Attachment is defined as a special emotional relationship that invokes an exchange of comfort, care and pleasure. It is further described as the “enduring psychological connectedness between human beings”. These early experiences have important influence on the development of relationships and our relationship behavior in later life.
Your attachment style often dictates the quality of your current love life. Who you choose and how you choose can often find it’s roots right here. If you are constantly finding the wrong person to be involved with you may want to investigate your attachment history. Problems stemming from attachment difficulties are common but if left unchecked can lead to depression, anxiety, anger and other destructive emotions as they lead us down the wrong path over and over again.
Attachment styles are developed in childhood through the child/caregiver relationship and also through early experiences with others.
The ability to trust and develop meaningful relationships with others is deeply rooted in your own attachment style. How you interpret others motives and desires are fashioned by your own experiences and how you treat the significant person in your life is also by this design.
Do you push them away as you believe then the inevitable parting is under your control? Do you cling too tightly? Do you vacillate between each of these? Do you believe others are capable of loving you or meeting your needs and do you chose a person who is capable? Or do you hook up with others and not really give a rat’s behind when the relationship ends?
There are 4 main attachment styles that begin in childhood according to the literature and research, let’s first look at the styles as they developed, then how they affect you now as an adult.
- Secure Attachment– Children who are securely attached do not experience significant distress when separated from parents, and when frightened will seek comfort from them. Contact with the parent is seen as positive and readily accepted by securely attached children. Children are not overly distresses by a parent’s brief absence, but clearly prefer their parents to strangers. Characteristics of parents with securely attached children include reacting quickly to child’s needs, playing frequently with their children, and generally being more responsive. These children tend to be more empathic later in life, exhibit better behavior overall and are less aggressive.
The adult behavior of securely attached children includes the tendency to develop trusting, long term relationships. They also appear to possess higher self esteem, tend to seek out social interactions and support, are capable of and comfortable with intimate relationships and are able to share their feeling with others. Studies show individuals with a secure attachment style feel better about their marriages and relationships as adults than individuals with insecure attachment.
- Ambivalent Attachment– These children tend to be extremely suspicious of strangers. They exhibit considerable distress when separated for parents but are not necessarily comforted by the return of the parent. The child may exhibit rejection of parent or direct aggression toward them. Research links this style of attachment to low maternal availability. Others describe these children as clingy and over dependent.
As adults these folks have a harder time with relationships and posses insecurity toward those they are involved with. These adults as parents may cling to their young children as a source of security. In adult relationship literature these folks are referred to sometimes as having Anxious attachment style. They are often preoccupied with their partners to the exclusion of their own interests and have difficulty focusing on anything else. There are usually undercurrents of doubt as to whether their partners will love them back and they become very anxious during separations from the partner.
- Avoidant Attachment– These children tend to avoid parents in general, with the avoidance becoming more pronounced after a period of absence. They do not seek out comfort or contact with the caregiver nor do they show a preference between a parent and a stranger.
As adults these folks have a significant difficulty with relationships. They do not invest much emotion and experience little distress when the relationships end. They may have a series of shallow relationships over time and simply engage in casual sex. They are not likely to support partners during stressful times and possess an inability to share feelings, thoughts and emotions with partners.
- Disorganized Attachment– These children exhibit a lack of any clear attachment behavior. Appears to be mix of avoidant and ambivalent styles and these children often appear confused. Inconsistent care behavior may contribute to this as well as outright abuse. Parent is sometimes available, sometimes terrifying, which created this confusion in the child. The parents act as both figures of fear and figures of reassurance to the child, thereby contributing to the disorganized appearance of child. The child feels both comfort and fear.
As adults these individuals typically have a poorer quality of relationships, may be manipulative and see others only in terms of what they can provide for them. They do not trust not expect that relationships will last.
What’s Your Style?
So what style are you, and what style is your partner (present or most recent significant relationship)? There is no right or wrong answer. It just helps to know which style you are, as it will help you determine where your relationship problems may be coming from.
The following characteristics of each style are listed below. They will help you to determine your particular style.
Secure: Relationships are characterized by warmth. Openness comes naturally to you. You do not ruminate excessively over your relationships, and you assume that they are going well unless told differently by your partner. Your general feeling is that whatever conflict comes along within reason can be dealt with by communicating in a direct fashion. You are quite adept at reading your partner and genuine about attempting to meet their needs. You are not threatened by sharing your thoughts and feelings, and you enjoy discussing life issues with your partner.
Anxious: You may be spending a great deal of energy worrying about your relationship. You have the capacity and desire for relationships, but are very insecure once one is attained. You may be “on guard” constantly looking for signs that the relationship has ended, is weakening, or that your partner is somehow changing direction away from you. You may interpret every little nuance in your partner’s moods as being directed at you and a sure sign that things are over. These fears tend to make your relationships a roller coaster ride for you emotionally, as well as for your partner (especially if you act out when you experience the fears). Yelling, nagging and clinging when you feel threatened may tend to push your partner away, bringing about the very result you feared – that of them leaving the relationship and rejecting you.
Avoidant: You may perceive or fear relationships as being smothering or that they will interfere with your independence. Autonomy is very important to you and not to be given up. You may enjoy relationships to some degree but not let anyone “too close.” Not much time is spent worrying about your relationships one way or the other, and you are not preoccupied with rejection. Open communication does not come easily to you, and you may see no real need to share your thoughts or feelings with your partner. You may keep personal information to yourself and feel that sharing too much is giving over control to someone else. You may not like to share future plans or even current ones with your partner, causing strife in the relationship. Although you are not preoccupied with rejection, you may be always on guard about any signs of attempted control by your partner, and perceive their actions as being attempts at control when they are not.
Obviously the key here is to strive toward a secure attachment with a likewise secure individual. If you are already there, congratulations!! One less thing to worry about. If you are an insecurely attached style, don’t worry, this can be worked on and with some insight and training you too can find that perfect love. If you think you are an avoidant you may have a little more work to do to fully experience a secure attachment but it can be done.
As you can see, these styles develop over time. My Dysfunction Interrupted program is designed to help with these issues as well as others that may be keeping you stuck in unhappy life patterns. Give me a call or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss whether or not Dysfunction Interrupted is right for you.