You may or may not have heard of attachment styles, but chances are you haven’t given them much thought. These four categorizations relate to how we behave in our relationships, both platonic and romantic, and can have a big impact on how they turn out. Here’s what you need to know about attachment styles and how they could impact your connections with other people.
What are attachment styles?
The Attachment Theory, developed by psychologist John Bowlby, begins in infancy. Essentially, how we relate to other people as adults is believed to stem back to our relationship with our parents or caretakers as infants. Attachment theory is not the same as just bonding with a child. Instead, attachment styles are determined when the child can see their main caretaker as a secure base where they have their needs met. In instances where people have unhealthy attachment styles, their needs, whether emotional or physical, weren’t met (at least not consistently). Research from the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health explains that children establish mental models of themselves and others stemming from their parents’ actions, leading to the establishment of your attachment style.
The four main attachment styles
- Secure A secure attachment style develops when the caregivers respond to the child’s distress in a stable, gentle, loving way. For example, the parent always comforts their crying child. So, how they cope with stressful situations is “organized” and makes the child feel secure. Someone with a secure attachment style grows up to be an adult who has healthy relationships. They’re able to establish boundaries, communicate their feelings clearly, and get close to people without hesitation. It’s not to say that people with secure attachment styles never have relationship problems, but they’re probably not to do with how you relate to people.
- Avoidant An avoidant attachment style is often referred to as dismissive. This attachment style can form if the caretaker seems indifferent to meeting the child’s needs. The infant learns to minimize their own needs in order to keep their parent or caregiver happy. Someone with an avoidant attachment style will likely go to great lengths to avoid being close to other people and become uncomfortable quickly when people attempt to break down their walls.
- Anxious Anxious attachment styles are also referred to as preoccupied or anxious-ambivalent attachment. This can form if the parent or caregiver is not consistent with meeting the child’s emotional or physical needs, so the uncertainty can result in anxiety. For example, sometimes they comfort their crying infant. Other times, they get angry if their child is upset. It can also be the result of parents being over-protective of their kids or using them for emotional support. An anxious attachment style can often lead those who have it to be clingy or needy in relationships as they tend to have abandonment issues.
- Disorganized or Fearful A disorganized attachment style can form if the parent or caregiver regularly does not meet their infant’s needs and respond to distress – be it emotional or physical. Those with this attachment style will often be both anxious and avoidant. They tend to have a low view of themselves and others. While they’re desperate to become close to other people, their fear of being hurt often keeps them from being able to establish deep connections. They’re often of two minds, leading them to have erratic behavior.
How attachment styles impact relationships
- Communication Communication is vital for a healthy relationship, but some attachment styles struggle with this. People with a secure attachment style might find it easier since when they communicated as children, they had their needs met. Someone with an anxious attachment style might struggle to set boundaries because they’re afraid their partner will leave otherwise. Meanwhile, avoidant people might not communicate at all, and disorganized people can be inconsistent and contradict themselves, leaving their partner more confused.
- Your sex life Sex is a huge part of a relationship that is impacted by attachment. People with disorganized attachment styles might crave intimacy but are fearful once they get it. So, this can result in self-sabotaging behavior to keep people away, like picking fights or withdrawing affection, or seeming like they’re somewhere else while having sex. Anxiously attached people are more at risk of domestic violence because they might struggle to say no to their partner for fear of pushing them away. While avoidant partners might enjoy having sex, but they tend not to do so to feel closer to their partner.
- How you trust It’s not uncommon for people with insecure attachment styles to struggle to trust others. Securely attached people might trust their partner until they give them a reason not to, but those who are anxiously attached are fearful of being abandoned, so they can come across as paranoid. While people with disorganized attachment styles are unsure they deserve love and relationships, they can also be suspicious about their partner’s intentions which can cause friction. Avoidant people will rarely consider trusting someone enough to be vulnerable or reach out for help.
- Confidence Your partner’s self-esteem can play a bigger role in your relationship than you think. It might not cross your mind if you and your partner are both secure. Avoidant partners can be pretty confident too, though they might seem less down-to-earth about it. If you’re dating someone who is anxiously attached, you might spend a lot of time reassuring them that you love them. Disorganized people can also struggle with insecurity and feel like they’re undeserving of love.
- How you treat your partner Attachment styles are not just about how you receive love but how you treat others. We’ve all heard of someone blowing up their partner’s phone because they didn’t reply to a text immediately; this person likely has an anxious attachment style. They want love but are very fearful about losing it. So sometimes their behavior seems overbearing – and pushes their partner away, despite being the opposite of what they want. Disorganized people can also push their partner away, While, people dating someone with an avoidant attachment style may feel unappreciated because their partner seems cold and aloof.
- How vulnerable you allow yourself to be In a healthy relationship, you and your partner can be vulnerable with one another, which fosters a sense of intimacy and closeness. People with avoidant attachment styles might seem cold in relationships. They don’t let people get too close to them for fear of getting hurt, so it can be hard to maintain long-term relationships without being vulnerable. If you have a secure attachment style, you generally feel open and wear your heart on your sleeve. So, you find it easier to be warm and connect with other people. While someone who is disorganized might pull away when things get too intimate.
- How you handle conflict Conflict is inevitable in relationships, but how you handle it can make or break the relationship. This is something insecure attachment styles can really struggle with. Someone with an avoidant attachment style might find a reason to break up the second the relationship gets serious because they’re overwhelmed by the idea of intimacy, but an anxiously attached partner might overreact because they’re scared it means the relationship is over.
Can you change your attachment style?
Most people seem to be set in their ways, especially because most people are unaware of attachment theory and the root cause of reoccurring patterns in their life. But, it’s not hopeless, research from Berkley’s Greater Good magazine suggests you can change your attachment style and forge healthier relationships with some work and support.