By Madison Wise, LPC Associate
If you follow any relationship specialists on social media, it’s likely you’ve heard something about “attachment styles.” But what are they exactly? Your attachment style speaks to the ways you relate to others. It is an imprint from childhood – our attachment styles were formed in response to the care we received, or did not receive, from our caregivers. Attachment styles reflect the ways we were able to attach to our caregivers as an infant when our survival depended on them. Could we reliably count on them to meet our needs? Were they dependable and predictable? If the answer is mostly yes, it’s likely we formed a secure attachment, in which our needs were reliably met and we could trust that our caregivers would be there for us when we needed them. If not, we may have formed an insecure attachment, and used various coping skills to try to meet our own needs, to protect ourselves, and to prevent pain.
As we grow and mature, this attachment imprint sets the stage for our ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with others. It is most noticeably reflected through our relationships with romantic partners, although it also shows up in our relationships with friends, coworkers, spiritual figures, and so on. Attachment is typically broken down into two categories – secure or insecure – and the insecure category is further broken down into three types: anxious, avoidant, and fearful avoidant (also known as disorganized).
Secure attachment is characterized by a sense of ease and trust in your partnerships. You’re likely to form and maintain relationships with ease, and to trust that your partners want to be with you, and will reliably show up for you when you need them to.
Anxious attachment is characterized by a preoccupation with relationships, a fear of abandonment or rejection, and reaching for connection. You might worry incessantly that your partner has changed their mind about you, and stay on the lookout for the slightest sign that is the case, whether through their tone of voice or the way they respond to a text.
Avoidant attachment is characterized by – you guessed it – avoidance of intimacy or the deprioritization of close relationships. You might notice a desire to turn away from close connections, avoid conflict, and dismiss both your own and your partner’s emotions. This avoidance is not necessarily a conscious decision, so much as it is a reaction and aversion to intimacy.
The fourth style, fearful avoidant, or, disorganized attachment, is characterized by a mix of both anxious and avoidant tendencies. With a disorganized attachment, you might notice a preoccupation with relationships – a longing for closeness and intimacy – coupled with an intense fear of rejection or abandonment that causes you to pull away rather than move towards the relationship in question. You want love, and you’re also scared of it.
So which attachment style do you have? To figure that out, a good starting place is to reflect on your childhood and your relationships with your caregivers, to look for patterns in your adult relationships, and to pay attention to your emotional reactions in relationship. In addition to our childhood experiences, our attachment style is also shaped by our early romantic relationships, traumatic experiences, and our sensitivity. It can be helpful to talk with a therapist about your patterns of attachment, to both identify your style and, if insecure, to help you move towards earned secure attachment. Our attachment styles are not set in stone – they can grow and shift with us. Developing a coherent narrative of what your attachment style is, how it developed, and what experiences shaped it is a great step towards developing an earned secure attachment style.
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