As children, we primarily learn from the environment we are placed in. Our social intelligence is gleaned from the interactions of those around us. We then form our first mental models of attachment through a relationship with our Mother and Father.
This early role formation establishes a prime model of how we think about other relationships, such as with our partners in the future. Psychologist John Bowlby first understood and conceptualized these models when working with children in a shelter for abused and neglected children. Later on, Mary Ainsworth conducted a study with infants to see how these attachment styles manifested through the behavior of the children and their caregivers. Ainsworth & Bowlby concluded that there are four primary attachment styles people can choose from. These attachment styles are characterized as either: Secure, Anxious/Ambivalent, Disorganized, or Avoidant. This article will explain these attachment styles, and how to alter your own into the ideal attachment of being ‘Secure’.
What is Attachment?
Before we dive into the individual types of attachment styles and how they affect our current thoughts, emotions and behaviors in your relationship, we must first define what attachment is and why certain styles are formed. Bowlby defines attachment as “A deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.” It is believed that our mental models form within the first 6 months of our lives, and that they dictate how we respond emotionally and behaviorally to certain relational events. Later articles will discuss how these attachment styles develop, and what you can do in each specific case to heal them. However, how can you identify these different styles in romantic relationships?
A Secure attachment style is formed if the child’s caregiver was typically available to the child during times of stress. Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied with their relationships because they are able to honestly express their needs and desires. They also support their partners through hardship and duress. The key characteristics of a securely attached individual is honest communication and emotional support. This honesty promotes each person’s ability to feel comfortable with their partner. The added security in the relationship establishes an environment that promotes independence as well as togetherness.
The 3 Insecure Attachment Styles
1) Ambivalent – Anxious Attachment
Anxiously attached individuals tend to look toward their partners to fill a void in their life. These people have trouble being alone and will often seek out relationships that are not always beneficial for themselves. Anxiously attached individuals are more insecure and desperate in their thoughts and behaviors. If they feel that their partner is being distant then they will become obsessively clingy and worrisome. People with this attachment style often believe that their partner is ready to leave them at any moment. When the relationship is in jeopardy, sometimes this person will exhibit erratic and unpredictable behavior.
2) Disorganized – Disoriented Attachment
Those who are disorganized in their attachment schema will sometimes display avoidant or anxious tendencies. People with this attachment style will not display any sort of consistent response in their relationship. In describing individuals with the disorganized attachment style, their partners would describe them as ‘Hot’ or ‘Cold’ when interacting with them. Typically, children who were abused will revert to this technique. By not having a particular method on how to handle a relationship, they will react in ways that are described as disorganized.
3) Avoidant Attachment
People with an avoidant attachment style understand that you must get close to someone in order to get your needs met, but they also fear that if they get too close then they can get hurt. This incongruent thought process manifests behaviorally through “game-playing” and being “two-faced.” Avoidant individuals tend to remove themselves from relational conflict and often say to themselves, “I will be better off without them.” and “I don’t need them in my life.” This attachment creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of constantly wanting to be loved, but not accepting it when it is given.
Can you Change your Style?
Your attachment style can change over time. If your parents were not always there for you as a child, it does not mean you are a lost cause. If you get with a person that is securely attached and you have an understanding of your own attachment style (take this quiz to find yours out!) then you can work on changing your destructive thought and behavior patterns. An important component is that you should form a relationship with a securely attached person who has a strong identity of who they are, and what they deserve from a partner. If this does not occur, then an isomorphic process will occur in which the insecurely attached person will actually rub off their insecurities onto the secure individual. It is vital that an individual understands their role in a relationship. Active understanding and participation can improve relationship dynamics. This increased awareness will yield a more complete picture of who you are as a person, and your role in living a fulfilling life.
“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
If you’re interested in reading more about attachment, check out these books about attachment styles in dating:
Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books.