Attachment theory is based on the idea that infants develop patterns of attaching to their caregivers depending on how the caregivers interact with the infants.
Attachment styles are the way we relate to others and develop relationships with them. As humans we seek interaction and we crave love, support, connection, comfort and intimacy with others. However, if the way we were taught to do this may not always lead to secure attachments as adults.
There are 4 attachment styles and they are directly related to the relationship one has with parents or other caregivers during childhood.
Avoidant ( Dismissive)
When the physical and emotional needs of a child are met she will develop a secure attachment style.
So let’s talk about the 3 forms of insecure attachment
If this is your attachment style you see your partner as “the better half”.
The thought of living without this person or being alone in general fills you with paralyzing fear.
You have a negative self image and doubt your ability to survive on your own.
You seek approval, validation, support and responsiveness from others.
( If a friend doesn’t text you back immediately, you start to wonder what you did to make her mad, why she no longer wants to be your friend and if she found someone she likes better for instance.)
You are in tune with other’s needs but not your own.
You are constantly needing reassurance that you are loved and won’t be left.
Response, attention, validation and approval from others relieves that anxiety.
So how does this happen?
This developmental pattern may occur when the parent or caregiver is inconsistent. At times available, supportive, reassuring and meeting the child’s needs and at other times unavailable, uninterested or dismissive.
This inconsistent pattern becomes confusing for a child. Remember the subconscious mind?
At times the child believes she is worthy or good enough and at others she is not. The mind can not make sense of this and it begins to attach the worthiness/lack of support to behaviors that are occurring at the time and stores that in memory.
In addition, the parents may appear intrusive or over protective. They may develop a sense of one with the child, a form of enmeshment, in that the parent is seeking the emotional support from the child instead of vice-versa. The parent or caregiver may be leaning on the child to be fulfilling the role of emotional support system and thus entering into a vicious cycle.
This child becomes” emotionally hungry” or never getting enough attention and this will carry over into the adult relationship and the adult may appear “needy” or “clingy” .
In the adult with Anxious Attachment Style, there may be a high level of jealousy and suspicion of others. There may be a sense of desperation for the relationship and the individual may become completely preoccupied with it, foregoing all other activities and relationships, especially if one is attaching to a romantic partner.
Avoidant Attachment Style
Let’s look at some of the characteristics of the adult with an avoidant attachment style.
Your relationships may be superficial. You do not let anyone get too close.
You avoid displays of emotion, closeness and intimacy.
You are annoyed by your partner’s behavior, habits or appearance whenever he does try to get close. You find some way to deflect your annoyance onto him.
You do not believe you need emotional intimacy, you do not need anyone.
You are hyper independent. You do everything for you, by yourself.
You do not feel lonely and even appear to be happy and about who you are in general.
You are easy going on the surface but “head for the hills” when someone gets too close.
So how does this happen?
The parent of the caregiver does n0ot necessarily neglect the child. She is available and present, but not emotionally available.
Opposite of the anxious "attacher", this parent does not demonstrate emotional connection or bonding. When the child reaches out for support she may back off and remind the child to “be tough”, “be a man”.
This attachment style reminds me of the phrase “never let ‘em see you sweat”.
This style means show no emotions and you won't get hurt. Don’t let anyone get close and you won’t be rejected.
When a child reaches for support from this parent, this parent slams the door on it.
Disorganized Attachment Style
Of the 3 insecure attachment styles this is the one that is the most difficult to manage, difficult to make sense of and difficult to heal.
If a child is physically, verbally or sexually abused this attachment style is usually the result
If the child has experienced severe trauma from a disaster or witnesses a catastrophic event, it is likely that this attachment style will develop.
The ONLY source of safety in this relationship,, the caregiver is also the source of fear.
The individual in this situation may also develop other mental health issues like depression, substance abuse or borderline personality disorder.
As a child survival depends on caregivers..when they are the source of fear as well the level of attachment becomes disorganized and ultra confusing.
This parent/caregiver may have extremely inconsistent behavior and may be very unpredictable.
If you fall into this category you may
Want to belong, be loved, be a part of ..
And are also afraid to let anyone in because as soon as you do..bam!
You have the desire for intimacy and closeness but an extreme fear of the pain that comes along with it.
You do not believe anyone will love you as you are and are constantly anticipating rejection, disappointment and pain. You believe this is inevitable.
This is part of the “self-sabotage” cycle. The adult predicts that this relationship will end any way so she sabotages it to be in control of the rejection and disappointment.
The best way to imagine being in a relationship with this person is to be playing a game where the rules are constantly changing and they never make sense.
The treatment for Disorganized attachment is the most difficult and time consuming but can be accomplished.
It is possible that you fall into several of these categories, or have in the past.
Want to learn more? Interested in finding out how to develop a secure attachment style in your relationships? Let's chat.