How do attachment styles impact our relationships?


According to various psychology studies we all have different attachment styles, and being aware of yours and the one of your partner can make a big difference in how we navigate through our relationships. The attachment theory has mainly been studied and explored by psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby.


In this blogpost:

Which attachment styles are there?

What creates our attachment style?

Can we, or our partners change to a secure attachment style?


The 4 different styles out there:

- avoidant attachment

- anxious attachment

- disorganised attachment

- secure attachment


The dismissive avoidant.

Avoidants often rather rely on themselves instead of others and struggle with emotional intimacy.


Traits that are connected to a person with a dismissive avoidant attachment style:

- you are highly independent and don't necessarily feel the need to be taken care of by others. Deep down inside you do crave this, but you prefer to stay 'in control' of your emotions.

- when a person tries to get closer, you feel a strong urge to pull away.

- you crave intimacy and connection (in the end all humans do), but you struggle to allow it.

- you have a hard time connecting to your emotions and people perceive you as highly rational, distant, rigid and quick to reject things or people.

- you tend to seek flaws in the other to find a way out of the connection

- you may judge others who are very open with communicating their emotions by seeing them as needy. This is often a trigger as it mirrors where you don't allow yourself to explore these emotions.

- you prefer short term flings over long term connections to avoid true intimacy. Or you prefer a partner who's equally distant or emotionally unavailable.


How to step into a secure attachment as a dismissive avoidant:

Allow yourself to be vulnerable, no matter how scary this may feel. Make sure you do this with safe connections, people who hold space for you without judgement. Allow yourself to love and be loved in return. Try becoming aware of your own judgement towards others. If your judgement is towards people who express themselves fully, or who communicate their needs, ask yourself where you restrict yourself in expressing yourself and your emotions.


How to retrace the dismissive avoidant attachment back to childhood:

Your caregiver or parent may have been rejecting, or physically/emotionally distant. Since your needs were never regularly or predictably met by your caregiver, you were forced to distance yourself emotionally in attempt to self-soothe. This built a foundation of avoiding intimacy and craving independence in later life—even when that independence and lack of intimacy causes its own distress.


The anxious attachment style

The anxious (pre-occupied/ambivalent) attached, are often seen as needy, lacking self-esteem and often seem to worry whether their partner will stay, or whether they are to be trusted.

If you have an anxious attachment, you often connect to the following traits:

- you fear losing your partner or rejection so much, it sometimes may even take away your daily peace. Your actions towards your partner can become controlling and sometimes result in jealousy, using guilt or even manipulation to keep them close.

- you become fixated on your partner which makes you put your own needs aside. Often times anxious attachment is also linked to co-dependency.

- you become hyper alert of your partners moods and often take things more personal than they are intended.

- your lack of boundaries make the boundaries of your partner feel threatening. At times so much, they can even make you angry or sad. You see this as potential abandonment while your partner may just need some space, which doesn't have to imply them leaving the connection.

- a lot of your self-worth is linked to the validation you get from the relationship. Hence alone time can feel uncomfortable.

- a low sense of self worth can cause you to place others on a higher pedestal and admire their worth.

- you feel connected through conflict, (childhood familiarity) so you create drama to feel the same impulse. Stability feels boring.

- the attention, care, and responsiveness of your partner appears to be your ‘remedy’ for anxiety.

- you need a lot of confirmation, reassurance and attention from your partner to know they won't leave and to know that they still like you.

- you have been called needy or clingy.


How to step into a secure attachment as someone with an anxious attachment style:

Focus on you. Practise and prioritise self-love. Explore what makes your heart beat faster, and create more of that. It is important that these hobbies or passions are not connected to the desires of your partner. Try this outside of relationships, but especially while in a relationship. Ask yourself, 'what are my opinions, wants and needs in (insert X situation) this?'.


How to retrace the anxious attachment back to childhood:

Anxious attachment can occur when a parent is emotionally withdrawn or when they emotionally neglects a child. It can also shape itself after a sudden loss of a caretaker. Due to the sudden withdraw of love and care, you have learned to cling onto the love you receive, which is fear based.


The disorganised attachment style

The disorganised attached are constantly in between the avoidant and the anxious attachment style. There's a consistent dance between desire and fear for this type.


traits may look like the following:

- you crave intimacy but struggle to trust others.

- you are often feeling anxious and uncomfortable of the idea others getting too close to you, yet you worry about your partners commitment and love.

- you're afraid your efforts won't be reciprocated by your partner

- show no clear indication of either attachment style

- past memories are repressed and often not processed fully

- you may lack the ability to empathise and are anti-social

- you struggle with authority and lean towards criminal activities or narcissistic behavioural patterns.



The secure attachment style

All above attachment styles mentioned so far are insecure. Then there is the secured attached partner, who is present in the relationship and is able to rely on their partner and let their partner rely on them.


The secure attached:

- feel comfortable either being alone, or together.

- are able to cultivate the relationship, manoeuvre through difficulty in a collected manner.

- they know how to regulate their emotions.

- prioritises honesty, vulnerability and connection.

- is not worried about rejection, neither about someone coming too close to them.


How to become securely attached:

this requires warmth and connection from both parents during childhood but also from ourselves as we grow up. Hence it's important to self-soothe in healthy ways when we experience grief, sadness or anger, instead of leaning towards self-destructive coping mechanisms. Strategies such as self-compassion, communication and connection. Fully allowing emotions to be present.



Attachments styles are shaped in early childhood but can change due to impactful life events such as a sudden passing of a parent, mental abuse, trauma or other events. Hence some people go from victim to overcomer. So an attachment style is also not an identity for life, rather something we can work on over the course of time and the right amount of awareness can help with that.











Sources:

Book 'the body keeps the score' by Bessel van der Kolk.

Dutch books 'liefdesbang' & 'verbonden'

Help guide

Various self help podcasts


Attachment styles do not only affect your relationships, but also play a big role in how you interact with your own children.

To dive more in the childhood aspect of attachment styles, besides relationships focused, read https://www.verywellmind.com/attachment-styles-2795344