According to attachment theory, attachment is the emotional bond between an infant and their caregiver (Bowlby, 1973). He describes attachment theory as an innate biological response that helps satisfy our basic human needs. Both he and Ainsworth (1979), another prominent attachment theorist, studied the link between maternal loss or deprivation and later personality development. They observed that an infant’s relationship with their caregiver influences their attachment style and how they perceive relationships throughout life.
There are four main attachment types:
The behavior of the primary caregivers (usually one’s parents) contributes to and forms the way a child perceives close relationships. The child is dependent on their caregivers and seeks comfort and support from them. If the child’s physical and emotional needs are satisfied, they become securely attached. This, however, requires that the caregivers offer a warm and caring environment and are attuned to the child’s needs, even when these needs are not clearly expressed (Paquette, 2020). If the child’s needs are not met, then they will develop an insecure attachment style of avoidant, anxious, or disorganized.
Having a secure attachment style has been linked with a wide range of psychosocial benefits, such as emotional regulation, positive mental health, and interpersonal functioning. It’s beneficial for emotional regulation because it helps improve resilience, social competence, and self-worth. It also has been linked to an improved ability to exhibit more productive coping mechanisms when distressed, compared to those with insecure attachment styles. In adults, secure attachment is characterized by comfort within close relationships and a generally positive view of the self and others (Justo-Nunez et al., 2022). On the other hand, those with insecure attachment styles need help when regulating their emotions and responding to stressful situations. This is because caregivers who are inconsistent will cause the child to feel unsupported and will hinder their ability to self-regulate. This can then manifest as an insecure attachment style. Kawamoto (2020) studied the anxiety attachment style in particular and found a positive association between self-esteem and self-concept clarity among those low in attachment anxiety. This suggests the importance of attachment styles in influencing self-development in adolescents and young adults.
In another study, research showed that a variety of life events are associated with changes in adult attachment styles. Fraley et al. (2021) followed 4,000 people during a variety of life events (e.g., starting new relationships, changing jobs, moving, etc.) and found that almost half had immediate changes in their attachment styles. The ways in which people perceived the events (positive vs. negative) were related to the extent to which their attachment styles changed. And although people tended to revert back to their original attachment style, it’s interesting to note that attachment styles have the ability to change.
In regard to which attachment style has a major impact on mental health, Serra and others (2019) found that insecure attachment styles, especially in young adults, were found to be associated with substance use disorder. Specifically, students who identified with one of the three insecure attachment styles were more likely to engage in polydrug use such as tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol use. This may be due to the fact that those with insecure attachment styles have less ability to cope in a healthy way and are more likely to rely on external factors to help meet their emotional and psychological needs (Nakhoul et al., 2020). This suggests that attachment styles can play a key role in the development of addictions.
Although attachment styles have been explored to have a major impact on mental health, they can also impact the effectiveness of therapy. Sauer (2020) examined whether client attachment styles impact their progress in psychotherapy. They measured all attachment styles and found that the anxiety attachment style predicted the most change in progress during therapy. Therapy was observed as being more effective with patients exhibiting low attachment anxiety, compared to individuals scoring high in attachment anxiety (Sauer, 2020).
With everything discussed, we know that attachment styles are formed in childhood by our parents and caregivers. They represent how we perceive relationships as adults, and can be changed by life events. The effects of the anxious attachment style may manifest in substance use disorder and can impact the effectiveness of therapy. If you are interested in knowing which attachment style you have, you can take the assessment here.
Domestic violence is prevalent in many communities and affects all people regardless of age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Physical violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a type of domestic violence that occurs in 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2020). Domestic violence occurs within a household and can be between any two people within that household while intimate partner violence occurs between romantic partners who may or may not be living together in the same household. Both are serious public health concerns that can cause long-term physical and mental health issues (Massa et al., 2020).
IPV is defined as physical, sexual, or psychological violence that occurs between former or current intimate partners. While men can also be affected, it is largely perpetrated against women by male partners (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2020). Unfortunately, the pandemic has been found to increase the risk of IPV. Research has shown that quarantine and isolation measures lead to significant psychological consequences (Van Gelder et al., 2020). Many of the strategies employed in abusive relations overlap with the social measures imposed during quarantine. Next to physical and geographical isolation, IPV survivors describe social isolation (i.e., from family and friends), functional isolation (e.g., when peers or support systems appear to exist but are unreliable or have alliances with the perpetrator), surveillance, and control of daily activities. During quarantine, these measures intentionally imposed in an abusive partnership may be enforced on a massive scale in an attempt to save lives. Isolation paired with greater exposure to psychological and economic stressors as well as potential increases in negative coping mechanisms (i.e., excessive alcohol consumption) can trigger an unprecedented wave of IPV (Van Gelder et al., 2020). In 2020 alone, domestic violence cases against women increased by 25-33% globally (Boserup et al., 2020).
Other factors that can contribute to IPV are substance use and being exposed to abuse in childhood (Jung et al., 2018). In the latest news with Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, one expert witness claims Johnny exhibits behavior consistent with IPV and how addiction plays a role. Johnny is being accused of physically abusing Amber during their marriage, and he has had a history of substance use. Amber has also been found to have a history of substance use according to her former nurse’s testimony. Dr. Spiegel, a psychiatrist hired by Amber’s legal team, testified in the defamation case stating that chronic use can affect one’s memory and behavior, and can also increase violent and unpredictable moods. Additionally, in one study, researchers found that factors such as adverse childhood experiences, personality disorders, psychosis, and depression make substance use and IPV perpetration more likely (Gilchrist et al., 2019). This implies that comorbidity is extremely common in psychological disorders.
Having early exposure to domestic and/or intimate partner violence can increase the risks of later involvement in these types of violence (Jung et al., 2018). Researchers (2018) found that growing up in a violent home—experiencing child abuse and/or witnessing parental violence—was significantly associated with physical intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization in adult heterosexual marriages. This is because according to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory (1977), children can learn behavior through observation and imitation. Thus, children who witness violence when they are young become socialized to certain models that breed hostility and aggression. Children incorporate styles of relating to others based on what they perceive as “normal” within the family. If violence is a common occurrence, children come to view it as just part of the way individuals express emotions, such as anger and frustration, and process this as acceptable behavior (Powers et al., 2020). This seems to be the case for Amber when she stated in Johnny’s case against the Sun in 2020 that her father struggled with addiction and was violent towards her family (Longmire, 2020). Johnny has also stated that his parents had a turbulent marriage and often fought (Chilton, 2022).
With these findings, we can’t say there’s a causal relationship between IPV, substance use, and early exposure to violence. However, there seems to be a strong correlation between these factors. For Amber and Johnny, both have a history of substance use and early exposure to abuse, making this a complex case that represents what many others go through.
Resources on Domestic Violence:
In the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, there are many allegations of physical and verbal abuse. After their divorce, Amber made claims that Johnny had abused her throughout their marriage and won a court case against him in the U.K. However, this year, evidence emerged that Amber admitted to hitting Johnny and having anger issues. According to a male trauma expert, almost all men never state that they’ve been abused. With Johnny and Amber, we can never know what really happened between them. But, if we believe her, then we must also believe him when he says that he was abused.
Johnny and Amber’s case is important because it represents the stigma men face when seeking help. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, there is a harmful gender stereotype where men are taught to “act tough” and never admit anything has happened to them. Especially with sexual assault, men are extremely less likely to report being assaulted. Terry Crews is one example of a man who shocked the country when he revealed he was sexually assaulted. This really brought into light the seriousness of this issue and the lack of support men have when dealing with this trauma. Terry was fortunate enough to have a strong platform to share his experiences. However, many are not as lucky, and end up having their voices ignored. It’s important that if someone we know opens up about their experience, we should never ignore or minimize their situation.
Because there is a lack of reporting among the male population, they are extremely underrepresented in statistics about mental health. The stats are so skewed that many believe that depression and trauma are purely a female phenomenon. It’s important to understand that men are just as likely to go through traumatic experiences. Additionally, abuse is not always about physical strength. Many think, “Well how can a woman harm a man when he’s stronger than her and could just push her away?” Anyone who is abused can get gravely injured regardless of gender and strength. There are many other variables that need to be considered when dealing with these cases. We as a society should always consider both the female and male perspective equally.