The Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM) describes behavior and thinking patterns exhibited in the context of conflict. It describes patterns of self-protective strategies and patterns of information processing preferred by people when they are facing threat and danger. It’s model offers a simple 2-part dichotomy, and divisions of patterns in 3-parts, 4-parts, 6-parts, scales up to 29 parts, and then ever more complex patterns.
Common complaints about the DMM are that it is merely a 2-part or 3-part model and is too simple, and also that it is far too complex. So which is it?
Is the DMM too simple?
Louise Atkin, a British psychiatrist, has written a lovely and simple explanation about what the DMM is and why it is the best thing to explain why people do what they do in stressful situations. She offers excellent examples of the A, B, C (3-part) attachment patterns displayed by children, and how the parenting environment drives these three self-protective strategy patterns. Her examples provide immediate and deep insight into the specific ways a parent can create a negative environment for their child, and direction for how the parents can easily make important changes.
Her 9-minute read can be found here.
Responding to a friend of hers, Louise describes how she used a color wheel analogy to help explain why the DMM is both simple and complex. The color wheel to the left hints at a 1-part model (white), a 3-part, and a 6, 7, or 8-part model. Just like the three primary colors, the primary A, B, C patterns can be used individually, in expanding parts, or blended in an infinite variety of combinations of self-protective strategies.
The DMM utilizes attachment-pioneer Mary Ainsworth’s three-pattern model as a foundation to describe human behavior in response to threat and danger.
By the 1980’s, before Ainsworth stopped working, Ainsworth, Mary Main, Patricia Crittenden, and other attachment researchers all agreed there were at least nine sub-patterns, A1, A2, B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, C1 and C2.
Attachment was originally a theory proposed by John Bowlby in 1940’s. After Ainsworth developed the first scientific measure of attachment in the 1960’s, the Strange Situation Procedure (SSP), her scientific findings informed and improved theory. Like all science, improved theory in turn spurred new research questions, and findings from subsequent research studies further refined attachment theory. Additional attachment measures were developed, such as the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) in 1984. Attachment theory grew, developed, and became more sophisticated as more than 30,000 attachment research studies were published. It came to offer lawyers, therapists, psychologists, social workers, parenting professionals, and really all relational professionals insights that have dramatically changed theories and approaches in probably all relational fields.
Is the DMM too complicated?
Other people argue the DMM is too complicated. Within the basic patterns are sub-patterns and more sub-patterns. Currently, DMM attachment science has identified 29 discrete patterns, and a number of specifically identified pattern modifiers, such as depression, family triangulation, and a variety of types of unresolved trauma or loss.
DMM strategies range from A1-8, B1-5, C1-8, and AC (a blended pattern). There are some sub-patterns such A4 and A4-. And there are complex mixes of patterns alternating strategies, such as A4/C5-6. The full range of strategies are listed and described in Crittenden, Patricia, & Landini, Andrea, (2011), Assessing adult attachment: A dynamic-maturational approach to discourse analysis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Experienced attachment researchers Marinus H. Van IJzendoorn, et al., argued that the alternate attachment model, the ABC+D model (sometimes called the Berkeley Model), is more simple with only three attachment patterns (the same original Ainsworth patterns). They complained bitterly that the DMM’s 24 (their number) attachment patterns are too complex and hard to understand, saying they are “indeed a shower of colorful confetti.” Van IJzendoorn, Marinus H., with Jacob J. W. Bakermans, Marian Steele, and Pehr Granqvist (2018), Diagnostic use of Crittenden’s attachment measures in family court is not beyond a reasonable doubt, Infant Ment. Health J., 39: 642-646. doi:10.1002/imhj.21747. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/imhj.21747.
Actually, the ABC+D model has at least 24 attachment patterns. Like the DMM, it started with Ainsworth’s three primary patterns, and the original nine sub-patterns, and then developed more over time. For a list of ABC+D patterns, see Table 1 in Baldoni, Franco, with Mattia Minghetti, Giuseppe Craparo, Elisa Facondini, Loredana Cena & Adriano Schimmenti (2018), Comparing Main, Goldwyn, and Hesse (Berkeley) and Crittenden (DMM) coding systems for classifying Adult Attachment Interview transcripts: an empirical report, Attachment & Human Development, 20:4, 423-438, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2017.1421979, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/153538953.pdf.
Certainly, it is a fair comment to say that learning all of what the DMM has to offer is a challenge. That is true for the ABC+D model as well. It takes time and dedication to learn every aspect of the model, especially for professionals learning to conduct attachment science research. But is it necessary to do so, especially for professionals in the trenches?
