How Attachment Issues/C-PTSD Show Up in Relationships
Updated: Feb 7
Have you noticed patterns in your love life that have raised some questions for you? Like why you’re drawn to a certain type of person that only seems to cause chaos, or maybe you’ve noticed yourself getting really jealous in relationships? Maybe you have a desire to be with someone, but once things become too intimate, you end the relationship. If you’ve noticed any patterns of emotionally challenging and unhealthy behaviors in your relationships, learning about your attachment style just might be the winning ticket to start healing.
Attachment styles form early in our lives and are based off of our attachment to our caregivers when we were children. It’s the caregivers responsibility to be in tune with the needs of the child. When a parent isn’t meeting those needs, the product is usually a child who has insecure attachment as an adult. There are four adult attachment styles: anxious-preoccupied, avoidant-dismissive, disorganized/fearful-avoidant, and secure. Information about attachment styles in relationships was provided by The Attachment Project. To learn more, you can visit their website here.
Anxious/Preoccupied Style in Relationships
Adults with anxious attachment view their partner as the “better half”. When they think of living without their partner, it causes intense anxiety. The thought of being alone in life is almost unbearable for them.They’re desperate to seek support, approval, and responsiveness from their partner. Typically, they have a more negative view of themselves and a positive view of others.
With anxious attachment, the primary motivator is the fear of being abandoned. When the partner is attentive, caring, and responsive, it seems to remediate the feelings of anxiety. However, when the support, care, and responsiveness of the partner is lacking or absent, it can cause them to become more preoccupied and demanding to the relationship because they’re desperate for love.
Caregivers with anxious attachment over-involve their children with their own emotional needs. They can be inconsistent in their attitude and approach towards their children due to their emotional hunger (instead of nurturing love).
Avoidant/Dismissive Style in Relationships
Adults with avoiding/dismissive attachment view themselves as independent, self-sufficient, and strong; all on an emotional level. Their self-esteem is high and view themselves in a positive light, and they hold the belief that being in a relationship isn’t necessary for them to feel complete.
They choose not to depend on other people, don’t want others to depend on them, and they don’t usually seek approval or support in their social networks. Avoiding emotional closeness and hiding or suppressing their feelings when they’re in an emotionally intense situation is one of the ways this style believes they’ll be kept “safe”.
Caregivers who are avoidant don't think twice about the attachment needs of their kids. They tend to be controlling and strict, and any strong display of emotion, whether positive or negative, is not tolerated. They have an expectation of their children to be "tough".
Disorganized/Fearful-Avoidant Style in Relationships
Adults with disorganized type tend to have unstable behaviors. They desire a relationship, but that desire of a relationship is also a source of fear for them. They have a difficult time depending on and trusting people, but they also want that closeness and intimacy that comes with being in a healthy relationship.
They struggle regulating their emotions, and due to their fear of getting hurt in relationships, they avoid strong emotional attachments with people.
Caregivers with disorganized attachment have relationships with their children that are usually void of emotional intimacy. Their behavior is unpredictable and inconsistent, which can scare or confuse children. Adult caregivers with disorganized attachment usually feel that parenting is overwhelming.
Secure Style in Relationships
Adults with secure attachment are able (and comfortable) expressing their emotions openly to themselves and others. They depend on their partner, and they also welcome their partner to depend on them. Relationships with securely attached adults are built on emotional closeness, honesty, and tolerance.
They’re able to balance thriving being in a relationship while also knowing that they’ll be okay on their own. They have a positive view of themselves and others, and they don’t depend on their partner to provide approval.
Caregivers who are secure are open, able to regulate their emotions, and are straightforward when communicating to their children. They create a compassionate and loving environment for their kids, and they're highly in tune to what their children need not just physically, but also emotionally. They accept and encourage the individuality of their children while also empathizing with them.
What's Your Attachment Style?
Reading through these different attachment styles might bring up feelings of guilt, shame, fear, confusion, anger, relief, clarity, understanding, compassion, or joy. Learning root causes of our behaviors tends to bring up a myriad of emotions, and it's okay to allow yourself to sit and feel all of them. You are not responsible for how you parents did or did not care for you as a child. You are not responsible for what happened to you as a child.
But you are responsible for healing as an adult.
Every one has an attachment style. Our attachment style is formed in childhood and usually remains the same throughout adulthood, but fortunately, insecure attachment styles can change by being in a relationship with a securely attached person, where the fostering of healthy emotions and behaviors facilitates intimacy and stability. Just like unhealthy relationships fostered by parents who do not attend to the needs of their children can lead to insecure attachment, healthy relationships in adulthood have the power to heal us, change us, propel us forward, inspire us, and create new, better pathways for our future. It's up to us to break the cycle of insecure attachment by first learning about our own attachment style. Attachment is an evolutionary part of our biology; humans attach to survive, thrive, and even procreate.
The majority of issues we face involve attachment. Curious to know what your attachment style is? Click here to take our brief quiz!
At Root Counseling, we believe the majority of issues that hold us back, keep us from having healthy relationships, and prevent us from breaking bad habits, behaviors, or thoughts are related to attachment. All of our therapists conduct therapy from an attachment-based lens. If you're interested in scheduling an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.