Attachment Styles – What’s all the hype lately?

by in Healing, Mental Health and Well-being, Relationships January 23, 2022

Is it just me, or are there articles and posts about attachment styles around every corner the last while?  LOL – maybe it’s just something I need to pay attention to, but regardless, I figured I’d do a post about it.  It’s very real, and apt in most of our day to day lives.  I have many clients who have approached me with the fact that they identify with an Anxious or Avoidant attachment style, believing it means that they are doomed in love for the rest of their lives.  I have good news – that’s not what it means at all.  It just means you need a little healing.  Before we get to that, let’s get into attachment theory and how it affects your life.

Attachment theory is a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory concerning interpersonal relationships.  Long story short, there are various views and opinions, some in support and some against…as with all theories.  Some believe that attachment is an innate quality that we are born with, in order to ensure the evolution and survival of our species, whilst others see this as a learnt behavior.  My personal view is that it is a combination of the 2.  The old nature vs. nurture debate right…  I believe we are born with the programming to attach to our parents/caregivers in order to ensure that we survive.  We need them to feed and clothe us, in order for us to make it to adulthood.  This, however is not the only thing to develop our attachment styles as we go through adolescence into adulthood.  No matter how hard our parents try to be perfect, and to raise us in the best way they possibly can, there are always external factors.  No parent can protect their child 100% of the time. Our friendships, early romantic relationships, interactions with peers and teachers, and with life in general, will for sure affect the attachment style that ends up being dominant in our adult lives.  There are of course other factors, such as ethnicity and culture that play a role too, so you need to make sure to take these into account.

What is clear though, with what I’ve seen in many of my adult clients, is that these attachment styles play a massive role in how we function in everyday life – not just in our romantic relationships, but also in our friendships and work relationships.  If you are a parent, and trying everything in your power to make sure that you raise a child with a healthy attachment style, that’s great, but don’t be too hard on yourself.  There are many factors relating to this that are beyond your control.  Remember that your children not only learn from you in how you treat them, but they will also mirror your relationships and attachment styles. They will look at your marriage and all other interpersonal relationships, and could well take on the same behaviors that they see in you.  Let’s face it, we live in the 21st century, divorce and non-traditional families (I hate calling it that, because I don’t necessarily believe in all things traditional) are commonplace.  You have friends having children together even if they’re not in a romantic relationship, parents dating or being married to non-parents, non-binary parents, same-sex parents, single parents, foster parents, adoptive parents and so many more.  None of this matters, as long as you make sure that you know that your children learn from you.  This has nothing to do with who they become or what they decide to do with their lives.  Just keep in mind that your attachment styles can easily rub off on them.  I would much rather see children in non-traditional families learning about healthy attachment styles, in a non-traditional manner, than to see children living in a house where there is a toxic environment because the parents believe that staying together for the kids is the best option.  Kids aren’t stupid, they know and see that you’re not happy, and the last thing you want for them is to think that it’s OK to sacrifice their happiness for the sake of someone else.  Trust me, they would much rather see their parents apart, happy and thriving, than together and miserable.  Now, let’s look at the different attachment styles and how they can affect those involved.

  1. Secure Attachment

This is the ideal one that I think we all strive for and want.  It’s characterized by being able to form secure, loving relationships with others.  Those with this style are self-content, social, warm and easy to connect with.  It’s the relationships we see in the movies, with a Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids, a Labrador and a white picket fence.  LOL.   Ok, not all of them, but anyhoo…  These folks are aware of their feelings and easily express them.  It’s evident in kids who grew up in very loving and supportive homes, filled with trust.  Some of the needs that need to be met, are:

  • Child feeling safe on all levels.
  • Child feels seen and known.
  • Child feels comforted, soothed and reassured at all times.
  • Child feels valued
  • Child feels supported and encouraged to explore.

Wow, this sounds idyllic right?  Let’s face it, life doesn’t always work out like this, and it’s important for children to learn about real life too.  Not everyone will treat them in this idyllic manner.  As parents you can’t always be perfect either, and you are bound to stuff up at some point.  You are human.  If you can focus on making sure that their needs are met most of the time, and you are aware, then in my mind, you’re winning.  Your kids will be exposed to some form of hurt or rejection at some point, you can just be there to comfort them.  These external factors, such as their interpersonal relationships at school and with other parties will affect their attachment styles too, so don’t worry, it’s not all on you.

