Our style of attachment affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. That is why recognising your attachment pattern can help you understand your strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. An attachment pattern is established in early childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood.
Our attachment style influences how each of us attempts to get our needs met. When we have a secure attachment pattern, we are confident and self-possessed and are able to easily interact with others, meeting both our own and another person’s needs. However, when we have an anxious or avoidant attachment pattern, we may pick a partner who fits with this maladaptive pattern, and we will most likely be choosing someone who isn’t the ideal choice to make us happy.
For example, if we have an anxious/preoccupied attachment, we will feel that in order to get close to someone and have our needs met, we need to be with our partner all the time and get reassurance. To support this perception of reality, we may choose someone who is isolated and hard to connect with. If we have a dismissive/avoidant attachment, we will have a tendency to be distant, because our model is that the way to get our needs met is to act like we don’t have any. We may then choose someone who is more possessive or overly demanding of attention.
In a sense, we set ourselves up by finding partners that confirm our models. If we grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, we may project or seek to duplicate similar patterns of relating as adults, even when these patterns hurt us and are not in our own self-interest.
I think we all need to be aware of these styles as it will give a sense of relief when you identify which style resonates the most. Remember there is no right or wrong here.
Let’s take a closer look at the different attachment styles:
Securely-attached adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. Children with a secure attachment see their parent as a secure base from which they can venture out and independently explore the world. A secure adult has a similar relationship with their romantic partner, feeling secure and connected, while allowing themselves and their partner to move freely.
Secure adults offer support when their partner feels distressed. They also go to their partner for comfort when they themselves feel troubled. Their relationship tends to be honest, open and equal, with both people feeling independent yet loving toward each other.
Unlike securely-attached couples, people with an anxious attachment tend to be desperate to form a fantasy bond. Instead of feeling real love or trust toward their partner, they often feel this emotional hunger. They’re frequently looking to their partner to rescue or complete them. Although they’re seeking a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner, they take actions that push their partner away.
Even though anxiously-attached individuals act desperate or insecure, more often than not, their behaviour exacerbates their own fears. When they feel unsure of their partner’s feelings and unsafe in their relationship, they often become clingy, demanding or possessive. They may also interpret independent actions by their partner as affirmation of their fears. For example, if their partner starts socialising more with friends, they may think, “See? He doesn’t really love me. This means he is going to leave me. I was right not to trust him.”
People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment have the tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. They may seek isolation and feel pseudo-independent, taking on the role of parenting themselves. They often come off as focused on themselves and may be overly attending to their creature comforts.
Pseudo-independence is an illusion, as every human being needs connection. Nevertheless, people with a dismissive avoidant attachment tend to lead more inward lives, both denying the importance of loved ones and detaching easily from them. They are often psychologically defended and have the ability to shut down emotionally. Even in heated or emotional situations, they are able to turn off their feelings and not react. For example, if their partner is distressed and threatens to leave them, they would respond by saying, “I don’t care.”
A person with a fearful-avoidant attachment lives in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to. They may try to just avoid their anxiety or run away from their feelings but, instead, they are overwhelmed by their reactions and often experience emotional storms. They tend to be mixed up or unpredictable in their moods. They see their relationships from the working model that you need to go toward others to get your needs met, but if you get close to others, they will hurt you. In other words, the person they want to go to for love is the same person they are frightened to be close to. As a result, they have no organised strategy for getting their needs met by others.
As adults, these individuals tend to find themselves in rocky or dramatic relationships, with many highs and lows. They often have fears of being abandoned but also struggle with being intimate. They may cling to their partner when they feel rejected, then feel trapped when their partner comes toward them. Often, the timing seems to be off between them and their partner. People with fearful avoidant attachment may even involve themselves in an abusive relationship.
I feel that when we can understand our attachment style then it helps us understand our relationships too. Everyone has an attachment style and there is no right one or wrong one so keep this in mind but knowing which style you are and that of your partner might increase understanding and empathy in relationships.