Ever wonder why people behave in certain ways in relationships? For instance—there are some people who are extremely loyal, committed to relationships but may be extremely clingy. Then on the opposite spectrum there are those who are extremely independent and want their space. And sometimes to the point it’s difficult to get any time with that person. There are many people who can handle conflict very well, then there are others who don’t handle confrontation well at all. We have people who are avoidant, people who are distrustful of their partners no matter how faithful or trustworthy they are, they are sensitive to criticism, hungry for approval, overly rigid, guarded and have difficulty expressing their needs and wants. Then there are those who constantly question their partners’ loyalty and faithfulness even when it is not warranted. Many will also seek out external validation and have difficulty with not receiving it and in an attempt to gain it, will engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. If any of the previous statements sound familiar regarding anyone you know, this article may be extremely informative for you!
There are 4 basic types of attachment styles in relationships which include: Secure, Anxious, Avoidant, and Anxious-Avoidant. These 4 attachment styles will be discussed in this article.
Secure attachment style – is adopted when a partner can engage in a healthy and intimate relationship with positive communication and is autonomous with or without the other partner. They can handle and resolve conflict well, they are able to be attentive and affectionate, as well as accepting, and they can express their needs with their partner while finding the relationship fulfilling. Now, while they are committed to the relationship—they are also independent. They can have friends of their own and activities they enjoy doing without their partner. They do not base their entire lives on their partner to have to be with their partner 100% of the time. They enjoy shared activities but also have their own that they enjoy as well. This is healthy. No two people should have to be with each other 100% of the time. (Ltd, 2022)
Anxious (also known as preoccupied) attachment style – is adopted when a partner worries significantly about their partner’s own availability and commitment and feels incomplete without their partner around them. They may seek excessive reassurance and struggle with excessive jealousy. This can play a huge factor in many arguments with couples because the partner is so wrapped up in what the partner “might be” doing that they are almost looking for their partner to have made a mistake or finding a reason to be jealous of. Not that they consciously “want” that but that is their subconscious fear. They fear that they will be hurt again and why not? It’s a repetitive pattern for those with anxious attachment styles. (Ltd, 2022)
People with anxious attachment are extremely distrustful of their partner and/or relationship, they are afraid of rejection, being abandoned and conflict. They are also very sensitive to criticism and hungry for approval, in which they will seek out validation continually. Many partners also often idolize or idealize their partners or future partners, leading to many significant disappointments, repeatedly. Asking for constant validation can be taxing on a partner and difficult to maintain when a person is requiring so much constant vying for reassurance. (Ltd, 2022)
Avoidant (also known as dismissive) attachment style – is adopted when a partner comes across as either apathetic, or aloof, emotionally detached or just not quite “in it to win it”. They often avoid intimacy, being vulnerable, or any sign of commitment which can send them through a tailspin. Partners with anxious attachment style will often try to spend a significant amount of time away from their partners. They can be overly rigid, guarded, and distant from their partners, significantly uncomfortable with any type of emotions or conflict, avoiding conflict at all costs, and have extreme difficulty with expressing their own needs and wants. (Ltd, 2022)
Anxious-Avoidant (Also known as fearful-avoidant or disorganized) attachment style – is adopted when a person is not only afraid of being intimate or in a committed relationship but also distrusts and typically lashes out at anyone who tries to get close to them. Many will spend their time alone, miserable, or in abusive and dysfunctional relationships. Many have difficulty regulating their emotions, have negative views, skewed negative perception, poor response to negative emotions, and a highly elevated level of anxiety. The signs of being with someone who has a fearful avoidant attachment may include—highly emotional and stormy relationships, conflicting feelings about being in relationships both wanting and fearing being hurt or left by a significant other, a tendency to seek out faults in partners so they have an excuse to leave the relationship, resistance to commitment and intimacy, fears of inadequacy, and withdrawing from relationships when things become intimate or overly emotional. (Ltd, 2022)
How did it all begin?
According to psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the 1950’s, a child’s early formative life with caregivers will predict the way a child approaches social interactions and relationships throughout life. If a child is brought up in a nurturing and caring / warm environment, the child will develop a secure bond. The child will learn that people can be trusted. Now, vice versa, if a child’s needs are unmet, the child can’t build that secure and stable bond with his/her caregivers which leads to distorted perceptions of how relationships work. (Ltd, 2022)
For those with an anxious attachment style:
Due to inconsistent parenting pattern, anxious attachment style develops when there is inconsistency the child might not know what kind of response to expect in the future and might end up confused about his or her relationship because of mixed signals sent. Sometimes a parent may be intrusive or over-protective to satiate their own hunger for love. A child who grows up to have an anxious attachment style will:
- Self-sacrifice and put others’ needs first.
- Struggle with being alone or without a relationship for extended periods of time.
- Connect and/or correlate relationships and intimacy strongly with feelings of self-worth; therefore, the person may crave attention and try to seek external validation in attempts to gain it.
- Fear criticism, rejection, and abandonment. Therefore, you may become highly distressed at any form of disapproval from your partner.
