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What Are Attachment Styles and How They Affect Relationships


What Are Attachment Styles and How They Affect Relationships


The course of love rarely runs smoothly. Ever wondered why some people are super clingy in relationships, while others verge on being a little too laid back? While your personality influences how you relate to partners, you may want to consider your attachment style too.

“Attachment theory suggests that as infants, we must form attachments to our caregivers not only as a matter of survival but as a framework for how we come to understand people and the world around us,” Saba Harouni Lurie, licensed marriage and family therapist, owner and founder of Take Root Therapy tells POPSUGAR.

“It dictates that these early childhood attachments and the way they develop can have lasting effects on how we form and maintain relationships as adults. As children we thrive when we have a safe and secure base from which to explore the world and ourselves,” says Lurie. “When that isn’t provided, we develop different ways of engaging with the world and with others, in order to have our needs met and to feel as safe as possible.”

Yes, how you act as an adult all comes back to how you related to your mummy and daddy as a child.

How Attachment Styles Affect Our Relationships

British psychoanalyst John Bowlby originally developed attachment theory to understand the varying levels of distress children experienced when separated from their parents. The theory was simple: each child’s response was based on their individual attachment style.

Fast forward to the 1980s, psychologists Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver looked at how these attachment styles manifest in adulthood, particularly in romantic relationships. The researchers proposed that the emotional bond we form with our partners has partly the same motivation as the one we originally created with our primary caregivers. Yes, how you act as an adult all comes back to how you related to your mummy and daddy as a child.

“Regardless of whether one has a secure attachment style or has an anxious or avoidant attachment style, a person’s attachment style can significantly impact their relationship,” explains Lurie. “Our willingness to make commitments, our ability to give and receive love and our ideas around self-worth are all wrapped up in our attachment styles”. As Lurie puts it, during our childhood we develop many of the traits that influence our love lives. “We also learn how to trust, how to empathise, and how to emotionally self-regulate through these early childhood attachments,” she says.

The Core Attachment Styles

Chances are, you’ve never given much thought to your attachment style. However, the close relationships you formed as a child have likely impacted how you act in relationships. With that in mind, let’s take a brief look at the core attachment styles:

Are you scared of commitment? Do you keep people at a distance to protect yourself from any potential pain? If the answer is yes, you may have an avoidant attachment style.

“Avoidant attachment generally develops when the caregiver is either unavailable, absent, or abusive, and the child has to adapt by learning to rely upon themselves,” explains Lurie. Since the child doesn’t get what they need from their caregivers, they may shut off. “By suppressing their attachment needs for protection and closeness, they avoid the possibility of neglect, rejection, or harm,” says Lurie.

“Adults with an avoidant attachment style not only detach from their own needs and feelings, but also have a hard time picking up on the attachment cues of their partners,” she continues. “They tend to have a hard time committing in relationships, preferring instead to keep people at arm’s length for fear of getting hurt. This can also mean struggling with intimacy, vulnerability, and withdrawing from conflict or criticism.”

The holy grail of attachment styles is secure attachment. People with this attachment style often received exactly what they needed from their caregivers. That means that they have no problem creating secure, healthy, and loving connections as adults.

“Secure attachment forms when a caregiver is committed to and successful in meeting the emotional, physical, and psychological needs of their child,” says Lurie. “The child then feels secure and supported in their endeavours, knowing that they have a safe haven. This can result in higher self-esteem, greater resilience, and stronger social skills.”

“In a relationship, someone with a securely attached style feels worthy of love and feels confident in creating meaningful connections,” she says. “Intimacy and vulnerability are not often an issue as the securely attached individual has a strong sense of self and isn’t dictated by fear of rejection. They also can tolerate conflict, understanding that it is a healthy component of any relationship and not a sign that they will be abandoned.”

Worried that your partner is going to up and leave at a moment’s notice? Do you often lie awake at night wondering whether they actually love you? Put simply, if you have an ambivalent attachment style, it’s common to be anxious within a relationship.

“An ambivalent attachment, or anxious attachment style forms when the caretaker is present, but inconsistently emotionally available,” explains Lurie. “This can be destabilising for the child who is unsure of whether or not they are safe, secure and wanted due to their caretaker’s ever changing moods.”

“People with an ambivalent attachment style can be worried or anxious about being abandoned,” she continues. “In relationships, the ambivalently attached individual is hyper-focused on their partner and the closeness of their relationship. Because they are often so hyper-vigilant about any perceived weakness in their relationship, they may become overly demanding, needy and possessive which may unintentionally wind up alienating or overwhelming their partner.”

Is it difficult for you to trust new people? Have you had destructive relationships in the past? People with a disorganised attachment style often find it hard to believe their partners have good intentions since they have experienced past trauma.

“A disorganised attachment style is believed to most often form out of traumatic experiences wherein the caregiver, who is meant to be the source of safety and protection, winds up being the threat,” says Lurie. “This leaves the child confused as to whether or not they should seek out comfort from their caregiver or run away.”

“In relationships, this results in them feeling fear of being both too close and too distant from their partners,” she says. “People with this style of attachment want to experience intimacy and closeness with their partner but also fear voicing that need due to their past traumas. They may have a hard time trusting that their partner won’t hurt them and similar to ambivalent attachment, they may not see themselves as worthy of love or affection. Because this attachment style can be so dysregulating, it is often associated with more emotional volatility and in extreme instances, it can be very destructive in relationships.”

Can You Change Your Attachment Style?

Labels are useful in helping us understand how we relate to one another. However, they don’t define us. Humans are multifaceted creatures. As Lurie says, “many of us may display traits of multiple attachment styles in different situations and within different relationships. It can still be helpful to understand your attachment style and how you engage with the world, however, even if you don’t fit neatly into one box.”

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are your attachment style. It’s not static. Sure, you may strongly associate with a disorganised, ambivalent, or anxious attachment style. If that’s the case — and it’s hindering your love life — there’s an opportunity to change yours.

“Our attachment styles have the capacity to change over the course of one’s life, or even over the course of one relationship,” says Lurie. “The path toward developing a more secure attachment style will vary for each individual, but will likely require an understanding of one’s current attachment style and how it developed.”

“We are then tasked with listening to and honouring our needs with care and intention, to help ourselves feel more secure and to be thoughtful about how we engage in our relationships,” she says. “Many people employ the services of a licensed professional in order to aid them in this process.”


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