Attachment style is not something we easily think of when it comes to dating and relationships, but it affects us greatly and often it’s bubbling under the surface affecting our day to day lives and our interactions with others.
If you’ve ever found yourself not understanding your own behavior in your romantic relationships, your style of attachment could definitely give you some insight.
Why do you push people away when really deep down you’re longing for connection and intimacy with someone? Why do you cling so tightly when you know it’s wrong and that you should give your partner more room to breathe? Why do you feel the need to pull away from a partner when you get too close?
The relationships you had with your parents often affect how you connect to your romantic partners in adulthood. Most of us are aware of that to some extent, but how exactly and why do they affect us now?
In this article I will show you what the four styles of attachment are and explain to you how they can affect your romantic relationships. Don’t be too alarmed if you see after reading this that you fall into one of the more negative styles. Once you know what your attachment style is, you can alter it into the secure attachment style (the healthiest style).
It’s okay if you see that your style isn’t the greatest, after all, you didn’t get to choose who your parents were, so the way you developed was somewhat out of your control. But as a grown and more aware adult, you can unwind the past and train your brain to react in healthier ways to triggers in relationships.
“Our style of attachment affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. That is why recognizing our attachment pattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. An attachment pattern is established in early childhood and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood.” — Dr. Lisa Firestone
Below are the Four Styles of Attachment according to Attachment Theory as founded by Dr. John Bowlby and his studies in developmental psychology. Bowlby coined the term in the late 60s and it was further explored and developed by Mary Ainsworth.
Dr. Bowlby was a British child psychologist and psychoanalyst. He believed that the earliest bonds children formed with their parents or caregivers have a tremendous impact on a person throughout their life and that attachment served as a way for a child to feel close to its mother and gave it the best chances for survival. He was the first to discover the theory of attachment and his foundings were quite astounding to people in the late 60s and have become a foundation for a lot of theories and findings in modern-day psychology. He specifically believed attachment to be lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.
Mary Ainsworth later expanded on his work and in particular, she identified the existence of what she calls attachment behavior — examples of behavior that are demonstrated by insecure children in hopes of establishing or re-establishing an attachment to a presently absent caregiver.
Attachment theory is a concept in developmental psychology that concerns the importance of “attachment” in regards to personal development. Specifically, it makes the claim that the ability for an individual to form an emotional and physical “attachment” to another person gives a sense of stability and security necessary to take risks, branch out, and grow and develop as a personality.
Becoming attached to a romantic partner is a good thing, but we have to do it in a healthy way. Read the four styles listed below and consider which Style you think you might fall under.
1. Secure Attachment
The secure attachment style (also known as the autonomous attachment style) is the most emotionally well-adjusted of all four. Those who display this attachment style possess a positive model of self and of others and are generally quite low in both anxiety and avoidance. They are quite able to balance their emotional attachments to others with their natural need for autonomy and independence.
While this is the most emotionally well-adjusted of the four attachment styles, those who are secure or autonomous have not necessarily led carefree lives. In fact, many people who display this attachment style may have had very rough childhoods. Some people with secure attachment styles may have even come from homes in which they were abused or addiction was prevalent. Their security does not stem from a lack of previous trauma, but from their ability to assess their lives objectively. They do not fear intimacy or abandonment. They are usually content with what they have, even if they sometimes wish they had a little more.
2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment
The preoccupied attachment style is characterized by a negative model of self, but a positive model in others. Those who are preoccupied will generally exhibit high levels of anxiety, but low levels of avoidance. Out of all four attachment styles, this is the one most associated with clinging behavior, as the preoccupied adult will often be quite fearful of abandonment. Due to the high levels of anxiety associated with this style of attachment, it is also known as the anxious attachment style.
People with preoccupied attachment styles can often be prone to flights of romantic fancy, and this illusion can often overtake their sense of reality when they are in a relationship. They may form what is known as a fantasy bond, a relationship in which true love is usurped by mere labels and routine. The difference between the preoccupied attachment style and other attachment styles is that the preoccupied person may become overzealous about maintaining this bond, and may openly express anger or anxiety when they feel as if this bond has been threatened.
3. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment
People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment have the tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. They may seek isolation and feel “pseudo-independent,” taking on the role of parenting themselves. They often come off as focused on themselves and may be overly attending to their creature comforts.
Pseudo-independence is an illusion, as every human being needs connection. Nevertheless, people with a dismissive-avoidant attachment tend to lead more inward lives, both denying the importance of loved ones and detaching easily from them. They are often psychologically defended and have the ability to shut down emotionally. Even in heated or emotional situations, they are able to turn off their feelings and not react. For example, if their partner is distressed and threatens to leave them, they would respond by saying, “I don’t care.”
4. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment
A person with a fearful avoidant attachment lives in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to. They can’t just avoid their anxiety or run away from their feelings. Instead, they are overwhelmed by their reactions and often experience emotional storms. They tend to be mixed up or unpredictable in their moods. They see their relationships from the working model that you need to go toward others to get your needs met, but if you get close to others, they will hurt you. In other words, the person they want to go to for safety is the same person they are frightened to be close to. As a result, they have no organized strategy for getting their needs met by others.
Knowledge is power. It’s so true. The more aware you become of yourself — your habits, your tendencies, the more well-rounded of an adult you can become, and becoming a well-rounded adult will enable you to have healthy and happy relationships with others. Our quality of life is often determined by the quality of the relationships we have.
Man is not meant to wander the planet alone and disconnected with himself and others. We need connection and we need each other to navigate and enjoy this messy-beautiful thing we call life with all its peaks and valleys. We need love and we need each other, but we can’t love each other in the right way when we have unfinished business with our past. Knowing your attachment style and working to mold it into a “secure attachment” style is our best bet and having healthy and long-lasting relationships.