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Relationship Attachment Styles

Relationship Attachment Styles

Attachment is the bond we form with our first primary caregiver, usually a parent. It’s a universal human phenomenon that starts as early as in the womb, and the way we develop it eventually affects the way we find, keep, and end relationships.

From an evolutionary perspective, cultivating strong relationships and maintaining them has both survival and reproductive advantages. After all, most of us do ‘need to belong’ and do want closeness and intimacy in our lives.

Yet, love and relationships are rarely as perfect and problem-free as we would like them to be. For severe cases of negative relationship attachment styles, trauma treatment may be required.

The best way to learn your attachment style is to go to a therapist. Specifically, a trauma-informed therapist.

Whatever your specific relationship attachment styles and problems, it’s important to know that your mental health or brain remains capable of change throughout life. By identifying your attachment style, you can learn to challenge your insecurities, develop a more securely attached way of relating to others, and build stronger, healthier, and more fulfilling relationships.

Attachment Styles and How They Shape Adult Relationships

Originally developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby and later expanded by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory says a person’s early relationships in life — especially with their caregivers — greatly inform and impact their romantic relationship attachment styles later in life.

They believed that a person was born with an innate drive to become attached to their caregiver (usually, the mother).

But the availability (or inability) of their caregiver and the quality of that care shaped what that bond or lack of bond looked like — and ultimately, what that person’s romantic bonds will look like as an adult.

Relationship Attachment Styles
Anxious and avoidant people find intimacy more of a struggle. Contact us to get mental health care.

The success of attachment isn’t impacted by socio-economic factors such as wealth, education, ethnicity, or culture. Neither is having an insecure attachment style as an adult reason to blame all your relationship problems onto your parent. Your personality and intervening experiences during childhood, adolescence, and adult life can also play a role in shaping your attachment style.

What is Attachment Theory?

The theory of attachment was originally developed by John Bowlby (1907 – 1990), a British psychoanalyst who was attempting to understand the intense distress experienced by infants who had been separated from their parents. Bowlby observed that separated infants would go to extraordinary lengths (e.g., crying, clinging, frantically searching) to prevent separation from their parents or to reestablish proximity to a missing parent. At the time of Bowlby’s initial writings, psychoanalytic writers held that these expressions were manifestations of immature defense mechanisms that were operating to repress emotional pain, but Bowlby noted that such expressions are common to a wide variety of mammalian species, and speculated that these behaviors may serve an evolutionary function. [1]

Although Bowlby was primarily focused on understanding the nature of the infant-caregiver relationship, he believed that attachment characterized human experience from “the cradle to the grave.” It was not until the mid-1980s, however, that researchers began to take seriously the possibility that attachment processes may play out in adulthood. Hazan and Shaver (1987) were two of the first researchers to explore Bowlby’s ideas in the context of romantic relationship attachment styles. According to Hazan and Shaver, the emotional bond that develops between adult romantic partners is partly a function of the same motivational system–the attachment behavioral system–that gives rise to the emotional bond between infants and their caregivers.

Perhaps the most provocative and controversial implication of adult attachment theory is that a person’s attachment style as an adult is shaped by his or her interactions with parental attachment figures. Although the idea that early attachment experiences might have an influence on attachment style in romantic relationships is relatively uncontroversial, hypotheses about the source and degree of overlap between the two kinds of attachment orientations have been controversial.

There are at least two issues involved in considering the question of stability: (a) How much similarity is there between the security people experience with different people in their lives (e.g., mothers, fathers, romantic partners)? and (b) With respect to any one of these relationship attachment styles, how stable is security over time?

Relationship Attachment Styles
Securely attached people generally had a healthy childhood and are better at approaching intimate relationships.

How Does Each of the 3 Relationship Attachment Styles Manifest in adults?

If you experienced confusing, frightening, or inconsistent emotional communication during infancy, though, if your caregiver was unable to consistently comfort you or respond to your needs, you’re more likely to have experienced an unsuccessful or insecure attachment. Infants with insecure attachment often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others, limiting their ability to build or maintain stable relationships. They may find it difficult to connect to others, shy away from intimacy, or be too clingy, fearful, or anxious in a relationship.

Of course, experiences that occur between infancy and adulthood can also impact and shape our relationships. However, the infant’s brain is so profoundly influenced by the attachment bond, understanding your attachment style can offer vital clues as to why you may be having problems in your adult relationship attachment styles. 

Anxious Attachment Style in Relationships

Also known as “anxious-ambivalent” or just “anxious” attachment, these folks are generally perceived as needy.

You may have anxious attachment if your primary caregiver failed to consistently support your needs or come when you called, explains Carolina Pataky, LMFT, co-founder of the Love Discovery Institute in Florida. [2]

This type of attachment is common for people whose parent(s) traveled often for work.