- Others may end up taking advantage of your kind and generous nature, because you are so attentive to others’ needs.
For those with an avoidant attachment style:
Avoidant attachment develops when a child has a parent or caregiver who is emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to their needs on a consistent basis. Babies and infants with an avoidant attachment style may also have been faced with repeated discouragement from expressing outward emotion. Maybe as a baby, or young child your parents consistently used the “CIO” method (Crying it out) where they allowed you to “self-soothe”, which most parents thought previously was a good idea because they didn’t want to coddle or make you “spoiled”. This, however, was an ineffective method of parenting/caregiving which caused a child to believe they were not heard and at the same time, alone to fend for themselves—and that no one is coming to the rescue. While maybe done with good intentions, it was not effective. In fact, it could be postulated as having a quite detrimental effect to the contrary.
The parent or caregiver of a child who has avoidant attachment may:
- lack knowledge and empathy on how to support their child
- feel overwhelmed by responsibilities of caregiving
- been raised by a caregiver who themselves had an avoidant or other insecure attachment style with no other known type of secure bond (i.e. positive factors – friends, family members involved)
Children with avoidant attachment can also learn to disconnect from their own feelings, needs and wants. These children may learn to self-soothe and feel as though they can only rely on themselves. As a result, they have little motivation or trust in others, to seek help or support from others as they have been let down many times over.
An adult with avoidant attachment style may also avoid emotional closeness in relationships and may avoid all types of other people who have attachment styles that express themselves as “clingy” when the other is simply wanting to be closer emotionally. They have difficulties with expressing their emotions, they may suppress their own emotions, withdraw, and cope with difficult situations alone, they may complain, hide what is wrong, and have tendencies to suppress negative memories. Many people with avoidant attachment styles will also tune out from unpleasant conversations, have a very strong fear of rejection, a false, strong sense of independence(Out of a need for having to be overly dependent upon themselves), false sense of self-esteem while having negative views of others, becoming overly focused on their own needs and comforts without regards or having little empathy for others, and have most likely learned to appear confident and self-sufficient in the workplace or academia arena. Whereas they may not tolerate emotional or physical intimacy (although deep down they crave it), they may not be able to build healthy relationships without insight into their own behaviors and attachment style. It is however, possible to build a secure attachment style with better self-awareness and insight.
My parents did the best they could
Now while one may say – My parents did the best they could and I have no memories of severe trauma from them, it’s because trauma is in the eye of the beholder. This could have a significant impact on your relationships today because of how you formed a bond with your caregivers in the initial stages of early childhood. There are also those attachment styles that have an impact on memory networks whereas a child that grows into an adult can even suppress negative memories due to the traumatic nature of them and the adult might have an inability to process them adaptively. Also—an adult may perceive their adult parents and “normalize” their behaviors to justify the behaviors they experienced as children. Behaviors such as “helicopter parenting” or “on again, off again parenting” whereas the parent is extremely volatile, and child does not know when the parent will explode thus learning to read all emotions in the room. Some children will just say that their parents had bad days, but don’t realize that there could be memories stored in those memory networks that have recreated dynamic patterns in their own relationships currently in their own lives and the way they look at relationships which are not necessarily healthy.
There is no judgment on any parent who has an attachment style that is not conducive to the child’s growth because children do not come with a manual and most parents tend to parent from their own wounds. Many parents and/or caregivers are only caregiving the way that they were themselves were taught as many do no understand that there are better and more effective ways of caregiving which will result in less damaging and detrimental effects on children’s bonds with their caregivers and future relationships. The end goal is to ultimately reduce the negative impact of any insecure attachment style caregiving effect on a child.
Having any type of insecure attachment style is not a conscious choice. The way we form relationships as adults has a significant way to do with the way we formed our first social bonds as children and with our caregivers.
Learning how to cope with a partner who has anxious, and/or avoidant (including fearful-avoidant) attachment styles:
- Encourage openness and transparency, but don’t push the issue too far because people who are fearfully avoidant will end up lashing out and we want to respect others’ boundaries without setting others’ off.
- If they need their space, allow them to have their space. Sometimes that is for the best.
- Be reassuring but not enabling and don’t take it personally.
- Value yourself and others.
- Define your boundaries.
- Understand more about your own personal attachment style and it’s affects yours have on you and those around you.
- Consider therapy with a knowledgeable professional. (Ltd, 2022)
Wrapping it all up.
“Attachment” is the ultimate way that humans learn interaction and communication with one another and while some people may have healthy, strong attachment styles, others may have some that are less than secure, which can lead to self-destructive behaviors, such as avoiding relationships altogether or fearing intimacy, while craving it concurrently.
The great news is that you do not have to be defined by your attachment style and can change it with a great deal of understanding from those in your life that surround you. By working on yourself and by building intimate secure relationships that will help enable you to feel safe, secure and those that leave you fulfilled you can increase the likelihood of success at modifying and even changing your attachment style. (Ltd, 2022).
Ltd, M. P. (2022, September 12). /blog/four-attachment-styles/. Retrieved from The Attachment Project: https://www.attachmentproject.com/