We all have our individual attachment style. Attachment styles are ways of relating to people in relationships. Some people are very clingy, while some are unattached, while others vacillate between the two with a “push-pull” dynamic. According to the attachment theory, which was first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, our adult attachment styles are shaped and developed early in life in response to our relationships with our earliest caregivers. Essentially, attachment styles usually mirror the dynamics we had with our caregivers. Once it’s established, it is a style that remains and sets the stage for how we relate in intimate relationships.
So, what are the different attatchment styles? Let’s delve in.
First, there’s the Secure attachment. Just as the name says, people with a secure attachment are just that. Secured. Individuals with this attachment style form stable relationships where trust and respect are mutual and where the dependency on one another and expectations are healthy and balanced. They’re not afraid of intimacy, they know how to draw boundaries, and they accept and show vulnerability with ease because they’re comfortable with their emotions. They’re also are not afraid to leave an unhealthy relationship. This is the only healthy attachment style.
Early Years: Individuals with this attachment style usually had their needs met as children in a safe, nurturing environment. As infants/children, they felt comfortable around their parents and had a clear understanding of how they should be treated.
The second attachment style is Anxious attachment. Anxiously attached people tend to be very insecure about their relationships. Because of their strong fear of rejection or abandonment, they often worry that their partner will leave them. Thus, constantly wanting validation and exhibiting neediness or clingy behavior (such as getting anxious when their partner doesn’t text back fast enough and constantly feeling like their partner doesn’t care enough).
Early Years: An anxious attachment is developed in childhood when the child receives an unreliable and inconsistent amount of love and care. As young children, they may cling to caregivers, be desperate for their attention. or become inconsolable when a caregiver leaves.
When Mary Ainsworth (the psychologist that helped to develop the attachment theory) assessed children’s attachment patterns at 12 to 18 months, noted that when the children with anxious attachment were reunited with their mothers, they were confused, dazed or agitated; staring off into space and avoiding direct eye contact with her. They remained intensely focused on their mother, but did not seem to be satisfied or comforted. The narrow focus and limited responses of these children prevented any further play or exploratory behavior.
(The other names for this attachment style are anxious-preoccupied and ambivalent attachment)
The third is Avoidant attachment. People with this attachment style tend to have trouble getting close to others. You can be around them, but they’ll keep you at arm’s length and won’t let you in. If they’re ever hurt, disappointed, or feel abandonment of any form, they will vow to never again be placed in such a position of need. They have such a deep-seated fear of intimacy that they even avoid and deny their own feelings. These individuals often isolate themselves and prefer living an independent lifestyle.
Early Years: During childhood, only a portion of their needs were met. For instance, they may have been fed, but they were emotionally neglected because their parents were emotionally distant. Their parents expected them to be independent and tough.
Because of the emotional, physical, or relational unavailability from childhood, they’ve decided to only trust and rely on themselves.
Lastly, there’s the Fearful-avoidant attachment. It’s a combination of both the anxious and avoidant attachment styles. This attachment style is often seen in people who have been physically, verbally, or sexually abused or neglected in their childhood. People with fearful-avoidant attachment crave affection, connection, and love, but they’re reluctant to trust and connect with others. They even feel unworthy of love…so they remain independent and distant. In fact, when they’re pushed to open up, they may completely shut down.
Early Years: These individuals often experienced a chaotic childhood environment, in fear of their abusive parents. Their parents may have been suffering from PTSD, personality disorders, or depression.
Essentially, babies and children who have their needs met and receive love and support are likely to develop secure, healthy relationships, while babies and children who don’t have their needs met and who experience inconsistency or negligence are likely to be anxious, avoidant, and even fearful in relationships.
Though most people develop their attachment style from infancy, it’s possible to change it. Stay tuned for the next topic: Developing Secure Attachments.
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