4 Types of Attachment and How They Affect Your Relationships
Discover your Attachment Style
Your attachment style may affect your relationship in ways that on the surface level may disguise as everyday stress or even personality. Attachment Theory describes how the bonds we form in childhood shape adult relationships, attributing particular behaviours in adulthood to childhood experiences and emotions. The categorised styles of attachment describe a number of different ways adults may connect to their partner, based on the behaviours and expressions of love or support they received in childhood.
The thing about understanding your attachment style is this: once you learn about your style, a wealth of knowledge is unlocked, ready to guide your thinking and provide reason to certain past behaviours, patterns or interactions. However, unlocking such knowledge is not readily available at your fingertips.
Attachment Style research is slowly filtering through popular culture, but there is so much information not yet commonly known. That’s where we come in. I was urged to write a blog on this topic to spread information that you may not stumble across in your daily scrolling on Facebook or blogs, but will be so necessary in your journey of healing.
What is Attachment Theory?
Attachment Theory describes the different ways in which adults express and accept love, based on how they received love and support in their childhood. Social and emotional development is highly dependent on the interactions shared with a primary caregiver in childhood.
In a practical sense, the behavioural patterns of caregivers will guide a child’s feelings, thoughts and expectations as a child seeking support, as well as an adult navigating relationships. What you see and feel as a child influences how you express your feelings, as well as what you may accept as a normal expression of care and affection in adulthood. Thus, the characteristics of primary caregiver interactions shape the behaviours you adopt as children and adults, as well as expectations that develop around love and romantic relationships in adulthood. Simply put, how a child attaches to their parents will shape the way adults attach to their own partners later in life.
The 4 Attachment Styles
1. Secure Attachment
Secure Attachment is characterised by stability. A child can soothe themselves, and depend on consistent care and support from a caregiver. Secure Attachment forms when parents are available to the child’s needs, sensitive to emotion and accepting of identity.
Children learn to trust caregivers, feel safe, and develop healthy self-esteem. A child with a sense of secure attachment will usually have a stable emotional development. This means they can process systems such as empathy, self-esteem, boundary setting and connection within relationships. Children will also have little separation anxiety from caregivers.
When grown, the individual will know how to emote healthily with a partner, understand their individual feelings, and have confidence in their value as a romantic partner. A securely attached adult will communicate in a healthy manner, set boundaries that respect their needs, and feel comfortable alone, or in the company of others.
2. Anxious Insecure Attachment
Anxious Insecure Attachment is driven by uncertainty. This occurs when caregivers are sporadically available or emotionally inconsistent towards a child. A child’s needs may be met inconsistently when a parent is physically available at times and suddenly not, or a parent responds to emotional needs sensitively, and angrily in the next instance.
When a child’s needs are met inconsistently, attention-seeking behaviours may develop to gain acknowledgement. These behaviours may be demanding or involve acting out to gain reactive attention from the caregiver. Alternatively, a child may become overly compliant, over-achieving, or begin to provide care to the caregiver as a method of gaining positive recognition.
When grown, an individual may be driven by a fear of abandonment, or of not fulfilling a partner’s expectations. The adult may be codependent on a romantic partner, prioritising the needs of their partner above their own. This fear may also influence a person’s ability to trust and depend on others, as they have learned that people are emotionally unreliable and have adjusted their behaviour accordingly.
3. Avoidant Insecure Attachment
Avoidant-Insecure Attachment is based around self-reliance. This style forms when parents are emotionally insensitive to the needs of the child. The significance of a child’s emotions may be minimised, or avoided in their entirety. When a child’s needs and emotions are avoided or minimised, children learn to be emotionally self-reliant, soothing their own emotions or distress without a healthy balance of attention and support.
The context of Avoidant-Insecure Attachment may take the shape of a caregiver who tells their child their feelings do not matter, or that their feelings are insignificant compared to the caregivers experiences. Avoidant Insecure Attachment may also form if a parent depends emotionally on a child, asking the child to comfort them in times of sadness, or leaving a child to take over parental or household responsibilities out of a sense of duty.
When grown, an individual may not rely on other people for emotional support, often resulting in a lack of commitment to long-term adult romantic relationships.