The DMM is robust
The truth is, the DMM is both simple and complex. It is a robust model. Robust means it works at a simple level, and it also scales up to explain complex human behaviors and family systems. Robust is defined as “capable of performing without failure under a wide range of conditions.” (Merriam-Webster.com.) This is why the DMM is functional for scientists, psychiatrists, counselors, lawyers, parenting coaches with no college degree, and every-day parents.
In some situations, it is perfectly adequate to think about a person as primarily using “A”, “B”, or “C” strategies. Louise’ article offers a powerful demonstration of this. Sometimes it is more instructive to think of a person as using something like A1-2, or C5-6 strategies, for a more nuanced understanding of their self-protective strategies. In most legal and clinical situations, hard to explain behaviors will be easily explained with common A or C self-protective strategies, so a basic 2-part model helps target specific techniques and communication styles adjusted for one or the other “way of being in the world.”
Attachment is a popular and exciting field because it captures and describes a wide range of human functioning, and very specific self-protective behaviors and thought patterns in the context of conflict and strife within the family, social relationships, at work, and in socio-political situations. One of John Bowlby’s goals was to better describe the many defense mechanisms identified by various psychological theories. The DMM has succeeded in accomplishing Bowlby’s goal, explaining the sometimes hard to understand self-protective strategies people use to get by in life. It has done so clearly, succinctly, and with a nice balance of simplicity and complexity, such that professionals can quickly apply DMM concepts in their daily practices with great effect. Some of the CSI Whitepapers and articles offer examples. CSI’s Conflict Model Circumplex offers a simplified graphical depiction.
Louise declares in her article that D is for dead, not for Disorganized. The D, or disorganized, attachment category was proposed as a sort of sub-category, or temporary category, which became over-popularized and taken out of context in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Louise is referencing recent scholarly articles that emphatically establish that disorganized attachment has, at best, very limited use, and is only usable by highly trained attachment researchers using the Strange Situation Procedure, and may only be applied to children ages 12-20 months. Disorganized attachment cannot be applied to, or used to describe any other children, nor any teenager or adult, nor can it be used by any therapist or clinician in an individual case (absent a proper SSP assessment). The strongest article to make this point was written by Marinus H. Van IJzendoorn, Marian Steele, and Pehr Granqvist (DMM criticizers mentioned above), and also by Mary Main and Judith Solomon (the two researchers who introduced the disorganized theory in 1990), and 38 other leading attachment and relational science experts. The cite for this article is:
Granqvist, Pehr, with Alan Sroufe, Mary Dozier, Erik Hesse, Miriam Steele, Marinus van Ijzendoorn, Judith Solomon, Carlo Schuengel , Pasco Fearon, Marian BakermansKranenburg, Howard Steele, Jude Cassidy, Elizabeth Carlson, Sheri Madigan, Deborah Jacobvitz, Sarah Foster, Kazuko Behrens, Anne Rifkin-Graboi, Naomi Gribneau, Gottfried Spangler, Mary J Ward, Mary True, Susan Spieker, Sophie Reijman, Samantha Reisz, Anne Tharner, Frances Nkara, Ruth Goldwyn, June Sroufe, David Pederson, Deanne Pederson, Robert Weigand, Daniel Siegel, Nino Dazzi, Kristin Bernard, Peter Fonagy , Everett Waters, Sheree Toth, Dante Cicchetti, Charles H Zeanah, Karlen Lyons-Ruth, Mary Main & Robbie Duschinsky (2017), Disorganized attachment in infancy: a review of the phenomenon and its implications for clinicians and policymakers, Attachment & Human Development, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2017.1354040. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616734.2017.1354040, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14616734.2017.1354040
Dr. Patricia Crittenden, initial developer of the DMM in 1980’s was an early critic of the disorganized attachment concept. It turns out her simple, complicated, and elegant model correctly predicted that disorganization was not a useful concept for clinicians. (Disorganization may or may not yet turn out to provide some useful, if limited, insights. Time will tell.) Her initial model, supported by attachment science research also went on to identify more subtly distinguished self-protective strategies humans use to survive objective, psychologically subjective, and relationship dangers.
Louise Atkin describes herself as an anti- psychiatry psychiatrist, interested in attachment, relationships and life. She has studied a number of DMM attachment science tools, and applies them, and Attachment Centered Therapy, to her work with teenagers in Manchester, U.K. Her article is an excellent introduction to the DMM and the relevance of attachment theory and science to the everyday practice of all relational professionals. Our hats are off to her for coming up with the color wheel analogy, and inspiring this article.