Attachment is all the buzz in psychology lately, and for a good reason. People are interconnected, and our closeness in relationships plays a fundamental role in our overall happiness.
So, why do you feel anxious if someone isn’t giving you enough attention? Or, why do you tend to pull away if someone starts becoming too close? How does attachment impact the relationships with the people who matter the most? Let’s explore how attachment styles apply to the dynamics in your life.
Understanding The Types of Attachment Styles In Relationships
The British psychoanalyst, John Bowlby, created attachment theory after observing how babies attempted to bond and reestablish safety to their caregivers. Later, his colleague, Mary Ainsworth, examined how infants reunited with their caregivers after separation. This evidence compounded what we know about attachment styles in relationships today.
People with secure attachment generally perceive people as safe and trustworthy. In childhood, these individuals felt supported by their caregivers. Their parents mostly attuned to their needs effectively. They created a healthy sense of structure and boundaries while also encouraging the child to develop their own sense of autonomy.
In relationships, these individuals tend to have secure relationships because they feel secure with themselves. They can give and take from others. They maintain a semblance of emotional balance and know how to self-soothe when distressed.
People with anxious/preoccupied attachment styles tend to fear rejection and abandonment. In childhood, their caregivers may have responded to their needs inconsistently. The attunement wasn’t all there - sometimes, it may have been intrusive or dramatic or insufficient.
In relationships, these individuals may feel inferior and inadequate around others. They may need tremendous reassurance, as they desperately worry about loved ones leaving them. Unfortunately, this fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that pushes others away. In an attempt to feel “in control,” some people will engage in self-destructive behaviors that come in the form of control, power, or clinginess.
These people often feel like they “love deeper” and “harder” in relationships. They may be people-pleasing and feel like they “give it their all,” only to feel like it’s never enough.
People with dismissive/avoidant attachment styles tend to be more guarded and dismissive of their feelings. In childhood, their caregivers may have also been emotionally avoidant and unavailable to attune to their needs. Many of these children had to learn how to take care of themselves. From a young age, they internalized the notion that they can’t rely on others for support.
In romantic relationships, they may present as cold or aloof in the presence of others. Even if the moment calls for it, they often struggle with vulnerability, intimacy, and emotional expression. These are the people who are seen as the Lone Wolf - always on their own with seemingly no need for close relationships.
Disorganized or Fearful/Avoidant Attachment
People with disorganized attachment styles often feel like they are in a constant state of crisis or ambivalence. In childhood, their caregivers may have been unpredictable and erratic. There may have been violence, substance use, or other emotional traumas that created a relatively unstable environment. These children grew up wishing they could be out of the house- but they knew they had no other choice.
In relationships, their attitudes can seem erratic and unpredictable. As if in perpetual crisis-mode, they may constantly question if they should stay or leave in a relationship. On the one hand, they fear closeness. Yet, they also fear loss and abandonment. Their relationships, therefore, can become chaotic and implosive.
How Attachment Styles Play Out In Relationships
When you become aware of your own attachment style in relationships, you may start to recognize certain patterns. For example, maybe you always tend to date emotionally unavailable men. Maybe you subconsciously seek out friends who constantly need your advice and reassurance.
It is not uncommon for people with different attachment styles to attract one another. This attraction is often a desire to fulfill unmet childhood needs. That said, relationship problems can emerge due to issues associated with attachment including:
Sex and intimacy
Sense of trust and safety
While patterns may be challenging to break, change is possible. With that in mind, change requires conscious intention and action. It may also entail couples therapy if you and your partner feel serious about committing to long-term success.
Our attachment styles in relationships can impact the level of safety, intimacy, and connection we feel with others. While we all want that coveted secure attachment, it may take some serious work and soul-searching to move into that space.
Therapy can help you learn more about your attachment style. Together, we can explore the quality of relationships in your life. Change is possible! We will work to create meaningful goals to reestablish happiness with the people around you.