Romantic relationships can be challenging at the best of times; there’s so much choice, sacrifice, and important decision-making involved if you hope to have a successful, long-lasting relationship.
Add different personality styles, genetics, and life experiences into the mix, and this is where relationships can get tricky! Not to mention our attachment styles and how they can impact how we see ourselves, our partner, and the rest of the world!
Attachment styles have long been discussed within various mental health circles (and for a good reason!).
Many psychologists believe knowing your attachment style may help improve your romantic (and platonic) relationships.
This article explores the benefits of knowing your attachment style and how this can significantly improve your relationships and quality of life.
Let’s dive in!
Attachment styles at a glance
Psychologists have identified some key facts about attachment styles and how they can affect (and benefit) our close relationships.
You might find it helpful to know that:
- “Attachment” is a special bond or emotional connection involving an exchange of care, comfort, and pleasure. Psychologist John Bowlby defined attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
- Our attachment patterns and how we relate to early caregivers can significantly impact our adult relationships.
- There are four primary attachment styles: secure attachment, ambivalent attachment, avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment.
- Those with a secure attachment style tend to have more satisfying and fulfilling relationships than those with other attachment styles.
- Individuals with anxious or fearful attachment styles may be distant, overwhelming, or overly demanding of others.
- Knowing your attachment style can help improve your relationships and help you identify positive areas for growth and improvement, leading to more fulfilling, lasting relationships.
Psychoanalyst John Bowlby developed his theory on attachment in 1949, believing that mental health and behavioral issues are strongly linked to early childhood.
Bowlby’s theories on childhood development originated from a similar school of thought as infamous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, suggesting that our early life experiences profoundly influence our concept of self and others and how we view and experience the world.
According to researchers, Bowlby believed that children come into the world pre-programmed to form attachments with others for survival.
Bowlby also suggested a critical time period for developing attachments (2.5 years).
In addition, Bowlby suggested that if an attachment has not formed between an infant and caregiver by the time a child reaches 2.5 years, there’s a chance an attachment may not be formed at all.
However, recent research illustrates that Bowlby later suggested a sensitive period of up to five years. (John Bowlby Attachment Theory, SimplyPsychology, Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., May 10, 2023.)
Attachment aids survival
Bowlby strongly believed that attachment had an evolutionary component in that it aids survival. (The Different Types of Attachment Styles, Verywell mind, Kendra Cherry, May 26, 2022.)
He stated that:
“The need to develop strong emotional bonds to specific individuals [is] a basic component of human nature.” (The Different Types of Attachment Styles, Verywell mind, Kendra Cherry, May 26, 2022.)
However, although forming attachments to others is an essential aspect of early development, maternal deprivation or prolonged disruption between infant and caregiver may result in long-term social, emotional, and cognitive problems for the infant. (John Bowlby Attachment Theory, SimplyPsychology, Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., May 10, 2023.)
Why knowing your attachment style will benefit your relationships
Understanding our attachment style can fuel motivation for positive change and help us improve how we interact with ourselves, our partners, and the world around us.
The eye cannot see itself, so recognizing your attachment pattern can help you develop a stronger sense of self, understand why you may react to certain things the way you do, and may even give you insight into unhelpful thought and behavioral patterns.
As mentioned, some psychologists believe that identifying your attachment style may benefit your relationships, paving the way for positive change, self-compassion, and more rewarding connections with others.
One researcher noted that accepting our attachment style and recognizing the work that comes with it can be life-changing and powerful. (How Different Attachment Styles Affect Relationships, Psychology Today, Sarah-Len Mutiwasekwa, May 11, 2021.)
With all that in mind, let’s look at the four attachment styles more thoroughly.
1. Secure attachment
As mentioned, securely attached people tend to have more fulfilling and trusting relationships than those with other attachment styles.
The parents or caregivers of securely attached children tend to be more responsive to their child’s needs, demonstrate higher levels of empathy, and are more loving and consistent toward their children.
Children with secure attachments may become upset when their parents or caregivers are absent and are demonstrably happy when their parents return.
When frightened or upset, children with secure attachments seek comfort and reassurance from their parents or caregivers.
Studies show that when a caregiver or parent is absent, a child may be comforted by a stranger to a degree, but it is evident that the child prefers the parent’s company to that of strangers.
For instance, when the caregiver returns, the child positively greets them and responds well to any contact initiated by the parent.
Research shows that parents with securely attached children interact more with their infants, respond quicker to their child’s needs, and are generally more responsive to their children than the parents of insecurely attached children. (The Different Types of Attachment Styles, Verywell mind, Kendra Cherry, May 26, 2022.)
Unlike children with anxious or fearful attachment styles, research has shown that securely attached children are likely to be more:
- Less disruptive
- Happier and less aggressive in general
In adulthood, those with secure attachments tend to have more trusting relationships, higher self-esteem, and a more robust support network than those with other attachment styles.
2. Ambivalent attachment
When children are born into the world, many may think receiving love, care, and affection from a caregiver or parent is a given.
For many children, the above is true, but for some, any love they receive from a primary caregiver may be inconsistent and confusing or, in severe cases, non-existent.
Children with ambivalent attachment styles do receive love and affection from their parents or caregivers. However, it’s often sporadic and inconsistent, resulting in long-term issues for the infant.
When a parent’s behaviors or attitudes towards their infant are inconsistent or when love is doled out sporadically, this may create uncertainty and fear that carries through to adulthood.
Ambivalent attachment creates a deep trauma wound in the child, and, as a result, they may develop specific beliefs they take with them into later life.
For example, someone with an ambivalent attachment style may believe that “love is unpredictable,” “fleeting,” or that affection and loving sentiments are random or sporadic.
