Some people enter a serious relationship easily, while others have a more turbulent love life. The different types of attachment styles may help explain why certain patterns occur. Understanding your attachment style can significantly improve various relationships in your life. Read about the different attachment styles, discover the style with which you identify. Further, you may explore how to develop a more effective attachment style.
Attachment in this context is defined as an ongoing emotional bond that develops into an intimate relationship between two adults. Psychiatrist John Bowlby coined The Attachment Theory in 1958 after studying the negative impact of maternal deprivation on young children. His theory postulates that how we interact with a romantic partner has its origins in our relationship with our parents or caretakers. It is not surprising that our relationship with our parents influences how we are in romantic relationships. As babies and young children, we are not able to take care of ourselves and are completely dependent on others – our primary caretakers. These early relationships eventually come to affect how we behave in relationships throughout our lives.
In the book Attached, psychiatrist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel Heller identify four categories of attachment styles: Anxious, Secure, Avoidant, and Anxious-Avoidant.
1. Anxious Attachment Style
Research shows that about 21% of people have an anxious attachment style. People with an anxious style often worry about their relationships. They are desperate for love and feel anxious when the feeling of safety and security is not there. They constantly doubt themselves and are, therefore, dependent on others. Their mind is preoccupied with relationships, they fear abandonment or never finding a loving partner. Those with this style are usually quick to fall in love with a potential romantic partner. While a secure partner would be their most comfortable fit, many people in the dating pool have avoidant tendencies (see number three), which makes it sometimes unavoidable for anxiously attached people to encounter an avoidant relationship.
2. Secure Attachment Style
People with a secure attachment style are often comfortable with intimacy, are reliable, and stable in relationships. This is the pleasant middle ground; they have confidence in themselves and the other person. They like to share their feelings, and in the event of an argument, securely attached people do not immediately assume that the entire relationship is ending. Research suggests that 50%-60% of people have a secure attachment style, making up the majority of the dating pool.
3. Avoidant Attachment Style
The third category (estimated to be 25% of people) is made up of those with an avoidant attachment style who often fear losing their independence. This causes them to try to avoid intimacy actively. Do you feel uncomfortable when someone else relies on you? Do you avoid sharing feelings? Do you quickly get back on your feet after a breakup? These are typical behaviors for an avoidant attachment.
4. Anxious-Avoidant Attachment Style
This style is less common (7%) and is unfortunately often linked to trauma or abuse in childhood. It combines both fearful and avoidant behavior. People with an anxious-avoidant attachment crave a close relationship. At the same time however, this is something that they fear, potentially pushing people away to prevent them from leaving first.
The Anxious + Avoidant Trap
The book gives special attention to what the authors term the Anxious Avoidant Trap. People with an anxious attachment style would do well to be with someone secure. However, avoidant and anxious attached people frequently end up dating one another. The overrepresentation of avoidant-attached people with short-term relationships in the dating pool may cause this.
Secondly, the anxious-avoidant trap is potentially due to the described psychological “roller coaster effect.” This term refers to ups and downs experienced by people who attract and reject each other, releasing stimulating hormones. Anxious people are often “addicted” to this feeling caused by the behavior of the avoidant partner and vice versa. However, this results in what these people do not need: a needy or avoidant partner. This can lead to extreme dissatisfaction and destabilizing relationships.
Working with Attachment
Identifying your attachment style is half the work. Fortunately, Levine and Heller also provide solutions in the book. In short, the solutions boil down to working with your attachment style rather than against it.
Working with your attachment style means that whatever attachment style you recognize in yourself, you need to have a good idea of what you need from a partner. Next, you need to set healthy boundaries and communicate them consistently. You must first understand your own needs, values, and preferences. You can only recognize that your partner may or may not be sharing those preferences and values. For an avoidant attached person, this means clarifying their need for independence. For an anxiously attached person, it should be clear to their partner when they need validation. It is essential to do this without placing the responsibility and blame on your partner. After all, it is your need, not theirs.
Final Thoughts: There is no “right” or “wrong”
Attachment style is only one of many factors that come into play in a successful relationship.
The writers of the book Attached also confirm that there is no right or wrong. Therefore, find out your attachment style and do not be ashamed of it, but act on it. Numerous examples, exercises, and questionnaires can be found in the book that help you recognize your attachment style and that of your partner to help you avoid pitfalls and make better choices in the long term.
Do you notice ineffective patterns in your attachment and would you like to do something about them? It might be helpful to seek support from a mental-health professional.
Emerald Mental Health specializes in helping pilots and flight attendants via counseling and mental health coaching. Reach out if you need help with this or any other issue.
Contact Emerald Mental Health for a free consultation via www.emeraldmentalhealth.com.
Carlos, V. (2016, February 22). The science of adult attachment: Are you anxious, avoidant or secure? Elite Daily. Retrieved from https://www.elitedaily.com/dating/science-attachment-styles/1378133
Levine, A. (2012). Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find–and keep– Love.