Major Movements in Psychology

Attachment Theory

What are some examples of adult attachment interviews?

These (simulated) excerpts below illustrate typical responses for each of the adult attachment classifications on Mary Main’s Adult Attachment Interview. Note how the dismissing adult presents an idealized view of her relationship without any specific memories to back it up. The securely attached adult is much more coherent. She acknowledges contradictions and mixed emotions but can reflect objectively on the relationship. The preoccupied adult, in contrast, is flooded by her attachment-related memories and is unable to integrate emotion and thought into a coherent narrative.

Interviewer: Could you tell me five adjectives that describe your childhood relationship with your mother?
Mother: Oh, I don’t know. I guess she was normal, she was fine. I guess she was loving. She was practical and a good teacher.
Interviewer: Could you give me an example for each of those words?
Mother: Well, you know, she was always there. I don’t remember any problems or like anything that was really wrong. She was a good teacher—she always wanted to make sure we got good grades.
Interviewer: Could you tell me five adjectives that describe your childhood relationship with your mother?
Mother: Hmm, that’s a little complicated. My mother was very warm and very loving but she could also be controlling. So we had a very close relationship but it was also conflictual at times, especially when I was a teenager.
Interviewer: Could you give me an example for each of those words?
Mother: I remember a lot of affection. I remember curling up with her on the couch in the evenings, watching TV. But I also remember getting in fights with her, more when I was older, when I wanted to go out with my friends. She would insist that I be home earlier than any of my friends had to. Hmm, maybe she was just being responsible, but at the time I thought she was unreasonable.
Interviewer: Could you tell me five adjectives that describe your childhood relationship with your mother?
Mother: It was loving, absolutely, so loving. She was wonderful, fabulous. But you know, sometimes she was really selfish, totally insensitive, like only out for herself.
Interviewer: Could you give me an example for each of those words?
Mother: It was unbelievable, you know. Whenever she got insecure, her dander got up and she would just never listen to my side of things. I think she had real problems with self-esteem. And all I wanted, all I wanted, was like, “Listen to me, Mom!” But not that I didn’t love her. Of course I did and still do and I know she loves me more than anything in the world. So that’s what makes it fabulous, just fabulous. It would destroy me if anything happened to her.


Securely attached adults tend to be more sensitive to their infants’ emotional cues (iStock).
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