Deutsch: Ambivalente Bindung / Español: Apego ambivalente / Português: Apego ambivalente / Français: Attachement ambivalent / Italiano: Attaccamento ambivalente

Ambivalent Attachment is a concept within the field of psychology that describes a specific pattern of attachment behavior observed primarily in infants and young children, though its effects can extend into adulthood. This type of attachment is characterized by a child's inconsistent and sometimes contradictory behavior towards a caregiver. When the caregiver is present, the child may exhibit strong clinginess and dependency, yet also show resistance or anger when the caregiver attempts to offer comfort or intimacy. This behavior is believed to stem from the caregiver's inconsistent availability and responsiveness to the child's needs, leading the child to become unsure about the reliability and predictability of the caregiver's support.


Ambivalent attachment is one of the four main attachment styles identified by British psychologist John Bowlby and later expanded upon by Mary Ainsworth through her pioneering "Strange Situation" assessment. This attachment style is marked by a heightened sense of anxiety and uncertainty about the availability of close ones. Children with ambivalent attachment often become exceedingly distressed when separated from their caregiver but are not reassured or comforted by the caregiver's return, sometimes even rejecting the caregiver's attempts at consolation. These behaviors reflect the child's ambivalence towards the caregiver, from whom they seek safety and security but whom they also perceive as inconsistently available emotionally.

The origins of ambivalent attachment can typically be traced back to parenting styles that are unpredictable. Caregivers might oscillate between being nurturing and responsive at times, and at other times being detached or preoccupied with their issues. This inconsistency prevents the child from developing a secure base from which they can explore the world confidently. In adulthood, individuals with an ambivalent attachment history may demonstrate heightened dependency in relationships, chronic fear of rejection, and difficulty with emotional regulation and self-esteem.

Application Areas

In the context of psychology, understanding ambivalent attachment is crucial for professionals working in child development, counseling, psychotherapy, and social work. Recognizing the signs of ambivalent attachment can aid in the early intervention and support for children and families, aiming to foster healthier relationships and attachment patterns. It is also applicable in educational settings, where teachers and caregivers can adopt strategies that provide consistent support and responsiveness to all children, helping those with ambivalent attachment feel more secure.

Well-Known Examples

A well-known example of the application of ambivalent attachment theory is in therapeutic settings, where attachment-based therapy techniques are used to address and heal attachment disorders. Therapists work with both children and adults to explore their attachment histories, understand their fears and expectations in relationships, and develop healthier attachment behaviors.

Treatment and Risks

The main risks associated with ambivalent attachment include the development of anxiety disorders, depression, and relationship issues in adulthood. Treatment often involves therapy that focuses on developing secure, healthy relationships. For children, this might include play therapy or family therapy that involves caregivers in the therapeutic process. For adults, therapy may focus on understanding and reworking their attachment patterns, improving self-esteem, and learning to regulate emotions more effectively.

Similar Terms or Synonyms

  • Insecure-ambivalent attachment
  • Anxious-ambivalent attachment


Ambivalent attachment is a pattern of attachment behavior that reflects a child's uncertainty about the availability and responsiveness of their caregiver. This pattern can lead to significant emotional distress and relationship difficulties both in childhood and later in life. Understanding and addressing ambivalent attachment through supportive relationships and therapeutic interventions can help individuals form healthier attachment patterns and improve their emotional well-being.


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