So, when someone demonstrates consistency or affection towards a person with this attachment style, they may become distant, fearful, or distrusting, believing that love must be wishy-washy or sporadic; anything else is too confusing or unfamiliar.
In addition, those with ambivalent attachments may develop into shy, hesitant, and anxious adults; they may also fear being separated from others and avoid physical intimacy, particularly in romantic relationships.
3. Avoidant attachment
An avoidant attachment may develop when caregivers or parents are consistently unresponsive or emotionally unavailable to their child’s needs.
When this happens, the infant or child may become withdrawn, stop expressing their emotions, and avoid seeking connections from others.
The bonds we form as newborn babies can have a profound, long-lasting impact on our mental health and well-being.
When caregivers are responsive, affectionate, and warm towards their children, the child is likely to form strong emotional bonds and healthy attachments to their parents over time.
However, when the bond between caregiver and infant is disrupted or broken in some way, the child is likely to develop an unhealthy attachment to its parent or caregiver.
Studies show that children with secure attachments have more confidence and better emotional regulation skills than those with other attachment styles.
However, the reverse is often true for those with an avoidant attachment style.
When parents are neglectful, dismissive, or unresponsive to a child’s needs, the child quickly learns to suppress or stop outward displays of emotion or affection.
Children with an avoidant attachment style may stop seeking intimacy or expressing emotion, especially when their need for affection, love, or physical closeness is repeatedly neglected or unmet. (What Is Avoidant Attachment? Healthline, Julia Pelly, September 27, 2019.)
How avoidant attachment shows up in adult relationships
Researchers noted that those with avoidant attachment styles might grow up as overly independent and self-sufficient adults.
Those with an avoidant attachment style know how to self-soothe. These individuals may suppress their feelings and emotions and refrain from seeking attachments from others, relying solely on themselves for emotional support.
Despite enjoying other peoples’ company, individuals with this attachment style may struggle to connect with others and will avoid intimacy or closeness at all costs, believing that they don’t need to (or shouldn’t) rely on others.
They may also struggle with setting healthy boundaries and expressing their emotional needs to others.
4. Disorganized attachment
Disorganized attachment develops when a parent or caregiver consistently fails to respond appropriately to a child’s distress or when a parent demonstrates inconsistency in responding to a child’s despair or fears.
For example, when a child starts their first day at school and is anxious about walking into a classroom full of strangers, instead of soothing the child or providing them with emotional support, the parent responds by mocking, yelling, or using fear tactics to stop the child from crying or acting out.
Children with a disorganized attachment style may crave their parent’s attention but respond with fear when given it.
They may also respond to a parent’s presence through avoidance, crying, or other fear-based responses.
How disorganized attachment shows up in adult relationships
Those with a disorganized attachment style may crave a relationship but have a fear of intimacy and will avoid closeness.
In addition, people with this attachment style tend to experience issues with emotional regulation, lack healthy coping skills, and have problems developing satisfying connections with others.
Mental health professionals explain that disorganized attachment results from neglect or maltreatment in childhood. Furthermore, people with disorganized attachment tend to have children with the same attachment patterns.
One researcher stated that disorganized attachment is often the result of intergenerational parenting patterns, meaning that parents who demonstrate neglectful and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes towards their children are likely to pass this on to future family generations. (What Is Avoidant Attachment? Healthline, Julia Pelly, September 27, 2019.)
The bottom line
It is evident from the research that attachment styles can shape our relationships for good or bad.
However, these are not fixed patterns; as time passes, it’s possible for your attachment style to change and for you to evolve as a romantic partner or platonic friend. (How Different Attachment Styles Affect Relationships, Psychology Today, Sarah-Len Mutiwasekwa, May 11, 2021.)
Knowing your attachment style and being willing to “do the work” to enhance the health of your relationships are two entirely different things, and the decision to seek help and support lies entirely in your hands.
Addressing attachment issues through treatment
As mentioned, change is possible when it comes to attachment styles, and there are various things we can do to improve the health of our relationships, including:
- Working on our relationship with ourselves and building self-esteem.
- Removing ourselves from counterproductive or toxic relationships.
- Engaging in therapy or speaking to a counselor to heal from past experiences.
- Seeking trauma treatment to better understand our triggers and attachment style. For example, fearful or anxious attachment styles are often due to unhealed childhood trauma wounds. Healing past wounds can help us reframe negative experiences and identify unhealthy coping skills, allowing us to manage our relationships objectively and from a more empowering stance.
- Building a robust support network of friends and family for support.
Therapies that may be effective for addressing attachment issues include the following:
- Couples therapy
- Family therapy
- Support groups
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT)
- Psychodynamic therapy
If you want to learn more about your attachment style or are concerned about your relationships, contact an admissions counselor at Tikvah Lake Recovery, who can help.
We provide personalized mental health treatment to clients wanting to overcome long-standing emotional issues that may be holding them back.
Our staff are compassionate, experienced professionals who provide tailored, individual treatment programs designed around your unique needs and preferences.
We provide psychological therapies for individuals wanting to understand themselves better, improve their relationships and address any underlying issues that may prevent them from leading the fulfilling, happy life they deserve.
Contact our friendly team to learn more about our treatment programs.
If you are ready to heal, we are ready to help.
- How Different Attachment Styles Affect Relationships, Psychology Today, Sarah-Len Mutiwasekwa, May 11, 2021
- What Is Avoidant Attachment? Healthline, Julia Pelly, September 27, 2019
- The Different Types of Attachment Styles, Verywell mind, Kendra Cherry, May 26, 2022