Are you ready to say the L word when your situationship is about to ghost you? Do you want something serious, but run for the hills when things get real? These can be signs of different attachment styles that may be getting in the way of your relationships.
And good cardiovascular endurance, depending on how fast you’re running and how high that hill is.
Even as you’re mindlessly swiping through apps on going on dates in your adult life, you could still be trying to heal your first relationship: between you and your caregiver. The connection you form with your parent or other caregiver as a baby is where you learn your relationship skills – or relationship ineptitude.
As you get older, this is often how you approach your own romantic connections. Here’s a look at what the different attachment styles are, how to identify them, and how to change them if they’re not serving you.
What Is Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory is a psychological theory about the way we relate and attach to other people in the long term. Psychiatrist John Bowlby and developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth developed attachment theory in the 1960s and 1970s. It works to explain how the bond between children and their caregivers has lasting psychological effects into adulthood.
And here you thought your dad only gave you his larger than average nose.
When you’re a child, you depend on your caregiver for literally everything, because you have no other way of getting Cheerios. When babies are six months to two years old, they become attached to their caregiver. As they start toddling around and putting everything in their mouths, they use their caregiver as a secure place to explore from and return to. But if the caregiver isn’t a dependable base, then the child may develop an insecure attachment to their caregiver.
Even though you’re all grown up and can buy your own Cheerios, attachment theory says that your attachment to your caregiver will affect your attachments as an adult, especially in romantic relationships.
What Are the Types of Attachment Styles?
1. Secure attachment style
Babies form a secure attachment when they can depend on a caregiver to predictably and consistently fulfill their needs. Kind of like how you depend on TikTok to give you little daily boosts of serotonin.
If you have a secure attachment style, you knew that your caregiver would always be there for you and would always return to you, even after they mysteriously disappeared behind their hands.
Signs you have a secure attachment style:
- You can have healthy long-term relationships.
- You feel comfortable trusting other people and being trusted.
- You can comfortably express emotions.
- You feel secure even when alone or apart from your partner.
All other attachment styles are called insecure attachment styles, and come in a few forms.
2. Anxious attachment style
Anxious attachment style, also known as preoccupied attachment, develops when the caregiver is hot and cold. Sometimes they are supportive, but are unresponsive or unavailable other times. It’s like a coffee from Dunkin’: you don’t know if it’ll be just what you need or completely disappoint you by ruining your stomach lining.
When it’s hard for the baby to predict the care level, they’ll get anxious from trying to predict when care will be available or when their caregiver will return.
Signs you have a anxious attachment style:
- You have a fear of abandonment.
- You are jealous or clingy in relationships.
- You can easily identify other’s needs but can’t depend on others to meet your needs.
- You want constant reassurance from loved ones.
3. Avoidant attachment style
If your caregivers were absent or emotionally distant, you may have developed an avoidant attachment style. This is also known as dismissive.
If your caregivers left you to fend for yourself, expected you to be independent, and rejected your expressions of needs, you learned to stop asking for help. That’s a recipe for commitment issues. Which is definitely not as good as a recipe for homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Signs you have an avoidant attachment style:
- You avoid close bonds and relationships.
- You are distrustful and closed off from others.
- You hide or struggle to deal with your feelings.
- You freak out when your partner wants to get emotionally close.
4. Disorganized attachment style
Disorganized attachment style is also known as disoriented or fearful-avoidant. It’s a combination of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. This attachment style sometimes develops as a result of childhood neglect, abuse, or trauma.
Your caregiver should have been a source of safety and security, but instead, they were a source of fear. As a child, you wanted to be close to your caregiver, but you were afraid of that closeness because your caregiver wasn’t safe.
Signs you have a disorganized attachment style:
- You have a fear of rejection but crave closeness.
- You are unpredictable in relationships.
- You’re afraid people close to you will hurt you.
- You have a mix of signs of avoidant and anxious attachment styles.
How Does My Attachment Style Affect My Romantic Relationships?
Your attachment style informs how you will attach to your romantic partners. If you have a secure attachment style, you’re in a good place to start a healthy relationship with a good balance of independence and intimacy. But only two-thirds of people have a secure attachment style, those lucky ducks.
If you have a form of an insecure attachment style, you may need to focus on not creating negative relationship patterns. But even insecure attachment styles can have positive traits to bring to the table. Ideally with an extra side of mashed potatoes.
How Insecure Attachment Styles Act in Relationships
A partner with an anxious attachment style is committed to the relationship, sometimes to a fault. They are all in, and consider and anticipate their partner’s needs. They’re getting you a glass of water before you’re current one is even halfway gone.
But because they are so committed to the relationship – and afraid it will end – they can be clingy, jealous, and needy. They can get frustrated when their partner doesn’t have the same level of commitment or psychic powers.
A partner with an avoidant attachment style is independent and respectful of boundaries. Unlike your cat’s hair on your clothes, they don’t cling to the relationship, which their partner may see as a lack of commitment. People with an avoidant attachment style may panic when the relationship gets “too real” and distance themselves.
A partner with a disorganized attachment style can have a mix of the traits of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. Cue up Katy Perry, as they may come off as hot and cold, seeking closeness but then closing off.
The Anxious-Avoidant Relationship Cycle
People with anxious attachment and people with avoidant attachment are attracted to each other like dysfunctional magnets. It’s such a cliche that your couple’s therapist will need to hide their eye roll. This pattern is called the anxious-avoidant cycle, chase, or trap.
It commonly happens because people subconsciously seek out relationships that replay past patterns that they’re used to. Psychologically, we want to be happy. But even more than that, we want to be right. And not just during trivia.
In the anxious-avoidant cycle, each partner is confirming what the other believes about relationships. A person with an anxious attachment style believes they are too needy, too clingy, and just too much. Someone with an avoidant attachment style believes that relationships are suffocating and full and demands, and that they are just not enough.
When the avoidant partner pulls back in the relationship, the anxious partner thinks, “They’re avoiding me because I’m too much.” When the anxious partner clings to the relationship and demands more attention, the avoidant partner thinks, “They’re asking for more because I’m not enough.” And their therapist thinks, “I’ve seen this film before.”
It can be a tough cycle to break, but if you and your partner can recognize the patterns and communicate each other’s needs, you can build a healthy attachment.
Can I Change My Attachment Style?
Yes, your attachment style can change. You form your first attachment with your caregiver, but assuming you don’t lock yourself in your parents’ basement, you will have other relationships. And those can change your attachment style, for better or worse.
You could have a secure attachment style with your caregiver, but then experience a trauma or bad relationship that sticks with you and makes you anxious or avoidant. You can also go from an insecure attachment style to a secure attachment style by working your mental health.
A mental health professional can help you identify your relationship patterns and work on forming healthy relationships. And then you can have all the Cheerios you could ever want, and be happy while you eat them.
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love
If you want to dive deeper into attachment styles – and add to your already overflowing bookshelf – pick up a copy of Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s one of the best-selling books on this topic and can walk you through even more nuances of the theory.
Get it on Amazon
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