Attachment theory was the product of British psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s research. Attachment theory is useful if you want to understand why you behave the way you do in romantic relationships.
Attachment theory describes how our early relationship with a primary caregiver creates our expectation for how love should be. Our view of ourselves and others is molded by how well these caregivers were available and responsive to meet our physical and emotional needs. Our style of attachment affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, and how they end. That is why recognizing our attachment pattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. An attachment pattern is established in early childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood. This model of attachment influences how each of us reacts to our needs and how we go about getting them met. In our adult relationships, our attachment system is triggered by our romantic partners.
You can start to identify your own attachment style by getting to know the four patterns of attachment in adults and learning how they commonly affect couples in their relating.
Secure Attachment Style– According to attachment theory, you have a secure attachment style if a caregiver was responsive and available to you as a child, making you feel safe and secure. Creating a secure attachment is important for dating to create a healthy relationship. In a secure relationship your partner is there for you and has your back.
Those with a secure style (about 60% of population) feel equally okay with displaying interest and affection, and being alone and independent. They are able to easily interact with others, can cope with rejection and are less prone to obsessing over their relationships. Unsurprisingly perhaps, those with a secure attachment style report being happiest and most fulfilled in relationships.
If your caregiver was unresponsive, you form an insecure attachment pattern. An insecure attachment style manifests in three main ways.
Anxious Attachment Style – develops when a caregiver has been inconsistent in their responsiveness and availability, confusing the child about what to expect. As an adult, this person acts clingy at times and finds it difficult to trust their partner. Those with an anxious attachment style, which is apparently around 20% of the population, need plenty of reassurance from their partners.
They’re frequently looking to their partner to rescue or complete them. Although they’re seeking a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner, they take actions that push their partner away.
Avoidant Attachment Style – develops when a caregiver is neglectful. These are the children that play by themselves and develop the belief that no one is there to meet their needs. As adults, they typically label themselves as very independent.
Avoidant attachment types (around 25% of the population) have the tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. They may seek isolation and feel “pseudo-independent,” taking on the role of parenting themselves. Pseudo-independence is an illusion, as every human being needs connection. Nevertheless, people with an avoidant attachment tend to lead more inward lives, both denying the importance of loved ones and detaching easily from them.
Anxious-Avoidant Style (also known as Disorganized Attachment) – develops from abuse, trauma, or chaos in the home. A child learns to fear the caregiver and has no real “secure base.”
People with this style are relatively rare. It is a style best characterized by conflicting desires: to be close but to also push people away. Therefore, a person with a fearful avoidant attachment lives in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to. They see their relationships from the working model that you need to go toward others to get your needs met, but if you get close to others, they will hurt you. In other words, the person they want to go to for safety is the same person they are frightened to be close to. As a result, they have no organized strategy for getting their needs met by others.
All of these styles influence the way you behave in your romantic relationships and how you find a romantic partner.
Can we change our attachment style?