Attachment Styles

Young couple traveler looking at sea of mist and sunset over the mountain at Mae Hong Son,

Simply put, our attachment style is how we relate and connect to others. It is how we form an emotional bond to others. In childhood, our relationship with our primary caregivers are of utmost importance. Specifically, our caregivers sensitivity and responsiveness to us in early childhood create dynamics that can imprint attachment styles that impact our relationships as adults (Is this why we love attachment parenting? Yup!)

The primary attachment styles are: anxious (sometimes referred to as ambivalent or preoccupied), anxious-avoidant (fearful-avoidant or disorganized), avoidant (dismissive), and secure.

Read on for more information on what childhood events typically cause these styles along with what they present as in adulthood, and to take our attachment style quiz!

Anxious (ambivalent or preoccupied) Attachment Style

In childhood, these individuals had parents who were unreliable and did not consistently meet their needs. These caregivers were not sensitive to or responsive to the needs of their infants. Some common examples of this could be a parent who was struggling with substance use issues or mental health concerns. Sometimes individuals who identify with this attachment style still find themselves seeking approval and validation from their parents while in adulthood, or, find they are still emotionally dependent on their parents in adulthood.

Individuals who are anxiously attached find themselves having a strong desire for intimacy and connection, yet also find themselves constantly worrying about or doubting the relationship/partner. Low self-esteem and self-image are common, yet these individuals tend to view others as being generally positive. Meaning, they find others to be more worthy and more lovable than they are. These individuals need higher levels of attention from their partners and base their sense of validation/approval on others.

Avoidant (dismissive) Attachment Style

In childhood, these infants tended to avoid interaction with their caregivers, and, their caregivers tended to avoid or reject attempts at connection and intimacy. These are caregivers who did not display sensitivity or responsiveness to their infants. They may be uncomfortable with physical contact/affection with their children or may be more easily angered by their infants.  

As adults, individuals whose attachment style is avoidant experience high self-image of themselves and hold a more negative view of others. They are usually uncomfortable with emotional intimacy or connection with others. Individuality, autonomy, independence, freedom—these are all far more important to these individuals than relationship or connecting with others. In fact, these individuals may view depending on others as a sign of weakness. They likely do not value or find importance in relationships, and generally distrust others.

Anxious-Avoidant (fearful avoidant or disorganized) Attachment Style

These individuals don’t strongly fit into one of the above styles over another. They generally have characteristics of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles. In childhood, caregivers of these individuals were “hot” and “cold”. They can be supportive and loving sometimes, and other times may be abusive. Generally, these caregivers were inconsistent with sensitivity and responsiveness and their children see them as being a source of fear rather than as a source of safety.  

In adulthood, these individuals have low self-image and also view others in a negative way. They tend to be distrusting of others and will usually go back and forth between being intimate with their partner (usually leaning towards clinging) and withdrawing. Typically their high desire to connect with others causes them to be intimate with others, but their distrust in others causes a discomfort in this intimacy that causes them to pull away. These individuals regularly engage in sabotaging relationships even though they strongly desire to be in one.This is the most difficult attachment style to treat.

Secure Attachment Style

If we look at childhood events that contribute to a securely attached individual, we find infants who were active seekers of proximity with their primary caregiver, and caregivers who were both sensitive and responsive to the needs of the infant.

This is the goal! An individual who has a secure attachment style has a general ability to trust others, believes they are worthy of love and that others are lovable, and shows up in a relationship able to connect well while also remaining an autonomous individual. These relationships are generally well-balanced, fulfilling, and have the capacity to be healthily long-lasting. Even though securely individuals, like all individuals, have some bad experiences in social situations- perhaps where trust is broken, for example, they are able to be adaptive and recover, while still believing viewing a positive worldview afterwards.

 

Can my attachment style change?

Yes, absolutely. People are capable of growth and change. We do not have control over what we were dealt in childhood. But we are able to engage in a healing process and strive for developing a secure attachment style. One of the most important factors in developing a secure attachment style involves having healthy relationships with others. This can be hard if your attachment style is regularly causing you to seek out partners who have insecure attachment styles. But how does one become comfortable with being in a relationship with a securely attached individual if they, themselves are not securely attached?

Therapy can help. Healing childhood trauma wounds are key in developing a healthy attachment style. Aside from that, learning how to identify, talk about and sit with difficult emotions is of utmost importance. Your therapist can provide a safe space to aid in this process. You can get to a space where you are able to not only love yourself, but love others and have healthy, long-lasting relationships.