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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Toller

How Your Attachment Style Might Be Affecting Your Relationships

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Every therapist that works with attachments has their own unique way of looking at attachment theory and its styles. There are several different theories, all with different styles. Some may lean more towards the Bowlby-Ainsworth attachment style, while others may prefer the Hazan and Shaver model. Many use similar words but with a different meaning or different words with the same meaning. For example, there are anxious, preoccupied, resistant, anxious ambivalent, anxious preoccupied, avoidant, dismissive, insecure dismissive, insecure preoccupied, unresolved disorganized, and so on. All these theories can be confusing, so in this article, we will focus on Bowlby-Ainsworth and their four attachment styles, secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

Understanding your attachment style can help you in your current and future relationships. We all have a unique attachment style that dictates how we relate to others. If we're not aware of our attachment style, it can lead to misunderstandings and conflict with our partner. By understanding our attachment style, we can take steps to improve communication and create a stronger, more fulfilling bond. If you're curious about your attachment style, many online quizzes can give you some insights. Understanding your attachment style is essential in creating healthier, happier relationships.

Attachment Theory 101

In developmental psychology, attachment theory is the idea that our earliest experiences with caregivers’ shape how we interact with others throughout our lives.

John Bowlby (1907 - 1990) was a British psychoanalyst who pioneered attachment theory. Bowlby’s research found that infants separated from their parents generally react in one of three ways when reunited with their parents:

Secure Attachment: These infants showed stress on separation from their caregivers, but when reunited, they sought comfort and were easily comforted.

Anxious-resistant Attachment: These infants experienced more significant levels of distress. When reunited, they sought comfort but attempted to "punish" the parents for leaving.

Avoidant Attachment: These infants showed minimal or no stress upon separation and either ignored or actively avoided the caregivers upon return.

In later years, researchers added the disorganized-disoriented attachment style as a fourth attachment style, which refers to children who have no predictable pattern of attachment behaviors.

Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999) was an American Canadian developmental psychologist who designed the 'Strange Situation Procedure' to assess individual differences in attachment behavior.

Ainsworth's research on the ‘caregiver sensitivity hypothesis’ suggested that 'sensitive' mothers are more likely to have securely attached children. This is because they responded to the child's needs and correctly responded to their moods and feelings. In contrast, mothers who respond to the child's needs incorrectly or who are impatient or ignore the child are likely to have insecurely attached children.

Ainsworth’s findings provided the first empirical evidence for Bowlby’s attachment theory.

Attachment Styles explained

Attachment styles are our early templates for relating to others that we learned based on our experiences with our primary caregivers. As suggested in Ainsworth's research, if we had a parent or other caretaker attuned to our needs, responsive, and affectionate, we likely developed a secure attachment style. This means that as adults, we approach relationships from a place of trust and feel confident in our ability to be close to others. If our early experiences were marked by neglect or abuse, we might have developed an insecure attachment style.

Understanding your attachment style can be beneficial in many ways.

  • Help you understand why you relate to others in the way you do.

  • How your early experiences may have shaped your beliefs about yourself and others.

  • Become more aware of your triggers in relationships and learn how to manage them in a healthy way.

  • Help you to find a partner whose attachment style is compatible with yours, which can lead to a healthier and more satisfying relationship.

Secure Attachment

People with a secure attachment style tend to be more trusting and less anxious in their relationships. They're also more likely to feel comfortable seeking out support and intimacy from their partners. Individuals with a secure attachment style generally have good self-esteem and a positive view of themselves. They're usually able to manage conflict constructively and maintain close, supportive relationships. People with a secure attachment style often find it easier to express their emotions and feel comfortable being emotionally open with others. If you have a secure attachment style, you're likely to experience fewer relationship problems and feel more satisfied with your relationships overall.

Anxious-Resistant Attachment

Anxious-Resistant attachment is characterized by a deep-seated fear of abandonment. People with this attachment style often have trouble trusting others. They can feel that they are always on the outside looking in. They may have difficulty forming close relationships and feel like they are constantly walking on eggshells. This can often lead to feelings of anxiety and insecurity. People with an Anxious-Resistant Attachment style often crave closeness. Still, at the same time, they are afraid of being hurt or rejected. They may want to be close to someone but then push them away out of fear. This can create a vicious cycle of neediness and distance.

Avoidant Attachment

People with an Avoidant Attachment style often have difficulty expressing their emotions. They may appear to be distant or unengaged in relationships. On the other hand, people with an anxious attachment style tend to be preoccupied with their relationships. They may worry about being abandoned and have difficulty trusting their partner. They may be reluctant to seek close attachments or may actively avoid them. They may have trouble being emotionally intimate with others and often suppress their feelings. This emotional unavailability can be due to a fear of intimacy, criticism, or the belief that they are not worthy of intimate relationships. They may find it difficult to rely on others for support. As a result, they may feel isolated and alone, even in close relationships.

Disorganized Attachment

People with disorganized attachment styles tend to have contradictory behaviors towards others. They may seek closeness to some people and distance from others. This can lead to a sense of feeling overwhelmed or confused in relationships. People with disorganized attachment may also have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may have outbursts of anger or sadness that seem disproportionate to the situation. They may also have difficulty trusting people and feel like they are constantly on guard.

Getting Help for Insecure Attachment

If you recognize an anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style in yourself or your partner, know that it is possible to change. You can develop a more secure attachment style as an adult.

Working with a Registered Psychotherapist one-on-one or in couples counselling can be a valuable tool. Working with a therapist experienced in attachment theory can help you make sense of your past experiences and develop a more secure attachment style for your future.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a type of psychotherapy that can help manage attachment styles. IFS recognizes that we all have different parts or "sub-personalities" that influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In therapy, we work to identify and understand these parts, which can help us become more self-aware and manage our attachment styles healthier.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) focuses on helping people to understand and express their emotions healthily. It also emphasizes developing secure attachments with others. By doing this, EFT can help people to feel more secure and trusting in their relationships. This can lead to improved communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy.

Attachment theory is a fascinating area of study that can help us understand our relationships with others and ourselves. The different therapies we offer at Nomina can help people create healthier attachments in their lives. If you are interested in learning more about attachment theory or any therapies we offer, don't hesitate to contact us for a consultation. We would be happy to discuss these topics with you and answer any questions.

Attachment Theory & Attachment Styles
Attachment Theory & Attachment Styles



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