Why are some people in relationships distant and unattached, while others are needy and require regular validation? It’s because different people have different attachment styles, according to attachment theory. In this article, we will cover: The four attachment styles, how they’re developed in childhood, and how to build a stable attachment style.
What is attachment?
But first, what is attachment? Attachment is the bond we form with our first primary caregiver, usually a parent. It’s a universal human phenomenon that starts as early as in the womb, and the way we develop it eventually affects the way we find, keep, and end relationships.
What is an attachment style?
A person’s attachment style is their specific way of relating to others in relationships. According to attachment theory, first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, attachment style is shaped and developed in early childhood in response to our relationships with our earliest caregivers. Essentially, our adult attachment style is thought to mirror the dynamics we had with our caregivers as infants and children.
Attachment style includes the way we respond emotionally to others as well as our behaviours and interactions with them.
The 4 Attachment Styles
1. Secure Attachment Style
Secure attachment style refers to the ability to form secure, loving relationships with others. A securely attached person can trust others and be trusted, love and accept love, and get close to others with relative ease. They’re not afraid of intimacy, nor do they feel panicked when their partners need time or space away from them. They’re able to depend on others without becoming totally dependent.
All other attachment styles that are not secure are known as insecure attachment styles.
2. Anxious Attachment
Anxious attachment style is a form of insecure attachment style marked by a deep fear of abandonment. Anxiously attached people tend to be very insecure about their relationships, often worrying that their partner will leave them and thus are always hungry for validation. Anxious attachment is associated with “neediness” or clingy behavior, such as getting very anxious when your partner doesn’t text back fast enough and constantly feeling like your partner doesn’t care enough about you.
Anxious attachment is also known as anxious-preoccupied attachment, and it generally aligns with the anxious-ambivalent attachment style or anxious-resistant attachment style observed among children. 19% of adults have the anxious attachment type, according to Hazan and Shaver’s research.
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3. Avoidant Attachment
Avoidant attachment style is a form of insecure attachment style marked by a fear of intimacy. People with avoidant attachment style tend to have trouble getting close to others or trusting others in relationships. They typically maintain some distance from their partners or are largely emotionally unavailable in their relationships, preferring to be independent and rely on themselves.
Avoidant attachment is also known as dismissive-avoidant attachment, and it generally aligns with the anxious-avoidant attachment style observed among children. Some 25% of adults have the avoidant attachment type, according to Hazan and Shaver.
4. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment
Fearful-avoidant attachment style is a combination of both the anxious and avoidant attachment styles. People with fearful-avoidant attachment both desperately crave affection and want to avoid it at all costs. They’re reluctant to develop a close romantic relationship, yet at the same time, they have a dire need to feel loved by others.
Fearful-avoidant attachment is also known as disorganized attachment, and it’s very rare and not well-researched. But we do know it’s associated with significant psychological and relational risks, including heightened sexual behavior, an increased risk for violence in their relationships, and difficulty regulating emotions in general.
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How attachment styles are formed
“Human beings are born helpless, so we are hardwired at birth to search for and attach to a reliable caregiver for protection.” “The quality of that first bond—loving and stable or inconsistent or even absent—actually shapes the developing brain, influencing us throughout life in how we deal with loss and how we behave in relationships.” Peter Lovenheim, author of The Attachment Effect
Attachment style is determined by how the primary caregiver responds to the child’s cues when they are experiencing emotional stress.
People’s attachment styles may also be influenced by other significant relationships throughout their lives. A person can have had a secure attachment during childhood, however, betrayals and infidelity in adulthood can lead to an insecure attachment.
Here’s a few indications on what circumstances lead to each of the four attachment types:
- Secure attachment:
Caregivers are responsive and attuned to their child’s needs.
- Anxious attachment:
Caregivers are inconsistent and unpredictable with affections. Sometimes overly involved, and intermittently withdrawn. It’s the unpredictable fluctuation between caregivers being emotionally available and then distant that leads children to be anxious about all their future relationships.
- Avoidant attachment:
Caregivers are not responsive but are dismissive and often distant. They’re consistently emotionally disconnected from their child. Resulting in the child believing that their needs won’t get met.
- Fearful-avoidant attachment:
The type of an environment that influences a disorganised attachment involves a caregiver who is frightening or traumatising, leading to the child to experience a deep sense of fear and a lack of trust in others despite wanting close connections. They may be neglectful or even abusive, such that the child develops a “poor understanding of boundaries” and is “confused about what a healthy relationship looks like.”
Can attachment styles change?
Yes, it is possible for a person to change their attachment style. However, this takes a lot of work, patience, and intention if a person is shifting from an insecure to a secure attachment strategy.
Here’s a few ways you can start:
- Identify your relationship patterns.
Start by thinking about your relationship with your parents as a child, ask yourself questions like:
• How were they toward you as a child?
• How did you respond to them?
• To whom did you go for comfort when you had a problem?
• Were they negligent or reliable?
- Work on your self-esteem.
Learn to embrace, value, love, and care for yourself first. If you cannot fathom what self-love is because you were neglected, abused, and dismissed as a child, you can start with self-tolerance and self-neutrality. This can look like, ‘I’m a person, and everyone deserves to be valued’ instead of forcing yourself with empty words of, ‘I’m beautiful and valuable.”
- Get in touch with your real needs.
At the end of the day, all insecure attachment styles are people who tend to form insecure relationships because of deeply held fears that their relationships will not work out. So it’s important to figure out how to make yourself feel more secure in your relationships.
Part of that involves being aware of what your needs and desires are in relationships. Learn to be assertive and set boundaries. Honour what you feel, and express your needs in words without manipulation and hidden meanings. Securely attached people are often direct and appropriately confrontational to create a healthy and meaningful relationship.
- Don’t be afraid to seek therapy.
Therapy is helpful, both individual and couples. A quality therapist will help you to dive into your attachment style, past wounds, ways to identify, establish appropriate boundaries, and promote a healthy relationship.
It’s important to remember that you are not your past and your future can always be changed. The first step of creating the future you want is to be aware of your behaviours and since you are here reading this article, that means you’re on the right track to the loving and fulfilling relationship you deserve. Happy self-discovering!