For instance, if the parent was away on business and not available Monday through Friday but very present Saturday and Sunday.

Or, folks people whose parent(s) were going through their own struggles. Think divorce, job loss, death of a parent, depression, etc.

Someone with anxious attachment is constantly afraid that they’re going to be rejected or neglected.

To quell those fears, they’ll often engage in obsessive behaviors like texting 24/7, refreshing their partner’s social media, or overcommunicating.

Typically, they find themselves in super co-dependent relationships with other anxiously attached folks.

They may also lust after avoidant-attached folks because the dynamic is similar to what they had with their parents.

Avoidant Attachment Style in Relationships

Ever meet someone who seemed like they had no feelings at all? They were likely avoidant-attached.

When a caregiver dismisses a child’s needs or treats those needs as superfluous, eventually the child stops stating their needs altogether.

Instead, they turn inward, shut down, and (hopefully) learn to become independent and self-reliant.

As adults, they seek isolation, independence, and often come across as self-absorbed, selfish, or cold.

“People with this attachment style tend to view emotions and connections as relatively unimportant,” says mental health professional Jor-El Caraballo EdM, a relationship expert and co-creator of Viva Wellness.

As a result, they don’t often prioritize relationships.

It’s common for avoidant-attached folks to avoid relationships altogether. Or, to have one semi-serious relationship after the other, without ever fully committing.

Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Style in Relationships

Adults with an avoidant-dismissive insecure attachment style are the opposite of those who are ambivalent or anxious-preoccupied. Instead of craving intimacy, they’re so wary of closeness they try to avoid emotional connection with others. They’d rather not rely on others or have others rely on them.

How avoidant attachment style affects adult relationships

As someone with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style, you tend to find it difficult to tolerate emotional intimacy. You value your independence and freedom to the point where you can feel uncomfortable with, even stifled by, intimacy and closeness in a romantic relationship.

  • You’re an independent person, content to care for yourself and don’t feel you need others.
  • The more someone tries to get close to you or the needier a partner becomes, the more you tend to withdraw.
  • You’re uncomfortable with your emotions and partners often accuse you of being distant and closed off, rigid and intolerant. In return, you accuse them of being too needy.
  • You’re prone to minimize or disregard your partner’s feelings, keep secrets from them, engage in affairs, and even end relationships in order to regain your sense of freedom.
  • You may prefer fleeting, casual relationships to long-term intimate ones, or you seek out partners who are equally independent, ones who’ll keep their distance emotionally.
  • While you may think you don’t need close relationships or intimacy, the truth is we all do. Humans are hardwired for connection and deep down, even someone with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style wants a close meaningful relationship—if only they could overcome their deep-seated fears of intimacy.

An avoidant-dismissive attachment style often stems from a parent who was unavailable or rejecting during your infancy. Since your needs were never regularly or predictably met by your caregiver, you were forced to distance yourself emotionally and try to self-soothe. This built a foundation of avoiding intimacy and craving independence in later life—even when that independence and lack of intimacy causes its own distress.

Therapy For Negative Relationship Styles

A therapist will help you explore and dissect the nuance of your life and then help you as you work on attachment issues that require your attention and skill-building.

Relationship Attachment Styles
This is often because of a trauma in early life, such as neglect, poor parenting, or an abusive relationship. Contact us to get help with trauma treatment.

How To Approach Different Relationship Attachment Styles:

  • Going to therapy. Using therapy to make sense of your past, identify your patterns, or come to terms with the underlying mechanisms can help.
  • Developing relationships with more securely attached people. This will help you learn what secure attachment looks like.
  • Communicating with partner(s). Regular communication can help you both manage expectations, build trust within the relationship, and maintain personal boundaries.

Even if your trauma happened many years ago, there are steps you can take to overcome the pain, regain your emotional balance, and learn to trust and connect in relationships again.

Most people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Some may experience symptoms of shock and distress, and most will recover within a short period. Meanwhile, a minority will experience more long-term traumatic effects, such as the development of PTSD. That is when therapy and self-care can help those with persistent trauma symptoms. Certainly, professional trauma-informed treatment can manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Too often, trauma leads to alcoholism or drug abuse.  [3]

At the We Level Up FL treatment center, we provide world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. All working as a team providing primary relationship attachment styles treatment along with co-occurring secondary trauma treatment for successful recovery. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions. Your call is private and confidential and there is never any obligation.

Sources:

[1] Adult Attachment Theory and Research – http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm
[2] Attachment Theory Plays a Role in Relationships — Here’s What That Means for You – https://www.healthline.com/health/relationships/attachment-theory
[3] We Level Up » Trauma Treatment