In My Mind I Was Alone: Suicidal Adolescents' Perceptions of Attachment Relationships

  • Katherine E. BostikEmail author
  • Robin D. Everall

While interpersonal relationships have been identified as playing a key role in the development of suicidal ideation and behavior, limited research has examined adolescent suicidality within the context of attachment relationships. The intent of the present study was to increase understanding of the role of attachment relationships in adolescents’ experiences of becoming suicidal through an examination of the perceptions of those who have experienced the suicidal state. Fifty Canadian adolescents and young adults who were previously suicidal between the ages of 13 and 19 were interviewed, and a qualitative research design used for analysis. Three core categories were identified: parental insecurity, peer insecurity, and perceptions of self. Results are discussed within the context of attachment theory, providing a framework for therapeutic intervention strategies with suicidal adolescents.


attempted suicide suicidal ideation adolescents attachment 


  1. Adam, K. S. (1994). Suicidal behavior and attachment: A developmental model. In M. B. Sperling & W. H. Berman (Eds.), Attachment in adults: Clinical and developmental perspectives (pp. 275–298). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  2. Adam, K. S., Keller, A., West, M., Larose, S., & Goszer, L. B. (1994). Parental representation in suicidal adolescents: A controlled study. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 28, 418–425.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, J. P., & Land, D. (1999). Attachment in adolescence. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications (pp. 319–335). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  4. Allen, J. P., Moore, C., Kuperminc, G., & Bell, K. (1998). Attachment and adolescent psychosocial functioning. Child Development, 69, 1406–1419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Allison, S., Pearce, C., Martin, G., Miller, K., & Long, R. (1995). Parental influence, pessimism and adolescent suicidality. Archives of Suicide Research, 1, 229–242.Google Scholar
  6. Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1989). Attachment beyond infancy. American Psychologist, 44, 709–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Aspendorpf, J. B., & Wilpers, S. (2000). Attachment security and available support: Closely linked relationship qualities. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 115–138.Google Scholar
  8. Bearman, P. S., & Moody, J. (2004). Suicide and friendships among American adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 94, 89–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bostik, K. E., & Everall, R. D. (in press). Healing from suicide: Adolescent perceptions of attachment relationships. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling.Google Scholar
  10. Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  11. Bowlby, J. (1979). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. New York: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  12. Brendgen, M., Vitaro, F., & Bukowski, W. M. (2000). Deviant friends and early adolescents’ emotional and behavioral adjustment. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 10, 173–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brown, G. K., Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Girsham, J. R. (2000). Risk factors for suicide in psychiatric outpatients: A 20-year prospective study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 371–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Campbell, N. B., Milling, L., Laughlin, A., & Bush, E. (1993). The psychosocial climate of families with suicidal pre-adolescent children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 63, 142–145.Google Scholar
  15. Collins, N. L. (1996). Working models of attachment: Implications for explanation, emotion, and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 810–832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cutcliffe, J. R. (2003). Research endeavours into suicide: A need to shift the emphasis. British Journal of Nursing, 12, 92–99.Google Scholar
  17. Davila, J., & Daley, S. E. (2000). Studying interpersonal factors in suicide: Perspectives from depression research. In T. E. Joiner & M. D. Rudd (Eds.), Suicide science: Expanding the boundaries (pp. 175–200). Boston: Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
  18. de Jong, M. (1992). Attachment, individuation, and risk of suicide in late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21, 357–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dekovic, M., & Meeus, W. (1997). Peer relations in adolescence: Effects of parenting and adolescent's self-concept. Journal of Adolescence, 20, 163–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ducharme, J., Doyle, A., & Markiewicz, D. (2002). Attachment security with mother and father: Associations with adolescents’ reports of interpersonal behavior with parents and peers. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19, 203–231.Google Scholar
  21. Everall, R. D., Bostik, K. E., & Paulson, B. L. (in press). Being in the safety zone: Emotional experiences of suicidal adolescents and emerging adults. Journal of Adolescent Research.Google Scholar
  22. Georgas, J., Mylonas, K., Bafiti, T., Poortinga, Y. H., Christakopoulou, S., Kagitcibasi, C., et al. (2001). Functional relationships in the nuclear and extended family: A 16-culture study. International Journal of Psychology, 36, 289–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Glaser, B. (1978). Theoretical sensitivity: Advances in the methodology of grounded theory. Mill Valley, CA: The Sociological Press.Google Scholar