4. Disorganised Insecure Attachment
Disorganised-Insecure Attachment forms when parents induce fear, rather than comfort. Parents may reject the safety and affection needs of a child. Children do not learn how to accept love, or how to express affection or emotion.
Children may act aggressively, for they may not have been shown love or kindness. Parents that seldom express support to the child may even be rejected as a way for the child to protect themselves from getting too close following experiences of neglect. Children may also express fear, withdrawing from the relationship with the caregiver. A result of this may be a lack of emotional development, for a child will not have developed skills required to form a sound emotional developmental state. These skills include communicating emotions, expressing affection or feeling safe. When a child does not see these skills expressed by caregivers, they do not know how to develop skills themselves.
When grown, the individual does not adjust to a certain behavioural pattern, resulting in inconsistent behaviours. This can be a display of extreme highs and lows, behaving erratically without a sense of routine or pattern.
How Do Attachment Styles Form?
Throughout childhood, but importantly in the first two years of life, the patterns of caregivers’ responses to children establish attachment styles. Falling into one of the attachment style categories depends on the environment and characteristics of a person’s upbringing and primary caregiver.
Of particular importance is how an infant or child is comforted in times of distress, for it is in times of heightened emotion that we crave the most support and care. The way in which a person is treated by a caregiver when distressed will influence the brain as to what to expect, or what the norm may be within the parent and child relationship.
What does all this mean practically? Well, for example, a child who is hurt and crying may expect to be held and cuddled. A parent that cuddles and comforts their child only occasionally when they are hurt, and ignores the child’s emotions in other times of distress, will set inconsistent expectations for the child. The child may still reach for their parent each time, but may never feel assured that the caregiver will respond consistently and provide care or support.
Employing the same example, a parent who does not show a child physical affection may allow the child to cry it out each time this happens. At a certain point, the child’s brain will pattern to understand that their parent will not comfort them when they are distressed, and compensate by adopting a self soothing mechanism.
How to Support Your Partner's Attachment Style
1. Anxious Attachment
The key to supporting your partners anxious attachment styles is reassurance. Anxious attachment is characterised by questioning and worry. A person may question their worth, worry that they may be left by their partner, or that they have stronger feelings about the relationship. Calming your partner’s anxiety is not a quick task, it may take an extended period of time with many strategies. Have a look at some of these strategies below:
- Give attention and reassurances: Provide attention and communicate that your partner is valued, loved and worthy
- Express Gratitude: Communicate to your partner that you appreciate them, and how grateful you are for the love they provide and how they met your needs.
- Keep your Word: Consistently keep promises where possible to minimise your partner’s anxiety, and display trustworthiness and dependability in your actions.
2. Avoidant Attachment
Supporting your partner with an avoidant attachment style is best approached with patience. Avoidant attachment concerns avoidance of conflict, which may stem to avoiding any type of connection. A person may feel the need to withdraw from a situation or relationship when overwhelmed and stressed. Have a look at some of these strategies below to support an avoidant attachment style.
- Give them space: When needed, allow your partner to take some time and space
- Listen to understand: Listening to understand means learning what your partner needs and where they are coming from, rather than listening to find a solution or “fix” them.
- Set Boundaries: Explain to your partner what you need and what you will tolerate. This will reinforce the guidelines of your relationship and help your partner feel secure.
10 Ways to Work Towards a Secure Attachment Style
- Build up your confidence and self esteem
- Balance nurturing your relationship and yourself
- Acknowledge your beliefs, insecurities and triggers
- Strengthen your empathy muscles
- Forgive yourself for behaviour in past relationships
- Push yourself outside of your comfort zone
- Know and prioritise your needs and boundaries
- Reframe negative self talk
- Be mindful of your dating habits and patterns
- Practice being authentic in your relationships
If you still need help working out your attachment style, try an online quiz. Here’s a quiz from MBG Relationships to save you from Google searching. Use the strategies listed above to work towards a secure attachment style, for a more confident and positive relationship with yourself, and your loved ones.
If you need support for yourself or in your relationships, consider counselling support. Not sure if you need counselling? Take our short 12-question quiz to find out if counselling is the next step for you to take. Alternatively, Kylie Lepri Counselling offers a no obligation 15-minute phone consultation, to determine if counselling is the right next step for you. Or call us now on 0404 032 636.
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