What's Your Attachment Style? Anxious, Disorganized, Avoidant or Secure?
Attachment theory is a psychological and evolutionary theory concerning human relationships. The theory was originally used to describe the relationship between children and their primary caretakers, stating that infants and children develop an attachment style in order to develop psychologically and emotionally. The attachment behavioral system described how infants acted when they were separated and then reunited with their primary caretakers. The infant’s reactions to this scenario were classified into two different categories, secure attachment and insecure attachment. Infants with secure attachment were distressed upon separation, but easily calmed when reunited with their caregiver. Other infants were distressed upon separation, and remained stressed upon unification, often acting fussy, choosing to avoid, or “punish” the caretaker who left. Since it’s initial development, this theory has evolved as a means to evaluate the attachment style of adults.
Adult attachment theory has since emerged as a way to categorize how adults in emotionally intimate relationships attach to one another. There are four different types of attachment styles, three insecure attachment styles known as anxious, disorganized and avoidant and one secure attachment style. Not everyone falls squarely into one of these four categories, in fact, people often find that they display characteristics from a couple of these attachment styles. But, one attachment style normally prevails as the dominant style. Understanding your attachment style, and the attachment style of your partner (if you are in a relationship) can help you better understand and navigate your relationships, especially your romantic relationships. There are a lot of online resources available to help you discover your attachment style and see what it means for your relationships. Below is an in-depth discussion of the different attachment styles and how your can use your understanding of attachment styles to improve your relationship:
Anxious attachment is also known as preoccupied attachment. This attachment style is characterized by, you guessed it, general anxiety about the thought of living without your partner. Adults with an anxious attachment style may view their partner as their better half, and often may have a negative self-image, especially when compared to their positive image of others, particularly their partner. People with anxious attachment tend to seek approval from their partner and appreciate supportive, intuitive partners. Attention and responsiveness from a partner can calm this anxiety, but in the absence of support, people with this attachment style may become more clingy and demanding of their partner. The anxiety tends to stem from fear of abandonment, or fear that their partner is less invested in the relationship than they are.
This type of attachment style can be exhausting to both the anxiously attached and their partner. Partner’s in this relationship may feel like they have to constantly provide their partner encouragement and support to keep them afloat. This can put undue burden and stress on partners, which can cause the relationship to be strained. If you or your partner express anxious attachment, it can be helpful to try and identify the source of the anxiety. It can also be helpful to schedule check-ins with your partner to talk candidly about your relationship. During these check-ins you can talk about what’s going well and what is not and make an improvement plan to address the problems. Checkin in will help both partners feel supported in the relationship, and creating a long-term plan will cultivate security in the relationship, which can reduce levels of anxiety related to abandonment.
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Disorganized attachment is also known as fearful-avoidant attachment. People with this attachment style often display contradictory behaviors that can make it hard to pin down exactly what they are feeling. For adults with disorganized attachment, relationships can be a source of desire and fear. These people seek intimacy and closeness to others, but are fearful that they will get hurt if they become fully connected to or dependent on another person. Their behavior can seem erratic, both seeking intimacy, while also ultimately avoiding emotional attachment as a means of self preservation. If you identify with this attachment style there are some things that you can do to feel less fearful in your relationship. Like anxious attachment, this attachment style stems from fears of abandonment, so reflecting about where these fears originate can help you minimize your insecure attachment.
Even if you are able to recognize where these feelings originate, it can be hard to change your behavior patterns overnight. You may still be tempted to withdraw from serious emotional connections or be intimidated by intimacy. The best thing you can do is share these feelings with your partner. Even if you are not able to overcome these feelings right away, communicating things like, “talking about my emotions scares me”, or “I feel uncomfortable opening up about that at this point in our relationship” will clue your partner in to how you are feeling, even if you don’t share your exact emotions. It’s important to remember that your partner also wants to feel secure in the relationship, so even if you don’t feel like you are ready to open up or rely on them, communicate this to them rather than avoiding the topic all together. This will help them feel secure and able to share their feelings with you, which will strengthen your relationship, potentially making it easier for you to open up in the future.
Avoidant attachment is also known as dismissive attachment. People with avoidant attachment styles often view themselves as fiercely independent, self-sufficient and in some cases as a “lone-wolf”. Unlike people with anxious attachment, people with this attachment style tend to have high self-esteem and a positive view of themselves. They do not believe that they need another half to complete them. People with avoidant attachment do not like to depend on others, and do not want to feel as if others depend on them. This attachment style is characterized by a tendency to avoid emotional closeness and suppress emotional feelings. People with this attachment style are often not in relationships, because of their tendency towards independence and solitude. If they are in relationships, it can be difficult for the relationship to get serious because of an inability to acknowledge emotional closeness.
If you feel that you have an avoidant attachment style, it, again, can be beneficial to look at the root of this insecure attachment. Regardless of if you can identify/address the root of this problem, you should work towards slowly opening up to another person. It’s important to have emotional connections to other people, even if this feels super intimidating! Developing a relationship with a close friend or therapist and using this as a means to explore emotional communication and closeness is a great way to work your towards doing this with a romantic partner. For some people, it’s easier to be an emotional support system than it is to rely on one. Focusing on providing emotional support to a friend or partner, allowing them to depend on you for support, can encourage you to start depending on them as well.
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Secure attachment is the healthiest and most emotionally open adult attachment style. Secure attachment is characterized by honesty, tolerance and emotional intimacy. People with secure attachment feel comfortable while they are single (not relying on relationships for security or validation), and are confident when they are in relationships.
Even if you find that you have a secure attachment style, it’s possible that you exhibit some insecure attachment behaviors. Evaluating your relationships with other people will allow you to become even more open and intimate with people you are emotionally attached to. Learning more about different attachment styles can also help you better understand partners and friends with different attachment styles, which can also lead to better relationships.
Certain insecure attachment styles can actually develop into attachment disorders if behaviors become consistently detrimental to emotionally intimate relationships. While most people have a natural tendency towards one attachment style, it is possible to change your attachment style by addressing underlying causes that lead to attachment disorders in adults. A common root of insecure attachment is a fear of abandonment, identifying the cause of this fear and addressing this fear at the root can help adults overcome insecure attachment and develop more healthy emotionally intimate relationships.
If your attachment style is negatively affecting your intimate relationships, you should consider talking to a trained professional about how to address your relationship to attachment. If your attachment style is not necessarily disordered, but is still creating problems in your romantic relationship, you can consider turning to Relish, a relationship coaching app. Relish is a remote and personalized form of relationship therapy that you and your partner can use to navigate different relationship obstacles, including issues related to attachment style. The coaches can help you identify ways to overcome issues related to attachment styles and make goals to overcome these problems as a couple.
While we have preferred attachment styles, it is possible to learn new, healthier ways to attach to emotional partners. Download Relish to help you identify healthier patterns of behavior. Ready to get started?