A person might have had the best parents and childhood on the planet, but a single interaction with a teacher, or someone outside of the home could cause damage, fear and self-doubt, all leading to the possible development of any of the other attachment styles.  You can only do so much, and as long as it’s your best, then that’s good with me.  OK, before this turns into an article on parenting, let’s move on to the next attachment style.

  1. Dismissive-Avoidant attachment style.

This is a hard one – adults with this attachment style avoid intimacy, closeness and emotional connection.  Basically – Intimacy = Yucky…! Scary…!  Bad…!  They prefer to be self-reliant, and don’t like it when others become dependent on them either.  For them, it’s difficult to tolerate any type of emotional intimacy.  They value independence and freedom, and are very likely to be attracted to someone who values the same, since that means that they won’t get too close.   They can easily feel stifled by closeness and are quite happy to be on their own.  The more you try to get close to someone who has formed this attachment style, the more likely they are to pull away.

Because they are uncomfortable with emotions, including their own, their partners often accuse them of being distant or closed off.  In turn, they will accuse their partners of being clingy or needy.  Unfortunately, this can also lead to them minimizing their partners needs and disregarding their feelings.  They are prone to fleeting relationships, and of course engaging in affairs in order to regain a sense of freedom.  Rest easy though, it doesn’t make them bad people, and they don’t do it on purpose either.  These types actually also need connection and intimacy, even though they might deny it until the end of time.  All humans are wired for connection, and we all crave it in some way, shape or form.  This attachment style is rooted in fear, and if that can be overcome, they are very capable of forming meaningful, long-lasting relationships.  They can come across as insensitive, selfish and uncaring, but the fact of the matter is that they never learnt how to meet anyone’s emotional needs, more than likely because their own were never met.  They built walls around themselves in order to protect them from getting hurt again.  Those walls can be broken down.

They withdraw when their independence is threatened, and will return when they feel safe again.  It can be quite the push pull-affair when they fall into this trap.  They will avoid difficult conversations and conflict, and will even make empty promises in order to keep the relationship intact.  If you’re in a relationship with someone who has this attachment style, try to at least be patient with them – I know it’s hard.  I am not saying it’s OK for them to treat you like crap, but if there is respect and you are willing to stick around, it can be remedied.  They need love just as much as anyone else, and added to that, a lot of patience.  Attachment styles can be changed and if they are willing to put in the work, you will get through this.

Dismissive-Avoidants in the bedroom.

These individuals easily separate sex from general attachment needs.  They separate sex from feelings, it’s an unemotional act to them.  In fact, they tend to have less sex with their committed partners because they are so detached from from the emotional side of it.  They are more likely to engage in fantasies and porn on their own in order to get their needs met.  They also use sex as a form of stress relief.

Unfortunately, often these relationships end with a lot of anger and resentment, with the participants finding it very hard to remain friends in the long run.  If this is you, and you do decide to end the relationship, always try to keep things amicable, especially when there are kids involved.  There is no need to harbor anger or resentment long-term, it will only make you sick.

  1. Anxious-Preoccupied attachment style.

This is another hard one, and a person with this attachment style generally does not have a lot of self-love, confidence and has a low self-esteem.  There is a strong fear of rejection and abandonment leading to clingy and needy behavior.  They crave to feel loved and secure.  This is generally caused by inconsistent parenting, or interactions where the child/young adult was left to feel emotionally “hungry”.  They never knew what to expect with regards to how they would be treated by parents or peers.  Adults with this attachment style tend to think highly of others, but not of themselves.  They are sensitive, and attuned to their partners needs, but disregard their own needs due to being anxious and unsure about their own worth.  When their needs are not met, they tend to blame themselves for not being good enough.  They do not feel worthy, and require constant reassurance.  Unfortunately, because they are insecure, they can also exhibit suspicious and jealous behaviors. 

