Getting to know and understand attachment theory can help you get to the bottom of problems that may be repeating themselves in your relationships. Attachment theory offers reasoning for certain behaviors and patterns in relationships in adulthood. Generally speaking the overarching influence on your attachment style is your relationship with your parents or primary caregivers in childhood. Childhood plays an important role in setting the stage for relationship building in adulthood.
To date, there are 4 attachment styles John Bowlby has studied:
While there are of course specifics about each attachment style, it is important to discuss the development of these attachment styles. Secure attachment is modeled by the primary caregivers in your life. Because children are dependent on caregivers for support, comfort and soothing, having physical and emotional needs met as a child helps to build secure attachment. On the flip side, insecure attachment is developed when the childhood environment is missing care, warmth, and attunement to a child’s needs. Attachment theory offers clarity around how we get, or seek to get our needs met.
Self-analysis can help us take a look at the attachment style characteristics, and help us to navigate what might need work in order to realize better relationship dynamics.
An anxious/ preoccupied attachment style is driven by negative self-image, and the need for external support or validation. A person with this attachment style fears abandonment and seeks responsiveness. When an anxious/ preoccupied person receives a response, their anxiety is usually unhealthily quelled. People with this attachment style value relationships highly, but constantly wonder if their partner is equally as invested.
In this instance of attachment, living without a partner or being alone causes high anxiety. In relationships the absence of support and intimacy may cause anxiety to arise, leading to clingy behavior, demanding behavior, or possessive behavior. This attachment style may also show up as desperation for love. Unfortunately, here, emotional hunger can be mistaken for real love and trust.
The disorganized/ fearful-avoidant attachment style displays unstable and ambiguous behavior, and partnerships and relationships become both a source of desire and a source of fear. Fearful-avoidant individuals desire intimacy and closeness, but also have a difficult time trusting and depending on others. Because of the ambiguous behavior, disorganized/ fearful-avoidant people’s emotions are mismanaged, there is emotional overwhelm and there is unpredictable moodiness. While this attachment type might display strong emotional attachment out of fear of being hurt, usually they are afraid of closeness and distance. This can land disorganized/ fearful-avoidant type in relationships with many highs and lows. Because they fear abandonment they can struggle with intimacy and could end up in an abusive relationship.
Avoidant/ dismissive people appear to be emotionally independent, strong, self-sufficient, and appear to have a positive view of self. This attachment style does not usually feel the need to be in a relationship because they do not want to depend on others, or have others depend on them. Of the attachment styles this one is the “lone wolf.” Avoidant/ dismissive people do not seek support or approval from social bonds, and they often avoid emotional closeness. When faced with an emotionally charged situation, they will likely hide or suppress their feelings.
We all need connection and the avoidant/ dismissive attachment type uses isolation as a “pseudo-independence.” These people emotionally shut down and can easily detach from their family.
In contrast to the other attachment styles the secure attachment style thrives in relationships, knowing how to healthily and openly expressing emotions. A secure person knows they can depend on their partner, and let their partner depend on them. They know support is a two way street, and they are able to support their partner in times of stress, and seek support when they need to. Relationships with a secure person are based on honesty, tolerance, and emotional closeness. Secure people also have a positive view of themselves and do not fear being on their own. Children with secure attachment will feel their parents are a base, but they will be confident enough to wander into the world on their own. This supports confidence in relationships as well as healthy freedom.
With a positive view of themselves, secure people find natural satisfaction in relationships, this supports equality, honesty, and openness.