Attachment vs. Dependency

Attachment concepts introduced to explain human bonds. Attachment is formed with care and increases over time, while dependency may decrease as the child gets older. As a result, a person may be attached on someone, without being dependent on him. This condition is more common in elderly parent. On the other hand, it may have been dependent on someone else without any attachment style. In this article, it will be discussed about Attachment vs. Dependency and useful tips will be provided to you.

Attachment vs. Dependency

In this article we take a look at Pat Sable repot on Differentiating between Attachment and Dependency in Theory and Practice.

Pat Sable clarified that psychologist need to reflect on their use of the terms “attachment” and “dependency” in clinical work with adults. Both are popular words used to describe some aspect of one individual’s relationship to another. Both derive from psychoanalytically based theory and are usually associated with childhood and developmental processes.

Attachment vs. Dependency in psychotherapy

As therapists work with their clients, they employ these concepts and apply them to adult behavior. Dependency is the state of relying on someone or something for support or aid or even for existence. In clinical work, the concept of dependency is based on the observation that an infant is helpless and requires care and feeding by his mother.’ As the infant learns that she satisfies his physical needs, he becomes reliant on and oriented to her. All later relationships are based on a generalization of this early mother-child bond.’

The concept of attachment was introduced by John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, as part of his attempt to reformulate theory about the origins of the child’s tie to the mother.

He bases the development of a child-mother bond not on the child’s need for physiological care, but from the innate tendency of members of a species to maintain proximity for survival. Bowlby reserves the word dependence for physiological care and is careful to differentiate this from what he calls attachment. A review of the literature reveals that attachment and dependency are used in a variety of ways to cover a range of issues. Some authors view the words interchangeably; others note a difference, but see a considerable overlap in meaning; still others contend that the terms are separate and distinct.

As a result, the implications of the differences for clinical work with adults have not been studied. A theoretical discussion will be followed by a case example.

Bowlby Attachment Theory

Bowlby developed attachment theory by integrating cognitive psychology and principles from ethology with psychoanalytic thought. He also uses studies of direct observation of children and adults. Because his theory is based on empirical research, he stresses that it can be tested.

he defines attachment theory as a way to conceptualize the propensity of human beings to make strong affectional bonds to particular others, and of explaining the many forms of emotional distress and personality disturbance, including anxiety, anger, depression, and emotional detachment, to which unwilling separation and loss give rise.’ Within this framework, certain patterns of infant behavior such as crying, clinging, or following, enables infants to attain or maintain proximity to another particular one, and to elicit care: Bowlby calls this attachment behavior.

Children are born with the bias to attach, especially to one person.” As infants interact with the caretaker, here to be called the mother although it can be any nurturing figure, an affectional bond begins to develop. Complementary to this, the care given, especially the readiness to respond to the baby’s signals, such as crying and the initiation of social interaction, helps form a secure attachment which is a cornerstone of future mental health. With it, children are assured of a secure base from which to move out and explore the world and to which they can return when they wish or feel the need.

Attachment behavior is equal to sexual and feeding behavior

Attachment behavior as a fundamental part of human nature is equally significant to sexual and feeding behavior. It serves the biological function of protection and survival.

Evidence shows that the isolated animal is more likely to be caught by a predator, and that mothers of all species of subhuman primates maintain their infants close to them.” In our society, there are studies of traffic accidents of children that indicate there is a higher incidence of injury when children are alone or with their peers.”

Children who are moving about, outside, in the company of their mothers are more likely to be kept safe when in proximity to the mother. Following a Los Angeles earthquake in 1971, parents in the most severely affected areas complained that their children displayed increased clinging. This suggests that the disaster caused these children to seek closeness from attachment figures.

Attachment is different from Dependency

Bowlby clearly distinguishes between the concepts of dependency and attachment.

Human infants are dependent for survival on the care of others, but they are not yet attached to anyone. Attachment develops with caretaking and increases over time, whereas dependency may diminish as the child grows older.

Therefore, one may be attached to someone, but not dependent on her or him; an example could be one’s elderly parents.” Conversely, it is possible to be dependent on another without being attached. A sudden urban blackout quickly demonstrates one’s dependence on a complex of others to whom one is not attached.

Attachment behavior is directly concerned with maintaining proximity. As such, there are certain features that may be contrasted to a concept of dependency.” These are:


Attachment behavior is directed to a specific individual and a few others in a definite order of preference. Dependency is generalized and nonfocused” and is not necessarily directed toward a specific person.


As children grow up, their attachment behavior diminishes in intensity, and it becomes supplemented by new figures, for example, a spouse. However, attachment behavior is a part of a person’s instinctive makeup and it lasts throughout life. In adulthood, it is likely to be elicited when one is distressed, ill, or afraid,” and leads to seeking the contact and comfort of an attachment figure. This behavior is adaptive and, when labeled pathological, colors therapists’ abilities to see its special function and its special influence on all people. Dependency needs, on the other hand, may be temporary,” and do not imply an enduring bond.” They are assumed to have become pathological when they continue beyond a certain age.


Many of a person’s feelings are related to what is being experienced with attachment figures. From the joy of bonds that are forming, to the anxiety of separation or the anguish of loss, emotions are frequently a reflection of the state of affectional bonds with particular persons.” Dependency, on the other hand, may have emotional components, but these are not generally considered in its dynamics.”


Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of children learning to recognize what is familiar and to withdraw from what is strange as a basis for subsequent attachment to someone. Through exposure and caretaking, a person becomes familiar to the infant. A bond may form even under adverse conditions, such as those that occur in abusing and neglecting families, because the child knows that parent.


Attachment behavior becomes organized into increasingly complicated behavioral systems, which include representational models of the environment and self.

From experiences with others, individuals come to form an opinion of them and to forecast how they will treat others and how they will be treated. Behavior, especially in its interrelationships, is influenced by and results from these working models.

Of equal or maybe even greater importance to these different features, there are “value implications in the term dependency which convey the exact opposite of those that the term attachment is intended to convey.”

When an adult is labeled dependent, someone who needs to mature and to become independent is envisioned. Based on a theory of psychosexual stages, children’s dependence is acceptable, but is expected to last only until they are able to provide for themselves.” Therefore, adults who display a strong desire to be with a key relationship figure may be considered to have regressed or become fixated at an earlier developmental level and may receive a psychiatric diagnosis.

Creating in-dependency

Because dependency is seen as mutually exclusive of independence,” treatment traditionally focuses on helping the client become mature and independent. Psychotherapists worried about dependency needs may resist providing a secure base for clients for fear they will become over dependent. Furthermore, fostering independence may sound to the client like a critical parent of the past, who made the client feel childish when seeking comfort,” or may make the client afraid to express the very feelings in need of expression.

Such pressure for self-sufficiency may overlook the client’s inborn natural striving to feel securely attached to another. Although dependence is to be left behind with age, attachment is a condition generally well regarded and praised. It is desirable for an adult to be attached to another, or for families to be attached to one another. 24 No immaturity or helplessness is assumed. In fact, it is absence of attachment, or detachment that connotes pathology.

ممکن است به یک روانشناس خوب در تهران نیاز داشته باشید. برای دریافت نوبت از دکتر رامین علوی نژاد از طریق اطلاعات مندرج در همین سایت می توانید اقدام بفرمائید.

dr.raminalavinezhad (PhD)

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