They can come across as very needy, and often preoccupied with their relationship – constantly questioning whether they are enough, doing enough and whether there is anything more they are able to do to make their partner happy and to make sure that their partner stays.  It’s like they’re on a hamster wheel. All. The. Time….  They are often afraid of being alone and seek intimacy and closeness.  They are highly emotional and dependent on their partners.  These adults often become exhausted because these emotions can make them feel like they are permanently on a roller coaster.  They generally have anxiety, stress and can live a very unfulfilled life.  They have a fear of being alone on the 1 hand, but then the fear of being rejected or abandoned on the other – there is constant turmoil.  They ask themselves whether they should leave before the partner does, or whether there is something more they are able to do to make sure that their partner stays.  It’s not a fun place to be at all.

Anxious-Preoccupieds in the bedroom.

These are the kids who end up sleeping with a someone because they are scared that they will leave if they don’t.  They try to use sex for approval and fall in love easily.  Unfortunately, they also mistrust their partner easily.  They are worried about how their partner perceives them – are they good looking enough etc.  They are never comfortable, and that leads to having a pretty unfulfilled sex life too.  They have a desire to be close, and that’s why they love sex on the other hand.  They feel misunderstood in the bedroom, because they don’t like to communicate their needs clearly for the fear of not being good enough or saying something that the other person doesn’t like.  This also means that there could be a lack of boundaries in the bedroom, putting them in situations where they agree to things they don’t really want to.  Because of their insecurity, they also expect others to be unavailable, especially after sex – it’s like a self-fulfilling prophesy to them.  They tend to use fantasy as a substitute for intimacy because that way, it doesn’t have to end in rejection or abandonment.  They hope to invoke feelings of care from their partner through the act of sex, and because of the underlying fears, are prone to having affairs.

  1. Fearful-Avoidant attachment style – also known as Disorganized attachment style.

This one is a bit more complex and is a combo of the Anxious-Preoccupied and Dismissive-Avoidant attachment styles.  These folks believe they are unlovable, and then withdraw because of their fear of rejection.  They have a strong desire for intimacy and connection, because the acceptance of others help them to feel better about themselves.  This is very dangerous – for obvious reasons.  Their behavior may be very confusing to others because they encourage closeness at first, and then retreat when they start to feel vulnerable.  They really want to form strong relationships, but they also want to protect themselves, which again can lead to a push-pull dynamic in a relationship.    They bail easily when things start to get real…  These relationships can be stormy and highly emotional, especially when there is some form of deeper connection drawing the partners to each other.  They have conflicting thoughts and beliefs about relationships, and can sometimes hop between these conflicted beliefs…hourly. 

As a defense and protection mechanism, they tend to look for faults in their partners in order to have an excuse to leave.  There is a definite resistance to commitment.  They have fear and anxiety about being inadequate for their partner or the relationship, causing unpredictable behavior.  These ones can shut down suddenly and very quickly.

Fearful-Avoidants in the bedroom.

People with this attachment style are likely to engage in casual sex.  There can be fluctuations between anxious and avoidant sexual traits and behaviors.  They can often be confused about their sexuality as well.  Different to the others, they tend to be more detached from themselves when having sex, completely focusing on their partner and not concerned about their own needs and emotions.  They can like and enjoy sex, but can sometimes have a hard time when it comes to the interpretation of what sex means in their situation, as well as difficulty with trusting sexual partners.

Boy, all of these sound pretty crazy right.  LOL.  We all know that we’re not perfect, and if you’re like me, you jump between these different styles depending on the specific relationship, where you are in life, emotional issues you are facing, what your partner triggers….and your hormones. 😉  Unless you grew up wrapped in cotton wool, and shielded from any type of drama or trauma, chances are you probably exhibit symptoms of all of the above.  And, if you don’t, I am pretty sure you will meet a partner who does.  Calm down, there is light at the end of the tunnel…you can adapt and change your attachment style.  Your love life is not doomed until the end of time, I promise.  All of these symptoms have root causes, and once you can figure out what they are you will more than likely be able to change the way you view yourself and relationships with others.

By working on your self-esteem, learning to love yourself, and a little bit of help from a loved one or a therapist, you can transform your attachment style into a more stable and secure one – most of the time.  There is no need to deal with push-pull behavior or roller coaster rides for the rest of your life.  These are not personality traits, they are behaviors rooted in fears and learning, which means they can be changed…they are not set in stone.  With the right help, you can be on track in no time.

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