Recognizing Our Attachment Style Can Help Us in Our Relationships
The attachment theory was first developed in the 1950s by psychologist John Bowlby to explain how people develop emotional attachments as infants with their first caregiver — typically a parent. His findings suggest that childhood is a critical time where attachment patterns are established. Since then, multiple studies have come to the same conclusion, believing that those patterns continue to function as the framework for how we interact and choose our relationships in adulthood.
Research suggests that forming secure attachments with our caregivers during childhood positively impacts our behavior throughout life. Our attachment style affects our partner choices and influences our relationship patterns. Therefore, recognizing our attachment style can help us highlight the strengths we bring to a relationship and identify room for growth.
Although attachment styles develop early in life, it’s never too late to change. With patience and dedication, you can learn to form secure attachments and improve your relationships as an adult. The first step toward making that shift is identifying your current attachment style.
4 Relationship Attachment Styles
Your attachment style can have a significant impact on the relationships you form throughout life. If you find yourself experiencing the same issues in all of your relationships, your attachment style could be the root of the problem. Knowing your relationship style can help you build stronger connections in the future.
While your initial attachment style will develop during childhood, it may change as you form relationships throughout life. Some people even display multiple styles at the same time. Here are the four types of attachment styles that could affect how you interact with others.
1. Secure Attachment Style
A secure attachment is an ideal foundation for a healthy relationship. People who form secure attachments had dependable caregivers who made them feel safe and secure. They made their best effort to understand your cues and meet your needs as often as possible.
Adults with a secure attachment style usually have more satisfying relationships. While they’re far from perfect, relationships based on a secure attachment are resilient to life’s challenges. You take responsibility for your actions and are willing to reach out when you need support.
If you have a secure attachment style, you may express the following traits:
- You’re honest and trusting with your partner.
- You communicate your hopes, needs and feelings openly.
- You’re comfortable being yourself around the other person.
- You can overcome conflict and move forward in the relationship.
- You can rely on your partner for support and offer the same to them.
- You don’t experience separation anxiety when your partner is away.
2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style
Adults with inconsistent caregivers during childhood develop an anxious-preoccupied attachment style. Their parents may have been engaged and attentive sometimes and too busy or distracted other times. If you have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style, that doesn’t mean your parents didn’t love or take good care of you. It only suggests your emotional needs were met inconsistently as an infant.
As a result, you demand more attention and care in your adult relationships. If you have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style, you may exhibit the following qualities:
- You seek a sense of safety and security by hanging on to your partner.
- You lack self-confidence and worry your partner doesn’t love you.
- You want to form a close relationship but have trouble building trust.
- You crave constant attention and reassurance from your significant other.
- You’re afraid to give your partner space or alone time.
- You tend to overreact during an actual or imagined conflict.
- You become overly fixated on the relationship.
3. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style
Dismissive-avoidant attachment style typically develops in adults who felt rejected during infancy. Your caregiver failed to meet your emotional needs, so you learned to distance yourself from others and self-soothe. They have the opposite approach to relationships compared to the anxious-preoccupied style. Instead of constant attention, they prefer their freedom. Adults who display dismissive-avoidant attachment styles in relationships are often afraid of intimacy, which is crucial for building a healthy relationship.
If you’ve formed the dismissive-avoidant attachment style, you may identify with the following characteristics:
- You’re afraid of relying on others and letting others depend on you.
- You emotionally distance yourself from your partner.
- You struggle to maintain long-term relationships.
- You view intimacy as losing your independence.
- You will end a relationship if you feel too controlled.
- You push people away when they try to connect with you.
4. Disorganized Attachment Style
Adults who formed the disorganized attachment style often experienced trauma or neglect during their childhood. Their caregiver was their only source of comfort, but they also created a sense of intense fear. Forming a disorganized attachment style makes it difficult to develop healthy relationships later in life.
Childhood trauma can make you feel insecure and unworthy of love. You might also feel scared and unsafe in relationships and the world in general. People with a disorganized attachment style struggle with unhealed pain from previous losses and abuse. Some adults become abusive themselves because that’s how they learned to interact as a child.
The following traits are common in people with a disorganized attachment style:
- You tend to have dysfunctional relationships.
- You have difficulty regulating your emotions — swing from love to hate.
- You may suffer from one or more mental health disorders.
- You want to form a trusting relationship but don’t feel worthy.
- You’re afraid of being hurt or rejected by your partner.
- You display abusive behaviors toward your partner.
How to Form Secure Attachments
Recognizing the different attachment styles can help you understand your behavior in relationships. The attachment framework we learn in childhood does not necessarily dictate how our relationships will be in adulthood. In identifying your attachment style, you can figure out why your defenses and emotional walls are up. By figuring out our growth areas and practicing healthy and intentional ways of being, we can work towards the thriving and emotionally secure relationships we want and deserve.
No matter which attachment style you have, it’s possible to achieve secure relationships in the future. Working with a therapist individually or with your partner can have a significant impact on your behavior. Therapists can help you overcome your past experiences and learn how to form a healthy relationship as an adult. You can improve your attachment patterns in relationships by working on the following skills:
- Communication: An essential part of forming a healthy relationship is learning how to communicate. You should be able to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner to make an intimate connection. You must also learn how to listen when your partner is communicating with you. It will help you understand each other better and resolve conflict when it arises.
- Emotional intelligence: Before you can communicate your emotions, you must understand them yourself. Your emotional intelligence measures how well you can recognize and manage your thoughts and feelings. It helps you express your emotional needs to your partner. Building your emotional intelligence can help you form healthier attachment styles and relationships.
- Trust: Childhood trauma has a significant impact on your ability to form relationships as an adult. It’s helpful to deal with those unresolved feelings of helplessness and anxiety. While you can’t undo the past, you can learn how to build trusting relationships in the future.
- Compatibility: Two people with insecure attachment styles can work toward a healthier relationship. However, if you’re currently single, there are benefits to choosing a partner with a secure attachment style. They can provide a solid support system to help you learn positive relationship behaviors.
If you identify with anything mentioned above and feel stuck in an unresolved attachment style, please give me a call. I would love to help you engage in the relationship you deserve.
Strengthening Your Relationships With Stanford Couples Counseling
If you and your partner are struggling with insecure relationship attachment styles, Stanford Couples Counseling is here to help. Our exceptional therapists create actionable plans to help you make significant progress in your relationships. We strive to help our clients make change happen by setting and achieving measurable goals.
Our marriage and family therapists can help you improve your mental health and heal your relationships. We work with individuals and couples to help you learn better communication, conflict management and other valuable skills.