When and How to Apologize: An Attachment Theory Perspective


People with anxious/preoccupied attachment styles (read hear for a more detailed description), may have difficulty regulating their emotions and may have a tendency to get emotionally hijacked. When they are activated, they are likely to feel strong emotions that lead them to think of painful events and other past transgressions. They are likely to desire and welcome the apology and yet are also likely to be reactivated by it and re-experience strong emotions. Attachment researchers have termed this paradox “revolving anger.” Consider for example, how an anxiously attached toddler behaves in the “strange situation” research paradigm. In this situation, the toddler is briefly separated and then reunited with his/her mother. Researchers observe and code the child’s reactions across this separation and reunion. An anxiously attached toddler is immensely relieved and leans into his mothers comforting arms when she picks him up, only to start yelling at her and hitting her moments later (see this video). Now think about the last time you tried to apologize and comfort your anxious relationship partner.