  24. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. New York: Aldine Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  25. Gould, M. S., Fisher, P., Parides, M., Floy, M., & Shaffer, D. (1996). Psychosocial risk factors of child and adolescent completed suicide. Archives of General Psychiatry, 53, 1155–1162.Google Scholar
  26. Groleger, U., Tomori, M., & Kocmur, M. (2003). Suicidal ideation in adolescence—An indicator of actual risk? Israeli Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 40, 202–208.Google Scholar
  27. Health Canada. (2002). A report on mental illness in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Catalogue in Publishing Data.Google Scholar
  28. Heaton, T. B., Forste, R., Hoffman, J. P., & Flake, D. (2004). Cross-national variation in family influences on child health. Social Science & Medicine, 60, 97–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lai, K. W., & McBride-Chang, C. (2001). Suicidal ideation, parenting style, and family climate among Hong Kong adolescents. International Journal of Psychology, 36, 81–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Langlois, S., & Morrison, P. (2002). Suicide deaths and suicide attempts. Health Reports, 13, 9–22.Google Scholar
  31. Levitt, M. J. (2005). Social relations in childhood and adolescence: The convoy model perspective. Human Development, 48, 28–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Miller, A. L., Notaro, P. C., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2002). Stability and change in internal working models of friendship: Associations with multiple domains of urban adolescent functioning. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19, 233–259.Google Scholar
  33. Nickerson, A. B., & Nagle, R. J. (2004). The influence of parent and peer attachments on life satisfaction in middle childhood and early adolescence. Social Indicators Research, 66, 35–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Paterson, J., Pryor, J., & Field, J. (1995). Adolescent attachment to parents and friends in relation to aspects of self-esteem. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24, 365–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pelling, C., & Arvay-Buchanan, M. (2004). Experiences of attachment injury in heterosexual couple relationships. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 38, 289–303.Google Scholar
  36. Pillay, A. L., & Wassenaar, D. R. (1997). Recent stressors and family satisfaction in suicidal adolescents in South Africa. Journal of Adolescence, 20, 155–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Prinstein, M. J., Boergers, J., Spirito, A., Little, T. D., & Grapentine, W. L. (2000). Peer functioning, family dysfunction, and psychological symptoms in a risk factor model for adolescent inpatients’ suicidal ideation severity. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 29, 392–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rennie, D. L. (1996). Fifteen years of doing qualitative research on psychotherapy. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 24, 317–327.Google Scholar
  39. Rennie, D. L., Phillips, J. R., & Quartaro, G. K. (1988). Grounded theory: A promising approach to conceptualization in psychology. Canadian Psychology, 29, 139–150.Google Scholar
  40. Rogers, J. R. (2001). Theoretical grounding: The “missing link” in suicide research. Journal of Counseling and Development, 79, 16–25.Google Scholar
  41. Rothbard, J. C., & Shaver, P. R. (1994). Continuity of attachment across the life span. In M. B. Sperling & W. H. Berman (Eds.), Attachment in adults: Clinical and developmental perspectives (pp. 31–71). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  42. Rothbaum, F., Weisz, J., Pott, M., Miyake, K., & Morelli, G. (2000). Attachment and culture: Security in the United States and Japan. American Psychologist, 55, 1093–1104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rothbaum, F., Weisz, J., Pott, M., Miyake, K., & Morelli, G. (2001). Deeper into attachment and culture. American Psychologist, 56, 827–829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Safer, D. J. (1997). Self-reported suicide attempts by adolescents. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 9, 263–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  46. Tidwell, M. O., Reis, H. T., & Shaver, P. R. (1996). Attachment, attractiveness, and social interaction: A diary study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 729–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Thompson, R. A. (2005). Multiple relationships multiply considered. Human Development, 48, 102–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Trinke, S. J., & Bartholomew, K. (1997). Hierarchies of attachment relationships in young adulthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 14, 603–625.Google Scholar
  49. van Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Sagi, A. (1999). Cross-cultural patterns of attachment: Universal and contextual dimensions. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment. Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 713–734). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  50. Weisner, T. S. (2005). Attachment as a cultural and ecological problem with pluralistic solutions. Human Development, 48, 89–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. West, M. L., Spreng, S. W., Rose, S. M., & Adam, K. S. (1999). Relationship between attachment-felt security and history of suicidal behaviours in clinical adolescents. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 578–582.Google Scholar
  52. You, H. S., & Malley-Morrison, K. (2000). Young adult attachment styles and intimate relationships with close friends: A cross-cultural study of Koreans and Caucasian Americans. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31, 528–534.Google Scholar
  53. Zimmerman, P. (2004). Attachment representations and characteristics of friendship relations during adolescence. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 88, 83–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations