How your attachment style affects your relationships
Do you know what yours is? Read this to find out.
If you hang around “spiritual” people long enough, you may adopt the notion that attachment causes suffering. People spend uncomfortable days in meditation retreats, practice yoga, and contemplate their existence to shed attachment for the sake of freedom and endless happiness. The least attached person wins the prize of self-realization and the admiration of all who aspire to achieve the same goal. And if you are not there yet, you can still excuse neglecting your relationships, your emotional inadequacy, and your poor track record of keeping your life in order on your pursuit of freedom from attachment.
Cultivating non-attachment towards your belongings or thoughts as the ultimate authority on how things are in the world might be a humbling and refining maturation process. Your attachment style in relationships – from the kitchen table to the bedroom and the boardroom, has a lot to do with how people perceive you and experience you. It also has to do with what you gravitate toward and what your life ends up being. Sadly, although you can work on your attachment style, there is no scenario in which you have none unless, of course, you have severe brain damage to the parts of your brain responsible for processing and storing relationship information. I am almost tempted to research the attachment styles of famous guru types and cult leaders preaching letting go of attachment. I hypothesize that in addition to most of them falling square on the sociopath range of the personality continuum, they would also have an anxious-avoidant attachment style. But I am getting ahead of myself. I have to tell you about attachment styles first.
Your attachment style develops during childhood and reflects your experience with your primary caretakers. Without going textbook on you, it suffices to say that you start forming your attachment style as an infant and through your early years. Things like early childhood trauma and neglect on one end of the spectrum, and love and connection on the other, play a big role in what attachment style you develop. According to Attachment Theory, there are four characteristics of attachment.
· Proximity maintenance – the desire to be close to people.
· Safe haven – how comfortable you feel returning to the attachment figure for comfort and reassurance when afraid and uncomfortable.
· Secure base – having a base from which to explore and always come back for security and support.
· Separation distress – anxiety experienced when the primary caretaker is not there.
That’s where you start, trying to negotiate these four dimensions and forming your attachment style as early as infancy. If you are raised with confidence, love, care, and encouraged to explore while provided safety, consistency, and support from infancy to early adulthood, you are less likely to be fearful, anxious, insecure. Your expectation of others to be there for you and how they will relate to you depends on how your primary caretakers responded to you and how available they were to you. Future experiences through adulthood will evolve your style, either affirming it or transforming it to some degree, but not too much. If you really want to change your attachment style, you will have to work hard, very mindfully, consistently, and methodically to reprogram your instincts. Most of all, you have to be aware of what it is, how it affects you and others, and remain motivated to do the work of self-transformation.
The Secure Attachment Style
Just as it sounds, it implies that the person feels comfortable forming and maintaining relationships, expressing feelings and needs, and trusting their partners. They are reliable and feel comfortable asking for help. They are dependable and depend on others as needed. Usually, these people are emotionally intelligent, honest, and have healthy self-esteem. They allow others space and are happy to reconnect. Not clingy, but there when you need them. While they thrive in their relationships, they do not fear being alone. They don’t require approval and tend to have a generally positive view of others. They bond well and maintain healthy boundaries. They have a high need for achievement and low fear of failure. That’s because as children, they felt secure and supported in exploring then returning to their safe haven and secure base. Their primary caretakers were there when needed, loving, encouraging, forgiving, and responsive.
Securely attached individuals have a high concern for others while self-reliant. By adulthood, they’ve built a high level of self-efficacy. They feel comfortable removing problematic, bad-influence people from their lives and do not fear challenging situations.
In a romantic relationship, a securely attached adult will show problem-solving skills, communicate well, be mentally flexible, self-reflective, mindful, and emotionally intelligent, and avoid manipulation, drama, and games. They are comfortable with closeness, intimacy, sharing, and easily forgive. They care about their partners, want to be fair, but when they come across someone who does not meet their needs, manipulates, or is the cause of unnecessary emotional turbulence, they will quickly lose interest.
The other three attachment styles are all insecure and problematic in different ways.
The Avoidant – Dismissive Attachment Style
This style is seen in people desiring a high level of independence, who feel self-sufficient, do not need close relationships, have a few friends, and mind their own business. They distrust others, make a great effort to distance themselves from emotionally unstable situations, and avoid being vulnerable. They have high self-esteem and a high level of self-efficacy. They believe that they do not need close relationships and lack interest in forming them. They prefer to invest their time and energy in themselves rather than others, spending a disproportionate amount of effort on personal development, skill-building, and providing for themselves. They do not believe that other people can deliver emotional support. They mostly see emotionally needy people as draining. They do not search or need approval from others. They deliberately avoid forming close bonds. This is why they love fleeting and casual relationships, one-night stands, and friends-with-benefits types of situations. They are good at hiding their feelings and prone to minimizing or dismissing the feelings of others, also good at keeping secrets and often end relationships to regain independence.
This attachment style is seen in people with avoidant- dismissive and otherwise unavailable and rejecting primary caregivers - mothers who leave their children unattended and only meet their most basic physical needs without being responsive to their emotional and psychological needs. In such situations, children learn that they can’t rely on the primary attachment figure and learn to self-soothe. They learn to stay close enough to be safe but not so close as to be rejected. One way to do this is to maintain physical proximity but emotional distance.
Fearful – Avoidant Attachment Style
People with this style tend to show desire and fear in a relationship. They are unstable and ambiguous in their social bonds. While they desire closeness, they fear and mistrust others. They have trouble trusting others enough. The fear of getting hurt causes them to avoid emotional attachment. They expect to get hurt and mistreated. In other words, they have mixed feelings about close relationships. Often, they view themselves as unworthy. They swing between emotional extremes, loving and hating their partners. Frequently controlling and insensitive of the needs and feelings of others, but also hard on themselves. People with this attachment style exhibit antisocial behaviors, substance abuse, even violent/abusive behavior. They appear selfish, conflicted, emotional, and volatile to others. Often, they refuse to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof.
This attachment style often stems from a childhood of trauma, neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and when primary caregivers have substance abuse problems escalating over time. Often the parent was both a source of fear and comfort at a different time and unpredictably so.
Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style
This is marked by seeking a high level of intimacy, constant connection, grasping and needing reassurance, approval, and validation. People with this attachment style feel helpless and seek dependency. At the same time, they have lower self-esteem and a less positive view of themselves and their partner. Yet, they consider their partner to be their “better half.” They are highly emotionally expressive and experience separation anxiety and worry excessively. They tend to overreact and overthink situations. Their thoughts trigger actions that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, which leave them validated in their sense of defenselessness, fear of abandonment, and estimations of how much others care. The attention, care, availability, and responsiveness of the partner is the remedy they seek. Yet, they find themselves attracted to Dismissive-Avoidant partners and re-enact the traumas of their childhood. They crave to be liked, so often they are people pleasers, avoiding conflict at times, yet seeking confirmation, acceptance, and validation to the point of causing conflict.
I found this graph online and borrowed it. It gives you a quick picture of what each style is.
Secure – low avoidance (of closeness)/low anxiety (of separation).
Anxious – low avoidance/high anxiety.
Fearful – high avoidance/high anxiety.
Dismissive – high avoidance/low anxiety.
Very few people are the most pronounced version of these styles. Most fall on a spectrum. With some work, we can all shift a little toward the secure attachment style. Clearly, having a secure attachment style is in everyone’s best interest. Everything else turns into one kind of mess or another.
In my next newsletter, I will discuss what we can do to become more secure. Wait for it! Read it. Your present/future partners will appreciate it—also, your kids, family, and friends.
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You are awesome 😊
Thanks for reading.