How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationships

Have you ever wondered how your attachment style impacts your relationships? Maybe people have called you clingy* or perhaps you only want to be with someone until they seem to want the same. Take it from me, we’ve all got our issues. With that said, allow me to provide you with your daily dose of self-awareness. 

Love and relationships are challenging enough as it is, but throw in a dash of anxious attachment or a pinch of avoidant attachment? Oof, now it’s a party. If you’ve noticed a pattern of unhealthy behaviors in your love life, then it may be time to dig deeper and explore the ways that your attachment style may be affecting your relationships. 

What is Attachment Theory?

According to psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s early work on Attachment Theory, our relationship with our parents has an unadulterated influence on our social, intimate, and work relationships later in life. Based on Bowlby’s research, we can all identify with one of four attachment styles: anxious, avoidant, disorganized, and secure. 

These attachment styles are believed to develop early in life and remain stable through adulthood, which means it’s important to understand how yours may be affecting the relationships you maintain (or don’t). All except Secure Attachment are often rooted in abuse, whether verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual.

 Here’s a breakdown of the 4 attachment styles and how they impact relationships:

1. Anxious or Preoccupied

Adults with an anxious attachment style often have a detrimental view of themselves and a favorable view of others. They commonly seek approval and support from their partner, who they view as their better half. It’s typical for individuals with this attachment style to care deeply about their relationships and fear that their significant other may not care as much. 

Safety is a priority for adults with an anxious attachment style, often as a result of a strong fear of abandonment or a traumatic history. This attachment style is often a result of inconsistent parenting, where the parents were supportive at times and emotionally unavailable at others, if not emotionally abusive. In the future, this can lead to the development of anxious behaviors in the child and confusion about what to expect from their loved ones. 

Having an anxious attachment style can be wildly exhausting, oftentimes making love feel like an emotional roller coaster. These people tend to constantly question where they stand with their partner and can be emotionally damaged by even the slightest sign of rejection. It can also cause unhappiness, anxiety, and stress. 

2. Avoidant or Dismissive

Have you ever thought of yourself as a lone wolf? Adults with an avoidant attachment style are typically independent, self-sufficient, and view themselves and others in a high regard. They tend to avoid emotional closeness and do not seek approval or support from social relationships. When faced with an emotionally-charged situation, people with this attachment style will often suppress their feelings. 

This attachment style is directly related to the emotional availability of the parents. The child’s parents may have been uncomfortable with intimacy and may even disapprove of displays of any emotion from their child, whether positive or negative. These parents are emotionally neglectful and sometimes physically abusive. Since they shut down emotional closeness in childhood, it’s common for these behaviors to be passed down to the child in their own future relationships.

3. Disorganized or Fearful-Avoidant

If you find that you avoid emotional relationships out of a fear of getting hurt, you may have a disorganized attachment style. Adults with this attachment style often crave intimacy but find difficulty in trusting others and regulating their emotions. This attachment style is believed to incorporate attributes from both anxious and avoidant attachment styles, making it arguably the most difficult one to treat. 

The disorganized attachment style is most commonly caused by overt childhood trauma or abuse. When a child’s source of safety (i.e., the parents) becomes their source of fear, this creates a level of distrust around caregivers. 

In adulthood, those with a disorganized attachment style tend to seek closeness yet distance themselves out of fear. They want to love and be loved, but they also feel the need to protect themselves. For these adults, disappointment is inevitable, so they constantly find themselves waiting for the other shoe to drop.

4. Secure Attachment

Adults with a secure attachment style are more likely to possess the ability to comfortably express their emotions. This type tends to thrive in relationships and often has a positive view of themselves and others. In most cases, those with a secure attachment style were supported, loved, and allowed to express themselves as children.

So, are you stuck with the same attachment style forever? Absolutely not. We cannot change what’s happened to us in the past, but we can change what we do going forward. The first step to healing an insecure attachment style is recognizing how you got there. From there, you can work to break free from the destructive habits that have held you back. Trauma may have gotten us here, but it doesn’t have to keep us here. 

We can reflect, we can heal, and we can grow.

*Truly hate that word, but A therapist once told me that perhaps I wasn’t too clingy but they were too stingy! I like that! (…and it turned out to be true!)

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