Attachment theory is based on the assertion that the need to be in a close relationship is embedded in our genes. Our first experience of this is with our primary caregiver. It is at this time that we experience our most influential attachment relationship. According to Attachment theory, this initial bond can direct our relationship patterns throughout the lifespan. For example, if we bonded a certain way with our caregivers when we were born, we might mirror that bonding behavior with our loved ones into our adult years, potentially creating strong connections or feelings of detachment or anxiety depending upon our earlier bonding experience.
There are two general types of attachment: Secure and Insecure.
Of these, the Insecure attachment style can be sub-divided into three more categories: Anxious (pre-occupied/ambivalent), Avoidant, and Fearful Avoidant. All three, influence, direct, and guide our intimate relationships on into adulthood. By understanding how different forms of attachment styles can manifest and how we can utilize our own attachment experiences, we can have greater opportunity for a rewarding intimacy and partnership as adults.
There are multiple styles of relationships we have with one another. Similarly, there are various attachment styles. While all attachment can be viewed on a continuum, there are three primary formats that I will explore further. As you read through these, please be mindful of the fact that relationships function as a system and so it can be normal to find yourself leaning more toward one attachment style over another depending upon the partner you’re with.
Secure attachments show themselves when someone is invested in a relationship heavily and may have anxieties, but is not overwhelmed by them. They may ask occasional questions regarding the status of their relationships and ensure that the other person in the relationship is getting their needs met as well. Individuals with secure attachment are engaging in relationships with equal giving and taking, “lean in” to the relationship with their needs, and more often than not, communicate effectively.
This is the most common attachment style. Almost 50% of Americans are thought to have secure attachments with the people in their lives. Those that have a more secure attachment are often less anxious people that can often discuss issues in a productive manner.
Anxious preoccupied attachment comes with an almost obsessive worry about a relationship. Those involved with anxious attachment styles may find themselves asking frequent questions such as, “How is the relationship?,” “Does the other person in the relationship actually like me?,” “When will the relationship be over?” and so on.
The anxious preoccupied person may indicate a childhood where they were not tended to enough or they were tended to sporadically contributing to an insecure attachment experience and worrisome bonding dynamic. Some experiences of anxious thoughts, emotions, and reactions include:
- Mind reading – “that’s it, I know she’s leaving me”
- All or nothing thinking
- A sense of urgency in the relationship
- Feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, depression, or frustration.
- Desire for vengefulness
- Stalking-type behaviors
- Controlling-type behaviors
Dismissive avoidant types are not preoccupied with the relationship. Many times, they may have minimal aspects of the relationship in their mind. Those with dismissive avoidant attachment may value independence and freedom over intimacy or partnership. They may also believe that relationships can actually hinder personal growth.
Those who display signs of dismissive avoidant attachment may seem “selfish” or may indeed be more selfish in pathology. They may give off an air of fierce self-reliance. They may be able to eliminate emotions and focus solely on what is logical during an issue, much to the detriment of a person thinking emotionally.
Fearful avoidant attachment can be a mixture of anxious preoccupied and dismissive avoidant. When not in a relationship, the fearful avoidant may crave being in one at any cost. Once in a relationship, they may attempt to distance themselves from intimacy as a means of protection.
Fearful avoidant people may be driven more by anxiety than anything else. The fear of being alone can be a powerful drive. The fear of being too close may also be a powerful drive. When they are caught up in this line of thinking, their actions can reflect whatever fear they are responding. In truth, the fearful avoidant person may not know what they want, instead getting caught up in a windstorm of anxieties.
When insecure attachment styles become activated, they can wreak havoc. Depending on one’s level of awareness, an activated insecure attachment style can be overwhelming and influence one’s decisions often in a negative manner. Instead of having the opportunity for true intimacy; one based on your own sense of security and with a secure foundation, you may be engaged in something which has a greater addictive-type pull on you.
By having a better understanding your own attachment style and that of your partners, you can work on challenging your own insecurities, seek to experience more secure bonds, and grow in developing a more secure bonding experience.
Insecure attachment can be a very strong emotion, but ultimately it is not set in stone. We have the ability as humans, to have new and better experiences; including making different choices about the types of partners we bring into our lives. I invite you to develop compassion for your attachment style. Use it to see how you can further grow, develop, change throughout your lifespan.