What is attachment theory?
The basic premise of Attachment Theory explores how human beings form relationships and examines why it is that people vary substantially in their approaches. The developer of this theory, John Bowlby, began observing the interaction and connections between parents and their newborns. The extremely vulnerable nature of infants causes them to attach to their parents when they feel threatened or unsafe. As they grow into children, they adapt their attachment style based on the relationship that they have with their parents. As a very basic example, children with supportive and emotionally available parents will grow up believing that most people are trustworthy. Children with distant parents, however, will believe the opposite.
While it initially began as a study between a parent and child, attachment theory now goes a step further to prove that we transfer our attachment styles into the relationships we develop as adults. Our attachment styles are determined at a very young age and are therefore deeply ingrained in our belief systems; this plays a major impact in our approach to every relationship we have – romantic or otherwise.
What are the attachment styles and how do they shape your relationships?
While many people are a combination of attachment styles, there are 4 major umbrellas under which these styles fall: secure attachment, anxious-preoccupied attachment, dismissive-avoidant attachment, and fearful avoidant attachment.
Of the four styles, secure attachment is the healthiest and most mature. People with secure attachment experience far more relational satisfaction than the others. Children with secure attachment view their parents as safe and trustworthy, so they’re able to transfer and project this view onto their adult relationships. In their adult relationships, they’re able to maintain a healthy combination of independence and connection. They are more confident in the self, which allows them to feel more confident in their relationships. They also have generally higher emotional intelligence levels and are able to navigate through the ups and downs of relationships in a healthy manner.
Like the name suggests, those with anxious-preoccupied attachment often feel anxious and insecure in their relationships. They’re fearful of losing their partner and are constantly using them to seek validation. This causes them to become clingy and possessive of their friends and partners. They dislike being alone and see any independence from their partner as a sign of betrayal. Ironically, the things they do to try maintaining their relationships are actually the things that push people away.
The dismissive-avoidant attachment style generally causes people to be emotionally unavailable. These people may come across as independent, but it’s actually their fear of vulnerability and openness that keeps them at bay. They have a tendency to shut down and put up walls in their relationships. Oftentimes they’ll internally deny the importance of human connection and don’t have many close friends or partners because of this. Stereotypically, people with a dismissive-avoidant style generally have “commitment issues.”
Those with a fearful-avoidant attachment style struggle with a lot of internal conflict. They crave intimacy, yet at the same time are fearful of growing close to others. They are suspicious of other people, so although they would like to experience closeness (similar to those who are anxious-preoccupied), they will shut down and push others away (similar to the dismissive-avoidant). Fearful-avoidants struggle with this paradox of needing secure attachment but rejecting it when it comes their way.
Because your attachment style has been with you for the entirety of your life, it can be extremely difficult to break away. Yet with experienced counseling, you can make significant changes in the way you relate to others. If you’re interested in learning how to cope with your style and change your behaviors, contact me today.