It’s common knowledge that most of our beliefs about the world are shaped in childhood, and most issues that people experience as adults have something to do with what was experienced in the earliest phases of life. Never is this more true than with romantic relationships. They are, after all, extensions of the bonds we build and things we come to understand about men, women and how they interact through our parents. Many people spend their lives re-creating their first familial relationships, often to their own detriment. Here, the four types of attachment styles children develop, and how understanding your own can help you stop struggling so much in your relationships now.
If you are someone who attaches securely, one or both of your parents were completely attuned to your needs during early childhood. You learned to trust people, and objectively struggle the least with relationships, as you don’t over-respond to the idea being rejected or dismissed. You just don’t fear it as much.
However, if you are struggling in your relationships, it’s likely because of your complacency. You’re willing to stay in the wrong relationships for too long, because they’re “good enough,” but at the same time, you’re more hesitant to commit to the “right” relationships when they come along because there’s more risk involved. You are comfortable and prefer to stay that way, possibly at the detriment of your heart’s true desires. What you need to do is open up to the reality that love is scary, especially the kind of love that’s worthwhile. Take your time, but don’t choose the easy way out.
If you are someone with avoidant attachment, you were likely the child of parents who were emotionally unavailable and insensitive to your genuine needs. You became a “little adult” at a young age, avoided (and still avoid) expressing true pain or need for help (especially to parents/caretakers) and highly value your independence, almost to a fault. You are self-contained and most comfortable alone. Your parents likely punished you for feeling anything other than “happy,” or at least shamed you for crying or expressing your feelings in any way that wasn’t convenient for them. This likely has lead to intimacy issues, as you struggle to be your whole self around someone else.
If you’re struggling in your relationships, it’s because you’ve grown to associate “imperfections” with dismissal. You think that opening up completely and genuinely will inevitably lead to you being unloved or rejected, because you learned at a young age that expressing genuine feelings could be dangerous. You are probably overly-accepting of other people’s flaws, but absolutely cannot tolerate any of your own. What you need to do is practice opening up to other people in a genuine way (start with friends, maybe) and see that you won’t be disowned for being who you are. Once you develop a more trusting attitude with others, it will become easier and easier to be intimate.
If you’ve developed an anxious attachment, it’s because your parents were inconsistently attuned to your needs. At times you were nurtured and loved, but at others they were overly-intrusive and insensitive. You likely struggle with indecisiveness and fear of the unknown, as you never know what kind of treatment to expect from people. You have a hard time trusting others, but at the same time, are easily overly-attached and clingy, even just to the idea of a person. This is because you are afraid of anything you haven’t grown to known as “safe,” and want to hang on to people rather than face your fear of the unknown.
If you’re struggling in your relationships, it’s because you are spending too much time mind-reading, assuming, projecting, predicting and anticipating outcomes in an effort to “shield” yourself from pain, or because you refuse to let go out of fear that you’ll never find anybody else. Either way, you’re more in your head than in your heart, and you’re letting your life be guided by what you’re trying to avoid, as opposed to what you’re trying to achieve. Being better in your relationships will likely be the product of learning that the anxiety and urgency you feel is in your head. You need to work on refocusing your thoughts, differentiating reality from your fears, and surrounding yourself with trustworthy, caring people.
If you formed a disorganized attachment in childhood, it is because your parents or caretakers were abusive, frightening or even life-threatening. You wanted to escape, yet your livelihood depended on the very people who were hurting you most. You may not have been fully able to escape until adulthood. Your attachment figure was your main source of distress, and to survive, you were forced to begin disassociating from yourself.
If you’re struggling in your relationships, it’s because you haven’t learned to listen to your emotional navigation system yet. You aren’t choosing partners you genuinely care about, or are ignoring your instincts because you grew up being forced not to trust yourself. Sure, you were in pain, but if you wanted to survive, you had to ignore that pain and convince yourself everything was alright. What you need to do is some very serious mental/emotional work, that likely involves recalling your past trauma, and re-writing your narrative of what happened in your life. You will need to re-associate with your inner guidance system, and learn to trust it more than you do your thoughts or ideas.