure attachment style may manifest as either anxious or avoidant. Anxious attachment involves excessive dependence on others for validation and reassurance, while avoidant attachment involves emotional detachment and self-reliance.

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ego Attachment can be reduced by cultivating self-awareness and mindfulness, which are practices that help one observe one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment or attachment. By becoming more aware of one’s ego Attachments and how they affect one’s behaviour and wellbeing, one can learn to let go of them and embrace a more flexible and compassionate attitude towards oneself and others.

Are the ego Attachment styles simply a subset of the attachment styles in attachment theory?

ego Attachment styles are a way of categorizing how people relate to their sense of self and others based on their Enneagram type. According to Raena Hubbell, a certified Enneagram coach, there are nine ego Attachment styles that correspond to the nine Enneagram types. Each ego Attachment style is influenced by the core fears, desires, and motivations of each type, as well as their level of development.

Attachment theory, on the other hand, is a psychological framework that explains how humans form emotional bonds with others. It was first proposed by John Bowlby, who observed how infants react to separation from their primary caregivers. Bowlby identified four main attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. These attachment styles are shaped by early childhood experiences and affect how people behave in relationships throughout their lives.

The relationship between ego Attachment styles and attachment theory is not clear-cut. Some sources suggest that ego Attachment styles are simply a subset of attachment theory, and that each Enneagram type can exhibit any of the four attachment styles depending on their level of development. For example, a healthy type 2 (the Helper) may have a secure attachment style, while an unhealthy type 2 may have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style. Other sources imply that ego Attachment styles are distinct from attachment theory, and that each Enneagram type has a specific attachment style that reflects their core beliefs and behaviours. For example, a type 3 (the Achiever) may have a dismissive-avoidant attachment style regardless of their level of development.

Therefore, the answer to whether ego Attachment styles are simply a subset of attachment theory may depend on how one defines and measures both concepts. There is no definitive evidence or consensus on how ego Attachment styles and attachment theory are related or different. More research and dialogue are needed to explore this topic further.

The Enneagram system of nine types of ego Attachment

The Enneagram is a system of personality that describes nine types of ego Attachment, each with their own motivations, fears, and internal dynamics. The nine types are:

Type One: The Reformer. This type is principled, idealistic, self-controlled, and perfectionist. They strive to improve themselves and the world according to their high standards. They fear being corrupt or defective.

Type Two: The Helper. This type is caring, interpersonal, generous, and people-pleasing. They want to be liked and appreciated by others for their helpfulness and kindness. They fear being unwanted or unworthy of love.

Type Three: The Achiever. This type is success-oriented, pragmatic, adaptive, and image-conscious. They would like to be admired and respected for their achievements and performance. They fear being worthless or a failure.

Type Four: The Individualist. This type is sensitive, withdrawn, expressive, and temperamental. They would like to be unique and authentic, and to experience deep emotions. They fear being insignificant or flawed.

Type Five: The Investigator. This type is intense, cerebral, perceptive, and secretive. They want to understand the world and themselves through knowledge and analysis. They fear being ignorant or overwhelmed.

Type Six: The Sceptic. This type is committed, security-oriented, responsible, and anxious. They would like to be prepared and supported in a challenging and uncertain world. They fear being helpless or abandoned.

Type Seven: The Enthusiast. This type is busy, fun-loving, spontaneous, and scattered. They want to enjoy life and avoid pain through variety and excitement. They fear being deprived or trapped.

Type Eight: The Challenger. This type is powerful, dominating, self-confident, and confrontational. They would like to be strong and independent, and to protect themselves and others from injustice. They fear being controlled or harmed.

Type Nine: The Peacemaker. This type is easygoing, self-effacing, receptive, and complacent. They want to maintain harmony and peace with themselves and others. They fear being separated or conflicted.

These types are divided into three centres: the heart centre (types two, three, and four), the head centre (types five, six, and seven), and the body centre (types eight, nine, and one). Each centre has a different emotional focus and coping strategy.

To complicate matters further, Buddhism also has nine types of ego Attachment.

The nine ego Attachment types of Buddhism

According to the Buddhist teachings, there are nine types of ego Attachment that cause suffering and prevent us from achieving enlightenment. These are:

Attachment to views: This is the tendency to cling to our opinions and beliefs, and to reject or ignore any evidence that contradicts them. We become attached to our views because we identify with them and think they define who we are. We also become intolerant of other perspectives and create conflicts with those who disagree with us.

Attachment to ethics and rituals: This is the tendency to adhere to a set of rules and practices that, we think, are morally superior or spiritually beneficial, and to judge others based on their compliance or non-compliance with them. We become attached to ethics and rituals because we think they will guarantee our salvation or merit, and we neglect the true essence of morality and spirituality, which is compassion and wisdom.

Attachment to doubt: This is the tendency to be sceptical and uncertain about everything, and to lack confidence and trust in ourselves and others. We become attached to doubt because we fear making mistakes or being deceived, and we avoid taking responsibility or making decisions. We also miss out on the opportunities and possibilities that life offers us.

Attachment to self: This is the tendency to believe that we have a fixed and independent self that is separate from everything else, and to cherish and protect it at all costs. We become attached to self because we think it is the source of our happiness and security, and we ignore the fact that it is an illusion created by our ignorance. We also suffer from loneliness, isolation, pride, jealousy, and other negative emotions that arise from self-centredness.

Attachment to desire: This is the tendency to crave sensual pleasures and material possessions, and to be dissatisfied with what we have. We become attached to desire because we think it will bring us satisfaction and fulfilment, and we ignore the fact that it is a source of suffering and dissatisfaction. We also become enslaved by our cravings and lose our freedom and peace of mind.

Attachment to hatred: This is the tendency to feel anger, resentment, hostility, and ill-will towards ourselves or others, and to seek revenge or harm them. We become attached to hatred because we think it will protect us from pain or injustice, and we ignore the fact that it is a cause of pain and injustice. We also destroy our own happiness and well-being, as well as the happiness and well-being of others.

Attachment to ignorance: This is the tendency to be unaware of the true nature of reality, and to be deluded by our own thoughts and emotions. We become attached to ignorance because we think it will shield us from suffering or responsibility, and we ignore the fact that it is the root of all suffering and problems. We also fail to see things as they are, and live in a state of confusion and error.

Attachment to existence: This is the tendency to cling to life in any form, and to fear death or non-existence. We become attached to existence because we think it is the only reality, and we ignore the fact that it is impermanent and subject to change. We also create karma that binds us to the cycle of birth and death, and prevents us from attaining liberation.

Attachment to non-existence: This is the tendency to deny or reject life in any form, and to seek Annihilation or nothingness. We become attached to non-existence because we think it is the ultimate escape from suffering or responsibility, and we ignore the fact that it is impossible and irrational. We also waste our precious human potential and opportunity for enlightenment.

Which theory is best to apply in any given case?

One of the most influential theories of human relationships is attachment theory, which proposes that people develop different patterns of relating to others based on their early experiences with caregivers.

Another popular framework for understanding personality and relationships is the Enneagram, which is a system of nine types that describe how people perceive and respond to the world. Each type has a core motivation, a core fear, and a core weakness that shape their behaviour and interactions. The Enneagram also suggests that each type has a specific pattern of growth and stress that can help them overcome their challenges and develop their potential.

A third perspective that can offer insights into human relationships is Buddhist psychology, which is based on the teachings of the Buddha and his followers. Buddhist psychology emphasizes the importance of mindfulness, compassion, and non-attachment as ways of reducing suffering and enhancing well-being. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with openness and curiosity. compassion is the feeling of empathy and kindness towards oneself and others. Non-attachment is the ability to let go of rigid or fixed views of self and others, and to accept the impermanent and interdependent nature of reality.

So, there are at least three theories of attachment; attachment theory, Enneagram and Buddhist, which of these is most often used by psychologists? There is no definitive answer to this question, as different psychologists may prefer different approaches depending on their training, orientation, and goals. However, some possible reasons why one theory may be more widely used than others are:

Attachment theory has a strong empirical support from decades of research in developmental, social, and clinical psychology. It also has practical applications for various domains such as parenting, education, therapy, and counselling.

The Enneagram is a more intuitive and holistic system that can appeal to people who are interested in exploring their inner motivations, fears, and strengths. It also has a spiritual dimension that can resonate with people who seek a deeper connection with themselves and others.

Buddhist psychology is a more experiential and transformative approach that can help people cultivate awareness, compassion, and non-attachment through meditation and other practices. It also has a universal appeal that transcends cultural and religious boundaries.

Therefore, each theory has its own strengths and limitations, and none of them can capture the full complexity and diversity of human relationships. A more integrative perspective may be beneficial for understanding oneself and others in a more nuanced and comprehensive way.

Attachment theory and attachment in Buddhism

Attachment is a central concept in both Buddhism and attachment theory, but they have different meanings and implications. In Buddhism, attachment (upādāna) is a cause of suffering (dukkha) that arises from clinging to impermanent phenomena, such as objects, people, ideas, or self. Attachment is based on ignorance (avijjā) of the true nature of reality, which is empty (śūnyatā) of inherent existence and constantly changing (anicca). To overcome attachment and suffering, Buddhists practice the Noble Eightfold Path, which leads to wisdom (paññā), compassion (karuṇā), and liberation (nibbāna).

In attachment theory, attachment is a psychological bond that forms between an infant and a caregiver, usually the mother. Attachment is based on the need for security, comfort, and protection, which are essential for healthy development and well-being. Attachment is influenced by the quality of the interaction between the infant and the caregiver, which can be categorized into four types: secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized. Attachment styles affect how people relate to others throughout their lives, influencing their emotions, behaviours, and relationships.

Comparing and contrasting these two perspectives on attachment, we can see that they have some similarities and differences. Both acknowledge that attachment is a natural and universal phenomenon that affects human life. Both also recognize that attachment can have positive and negative effects, depending on how it is expressed and regulated. However, they differ in their definitions, causes, and goals of attachment. For Buddhism, attachment is a hindrance to spiritual growth that needs to be eradicated through insight and detachment. For attachment theory, attachment is a source of psychological health that needs to be nurtured through responsiveness and attunement.

One possible way to bridge these two views is to consider the suggestion that attachment to objects could be seen as an extension of attachment theory, where the individual is seeking security through the acquisition of objects. This could imply that some people may use material possessions as a substitute for interpersonal relationships, or as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or insecurity. This could also suggest that some people may develop unhealthy or excessive attachments to objects, which could interfere with their happiness and well-being. From a Buddhist perspective, this would be an example of how attachment leads to suffering and how it can be overcome by cultivating non-attachment and generosity.

Cultivating a more balanced and authentic way of relating to ourselves and others?

Attachment theory is a psychological theory that explains how people form emotional bonds with others, especially in early childhood. According to this theory, the quality of the relationship between a child and their primary caregiver influences their attachment style, which is a pattern of interacting and behaving in relationships throughout life. There are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

ego Attachment is a term that refers to the tendency of the ego to cling to external objects or people that it considers as sources of love, security, or happiness. ego Attachment can cause suffering and conflict when these objects or people are lost, threatened, or changed.

To cultivate a more balanced and authentic way of relating to ourselves and others, we need to understand our own attachment style and how it affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. We also need to recognize our ego Attachments and how they limit our freedom and happiness. By becoming more aware of our inner patterns and needs, we can learn to heal our wounds, develop self-compassion, and foster healthy relationships with others.

Some possible ways to achieve this are:

Seeking professional help from a therapist or counsellor who can help us explore our attachment history and current challenges.

  • Practising mindfulness meditation or other techniques that can help us calm our mind, reduce stress, and increase self-awareness.
  • Reading books or articles that can help us learn more about attachment theory and ego Attachment and how they apply to our lives.
  • Joining a support group or a community that can offer us emotional support, guidance, and feedback.
  • Engaging in activities that can help us express ourselves creatively, such as writing, painting, or music.
  • Cultivating positive habits that can enhance our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, such as exercise, sleep, nutrition, and relaxation.
Spiritual entity attachments

While we are on the subject of attachments, it may be worth mentioning the subject of spiritual entity attachments.

One of the questions that often arises in the study of spirituality is whether spiritual attachments follow the same types as ego Attachments in humans. ego Attachments are the emotional bonds that we form with other people, objects, or ideas that give us a sense of identity and security. They can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how they affect our well-being and growth. Spiritual attachments, on the other hand, are the connections that we establish with higher realms of consciousness, such as our soul, our guides, or the divine source. They can be seen as a way of transcending our ego and accessing a deeper level of wisdom and love.

However, some scholars have argued that spiritual attachments are not fundamentally different from ego Attachments, and that they can also be classified into different types based on their quality and strength. For example, some spiritual attachments may be insecure, anxious, or avoidant, reflecting our unresolved issues and fears. Others may be secure, confident, or compassionate, indicating our maturity and harmony. The type of spiritual attachment that we have may influence how we perceive and relate to ourselves, others, and the world.

Therefore, it may be useful to examine our spiritual attachments and see if they are aligned with our true essence and purpose. We can do this by asking ourselves some questions, such as: How do I feel when I connect with my spiritual source? Do I feel loved, supported, and guided? Or do I feel anxious, needy, or unworthy? Do I trust my intuition and follow my guidance? Or do I doubt myself and seek external validation? Do I respect and honour my spiritual path? Or do I compare myself and judge others? Do I share my gifts and serve others? Or do I hide my light and fear rejection?

By answering these questions honestly and compassionately, we can gain more insight into our spiritual attachments and see if they need to be healed or strengthened. We can also seek help from professionals or mentors who can assist us in this process. Ultimately, the goal is to cultivate a healthy and balanced spiritual attachment that allows us to experience joy, peace, and fulfilment in our lives.

Further reading

Some of the best links that discuss these topics are:

Comparing Attachment Theory and Buddhist Psychology: This article explores the similarities and differences between attachment theory and Buddhist psychology, especially in relation to the concept of security. It also discusses the implications of both systems for optimal adult development and interventions.

Letting Go of Self: The Creation of the Non-attachment to Self Scale: This article introduces a new measure of non-attachment to self, which is defined as the absence of fixation on self-related concepts, thoughts, and feelings. It also reports the psychometric properties and validity of the scale, and shows how non-attachment to self is associated with higher levels of well-being and adaptive functioning.

Enneagram Attachment Styles: This article examines the relationship between attachment style and enneagram type, and proposes that each type has a predominant attachment style based on their core fears and desires. It also suggests some ways to improve one’s attachment style according to one’s enneagram type.

Integrating Divine Attachment Theory and the Enneagram to Heal Spiritual Abuse: This article proposes a model that combines divine attachment theory and the enneagram to help clients who have experienced spiritual abuse by their parental figures or religious authorities. It explains how spiritual abuse can affect one’s image of God and oneself, and how divine attachment theory and enneagram can help restore a healthy relationship with God and oneself. This article explains how attachment theory, a psychological framework that describes how people relate to others, can also apply to how people relate to God. It explores how our early experiences with our parents or caregivers shape our expectations and feelings about God’s presence, love, and responsiveness. It also suggests some ways to heal from insecure attachment patterns and grow in a more secure and trusting relationship with God. This article is written from a Christian perspective, but it may be relevant to other faith traditions as well.

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