How Mom and Dad Influenced Your Relationships
No one wants to believe that they are looking to date their Mother or Father. However, when looking at attachment theory, its logic actually makes sense. We are sponges while growing up. We create models for everything as kids. We learn to communicate with those around us. We learn what to wear and even what to believe. So why would it seem so farfetched that what we like about the opposite sex comes from our parents?
Psychologist John Bowlby first understood and conceptualized this idea into three separate models when working in a shelter for abused children. He would see that some kids acted distinctly different from others when being taken care of.
Later on, Mary Ainsworth conducted a study with infants to see how these models or attachment styles manifested through the behavior of the children and their caregivers. Ainsworth and Bowlby concluded that there are three primary attachment styles within people. These attachment styles are characterized as; Secure, Anxious/Ambivalent, and Avoidant.
What is Attachment?
Before we dive into the individual types of attachment styles and how they affect your current thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in your relationship; We must first define what attachment is and why certain styles are formed? Attachment is defined by Bolwby as “A deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.” Our first models from within the first 6 months of our lives and they dictate how we respond emotionally, and behaviorally to certain relational events. What do these styles look like in romantic relationships?
Love, sex and threat detection subcortical area brain, flight or flight “primitives” 99% fully automatic. Conserve resources because ambassadors take a lot of energy.
Secure attachment style is formed if the child’s caregiver was available to the child during times of stress. Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied in 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 are 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.
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. These people often think that their partner is ready to leave them at any moment. When the relationship is in jeopardy, the person will exhibit erratic and unpredictable behavior.
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 then you can work on changing your destructive thought and behavior patterns. It is important to get 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 happen then an isomorphic process will occur in which the insecurely attached person will actually bring their secure partner down to their level. It is vital to understand the role you partake in your relationships with every person you know. This increased awareness will yield a more complete picture of who you are as a person.
“Mostly it is a loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
Check out this book about attachment styles in dating.
Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books.