What Is Attachment Style?

It impacts every area of your life. It's formed in early childhood due to your earliest experiences with your primary caregivers. The attachment behaviors that result then become a template by which you try to get your needs met in all of your other relationships as an adult. There's a strong relationship between attachment and your happiness and satisfaction in adult relationships

What Is Attachment Style?

Attachment styles are based on a psychological theory by John Bowlby who was trying to understand why some infants are more distressed than others when separated from their parents. He discovered that the way the child was attached to their caregiver explained these differences.

These differences created the foundation for the concept of "attachment theory". Attachment styles are one of the foundations for why you respond the way you do in your close relationships, even as an adult.

Attachment styles are a universal part of being human and part of the larger animal kingdom.

Attachment styles help us know how to interact and what to expect in relationships with romantic partners. This is also why it is so hard to just change our relationships into healthier ones.

It's like the way we walk in life. For example, you've known how to walk for many years. What if someone asked you to change the way you walk to have better posture? You might change your stride, but in a short amount of time, you would likely return to the way you have always walked.

Your attachment style is similar. It's part of the way our mind and body are wired in childhood.

Attachment Style Quiz

How Your Attachment Style Is Formed

Your specific style is formed in childhood. It's based on how you received care and how you bonded with your caregivers (also called attachment figures) and situations from when you were very young.

Your attachment style is meant to help you bond and receive the care you need through infancy and childhood with your attachment figures. Then your adult attachment style is created from this pattern. It's then transferred into your adult intimate relationships and how you expect to be cared for and care for others.

There are many different things that contribute to you having one of the four styles of attachment. (Discover your attachment style with our free Quiz).
 
No adult attachment style is good or bad. Each one is adaptive to the particular caregiving environment that the child was raised in. If your childhood was influenced by negative events, distressing situations, and inconsistent behaviors from your caregivers, it may have resulted in an insecure style of attachment. However specific attachment behaviors can be less adaptive as an adult. 

The challenge is that if you or your partner grew up in a situation without healthy caregiving situations, then your ability to develop a nourishing and loving relationship in adulthood will be impacted.

Why Knowing Your Attachment Style Is Important

Knowing that these styles exist will help you understand attachment in adults and that neither you nor your partner are “crazy” or “not understandable”.

Many behaviors in relationships are an attempt to try to meet your needs. When you can understand that, and try to meet those needs in healthy ways, it changes your whole approach to interacting in your interpersonal relationships and creating emotional bonds

When you pull a hamstring or break a bone you don't think you're a bad person for having this happen. You seek out proper medical care to help you restore your physical body.

The same is true once you learn that you have a system that can become injured in the process of your development. With proper care, you can move towards increased levels of health and functioning.

The research is clear that when people have healthy relationships, which can be measured by secure attachment, they have lower rates of both mental and physical health issues.

By taking the time to learn about your attachment style, your partner's attachment style, and what secure attachment looks like, feels like, and sounds like you can make positive changes.

These positive changes include improvements in your intimate relationships, financial life, parenting, and sexual intimacy because each of these areas has a very high relational component to them.

Types Of Attachment Styles

There are four distinct attachment styles.

These include: 

  • Secure
  • Avoidant
  • Anxious
  • Disorganized

Avoidant, anxious, and disorganized styles are referred to as “insecure”.

This is not meant in a derogatory way and should not be used to beat yourself or your partner up. It means that you could not count on your primary caregivers to meet your emotional and relational needs when you were a child. This says more about who your parents were than about who you are.

However, now that you're an adult it's time to take responsibility for your attachment system so that you can live from a place of security.

If you are starting with one of the insecure attachment styles then you get to move towards “earned secure attachment”. Earned secure attachment will be a great gift as you move towards it as it allows you to trust both yourself and others.

Each of us has some elements of each type of attachment within us. We all use some of the aspects of each attachment style when we interact in our interpersonal relationships. However, there is a dominant one, and that's what we're addressing in this blog.

Secure Attachment Style

Secure individuals are able to easily move back and forth between being connected with their intimate partner and having time by themselves.

These individuals generally trust that their intimate partner will be there for them, understand them and care for them in times of distress. They have a relatively easy time with intimacy.

They also have an ability to go out into the world and take on new challenges and explore their environment in ways that are consistent with who they are and what they want to accomplish in their lives.

This does not mean their lives are without pain, disappointment, or fear. Rather, it means that as they face these inevitable parts of life they generally have the resilience to reassure themselves or turn to their intimate partner for support and care.

This style develops in an environment where one or both of the parents are consistently available to help their child through both emotional and practical realities of growing up. These parents value and convey both emotional and cognitive intelligence. Secure partners can be incredibly healing to other attachment styles due to their emotional stability and healthy patterns of behavior.

