Have you ever wondered why you act a certain way in all your relationships? Are you always trying to work out why you make the same mistakes? Or why certain types of people don’t work for you?
One part of the answer comes back to your childhood and what is called your attachment style.
In fact, when you feel insecure, when you want to check up on your partner or find yourself self-sabotaging, it can all come down to your attachment style!
Opposites attract and you could also be dating someone whose attachment style just won’t work for you.
When you can work out what your attachment style is, it can help you change the way you act and who you chose to date.
What is an Attachment Style?
Attachment theory was established in the 60’s by Psychiatrist John Bowlby and here is a breakdown of what it is.
As a child, you need to develop an attachment to an adult to survive. It is literally a matter of life and death. Your attachment to your parent happens before you even develop language or conscious memory.
Because it is based on your survival, which is a primal need, your attachment style is extremely powerful and drives how you act and behave in relationships.
There are four types of attachment styles:
- Unresolved or disorganised
Your attachment style may have started in childhood but as an adult, you keep those learned, conditioned behaviours and expectations. You then use them to relate to others in relationships.
Being aware of your attachment style will help you form better relationships because you are more aware of your own needs, strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s a breakdown of what each attachment style and its impact on your relationships.
There are 56% of the population who have a secure attachment style. People who have a secure attachment style feel secure and connected in relationships. They are able to enjoy freedom and distance in a relationship as they know that is healthy and ok.
As a child, they experienced one person in their life who gave them safety and a secure place to explore the world from. When the parent is sensitive to the way their child communicates and is able to meet their needs the child feels secure. This is not about getting it right all the time, as no parent is able to do this. Instead, it is about being good enough with responding to the child.
Secure people know that if they ask for support they get it. They learn that they can count on others and this allows them to be independent, explore the world and be confident.
If you are secure you will have experienced a relationship in childhood that you could count on and feel safe in. Growing up you learnt who you were and developed healthy self-esteem. It makes it easier for you to trust others and be vulnerable in a relationship.
Dating with Secure Attachment Style
If you are one of the 56% with a secure attachment style you are able to create a healthy relationship. You will feel secure and won’t feel jealous or possessive. Having this attachment style allows you to do things separately, have your own friends and interests because you are confident in your relationship.
You won’t feel the need for someone to ‘complete’ you as you value your own time and independence. However, you will enjoy a partner who can enrich your life because you experienced a healthy relationship in childhood. This will allow you to look for and enjoy the same closeness as an adult.
Of course, having a secure attachment style isn’t a guarantee for the perfect relationship as other factors can and do influence success.
Approximately 20% of the population have an anxious attachment style. People with an anxious attachment style are needy and are likely to be clingy in a relationship. They often feel desperate to be connected to their partner.
In childhood, an anxious person would have experienced inconsistent and unpredictable care and support from their caregivers. Their parents weren’t always there when they were needed. Maybe the parents went from being supportive to overly critical. So, the child never quite knew where they stood and it made them feel unsafe.
Dating the Anxious Attachment Style
Someone who has an anxious attachment style will be needy, anxious and insecure in their relationships. They crave the very thing that they didn’t receive in childhood. Yet because it wasn’t easily available when they were a child, they will show up as being insecure and continually need the person they are dating’s reassurance.
The word anxious means extreme uneasiness and fear of danger.
As an adult, they are likely to have low self-worth and be hard on themselves. This will show up as doubts, fear of rejection and no or low confidence. They will look for your approval, attention and continual reassurance. In fact, they want to be close and always in contact with you. People with an anxious attachment style could also be continually looking for what can go wrong and have a lack of trust as they are not secure.
In the worst cases they can be controlling, jealous and possessive.
It is important to be able to ask for what you want and need from your partner to have a healthy relationship. If you know you have this type of attachment style you will need to communicate this to your partner so they can understand and find ways to work through it.
Around 23% of the population are avoidant. People with avoidant attachment styles grow up learning that if they were upset it leads to rejection or worse. They grew up with a detached or emotionally unavailable caregiver. The child will find themselves unable to get love, support or comfort. When children can’t form emotional closeness to one parent, it makes it difficult to do as an adult.
Often the parent could have been distracted by what was going on in their life so they were detached and not responsive to the child’s needs. As a result, the child learnt how to take care of themselves.
As an adult highly, avoidant people don’t make a relationship a priority as they don’t value it. They love freedom and idealise independence. They avoid relying on others by being self-sufficient.
Dating the Avoidant Attachment Style
Some singles with an avoidant attachment style just won’t have a relationship. Others may ‘try’ to have a relationship but find it only lasts a short time. This attachment style will also use self-sabotaging behaviours – maybe they are needy or just push the other person away.
Avoidant singles don’t talk about their feelings nor look for support from others. They do their best to avoid vulnerability! The avoidant person doesn’t like to create an emotional connection or be too close to anyone. They minimise the importance of love and idealise freedom and independence. But what they are really doing is repressing their need for love as it wasn’t given to them. It is hard to have a strong relationship when you haven’t experienced it.
However, if you recognise that you are avoidant and know you are repressing your need for love it is possible to change this with some work. Self-awareness is the first step as well as learning and allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable in relationships.
There are 1% per of the population who have unresolved/disorganised attachment style. This is a mix of anxious and avoidant. These people are scared/fearful of intimacy and closeness which comes from unresolved emotions and trauma. This is often the result of growing up in an abusive or cruel home. This has a huge impact on the person’s ability to have a healthy relationship.
The parent/s who should have made sure their child was safe are the ones that caused them harm. To cope the child detaches or dissociates from their emotions.
Dating the Unresolved Attachment Style
This attachment style feels uncomfortable with intimacy and emotional closeness. When their partner tries to get close they push them away. It doesn’t feel safe.
If you have never experienced warmth and intimacy you will not know how to deal with it as an adult. However, you can still learn how to have a healthy relationship.
Effects of Different Combinations
Without going into a great deal of detail you can see how various combinations of the attachment styles can cause heartache and failed relationships.
Can You Change Your Attachment Style?
People can be unaware of their attachment style and how it affects their lives and relationships. As a result, it stays the same. However, your attachment style can change to be more or less secure depending upon your experiences and who you chose to have a relationship with. It can also change through conscious effort.
Your attachment style does not have to direct your relationship success. If you were unable to develop a healthy attachment style it does not mean you won’t be able to have a healthy relationship. You can heal childhood wounds and change those attachment styles as an adult, but it will take some work and awareness from you. It may also take the help of a professional.
To change your attachment style to be more secure, chose relationships with people who are capable of a secure attachment.
Research has found that when a person with an avoidant or anxious attachment style has a long-term relationship with someone with a secure attachment style they can rise to the level of the secure person over an extended period of time.
To find out what your attachment style is take this quiz. designed by researcher R. Chris Fraley, PhD.