Avoidant Attachment Style

People who have an avoidant attachment style are more often self-reliant and generally more mistrustful that other people can be there to support or understand them. This style is sometimes called dismissive-avoidant attachment.

These individuals often feel anxious about romantic relationships. Their response to relationship anxiety is to not count on others and to feel ambivalent about closeness.

When it comes to going out into the world, they may be willing to take on new tasks and challenges but their fear of failure, looking bad, or not getting it right may block some of their progress and success.

They will often be unable to incorporate valuable feedback about their behavior because they are so self-reliant and don't trust others.

This style develops in a caregiving environment where one or both of the parents are consistently not there to meet their child at an emotional and/or a practical level. These parents downplay or dismiss the value of emotions as a source of information about what is happening in their lives.

Anxious Attachment Style

Anxious individuals often look to other people for validation and support. They crave closeness and intimacy. This style is often called the anxious-preoccupied attachment style.

These individuals have a difficult time trusting themselves and knowing how to meet their own needs.

They have attachment anxiety that makes them prefer meeting other people's needs rather than focusing on their own.

When it comes to going out into the world and taking on new challenges and experiences they may be highly social and engaging but have trouble maintaining initiative when they perceive someone as not approving of what they are doing.

This style develops in a caregiving environment where one or both parents tend to be overly involved in the child's emotional world and convey messages of uncertainty about whether the child can live up to expectations. The parents may have also used the children to meet their own emotional needs without much consideration of the child's emotional needs.

Disorganized Attachment Style

People who have a disorganized attachment style will tend to move back and forth between patterns of avoidant and anxious attachment. Sometimes also called a fearful-avoidant attachment style.

These individuals have the hardest time in romantic relationships and are mistrustful of both themselves and others. They generally do not believe that other people can be a source of support and care for them.

Going out into the world to take on challenges proves to be very difficult for them as they have a hard time figuring out who to trust and what to do when things are not going their way.

This style develops in response to home environments that are particularly chaotic and threatening and the parenting patterns are unpredictable.

How To Change Your Attachment Style

If you have an anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style, you're likely asking yourself “what can I do about it?”.

Changing your style of attachment style isn't easy.

Just having the knowledge of your particular attachment style will not be enough to change your patterns of attachment, but it is an important first step in the right direction. (take our free Attachment Style Quiz now to discover your attachment style).

Although it can be challenging, it's important to learn, grieve, and accept that your childhood experiences with caregiving created your attachment style.

I can remember when I first learned about the different styles of attachment. I completely dismissed the idea.

This was because I was in denial about my own need for caregiving. I was the person who was the caregiver for everyone else because I had an anxious attachment style. Now many years down the road I have moved closer to what is commonly referred to as “earned secure attachment”. You can too.

Learning

The first step to changing your attachment style is to learn about attachment styles.

I invite you to take a short quiz on my website about attachment styles.

This is a starting point for exploring your style.

There are also many great books and YouTube videos on the topic of attachment theory and attachment styles.

Learning about your attachment style and your partner's attachment style will provide you with new information about why you and your partner do what you do. This likely won't be enough to change everything about your relationship. However, it will move you in the right direction and start to build a new map of what your relationship can look like.

Attachment Theory

Healing Insecure Attachment - The Power of Eye Contact

One way to begin to heal insecure attachment styles is through connection. Because your attachment styles do not just reside in the thinking part of the brain, but throughout multiple regions of your brain, you have to find ways to create new relationship experiences that begin to rewire your brain.

Your actions, thoughts, and feelings that drive the way that you show up in relationships are mostly reflexive and unconscious.

Your job is to become aware of what you are doing and then find new ways to get your needs met.

One powerful way to start this process is by working on eye contact. Eye contact is one of the earliest parts of attachment bonding between the mother and baby. Eye contact communicates powerful messages beyond your thinking brain to the more relational parts of your brain.

I would like you to start with just becoming aware of how often you make eye contact in your intimate relationships. The less often you make eye contact the more likely you or your partner has one of the insecure attachment styles.

Healing your attachment style and moving towards earned secure attachment can also be greatly benefited by working with a mental health professional who has done study and training in attachment theory and models of therapy.

Living Secure

Every day is a chance to explore and become more curious about how you experience relationships and why you experience them the way you do.

Start looking for the exceptions to your attachment patterns when you have moments or experiences that feel secure in your relationship with yourself and your intimate partner.

You will have to practice and try to integrate what you learn about yourself and attachment.

It will at times feel awkward and uncomfortable as you are changing your orientation in life towards increasing security.

If you have a secure attachment style and your partner does not there is still an opportunity for you to grow in understanding yourself. Take time to become more conscious of how your parents and family cared for you and how that allowed you to experience security in relationships.

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