Here is a broad and brief outline of the attachment styles. These relating styles are a spectrum and we can fall anywhere on it, depending on how activated or deactivated our nervous systems are.
SECURE ATTACHMENT – Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. A secure adult has a feeling of being connected, while allowing themselves and their partner plenty of independence. 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 autonomous, yet loving toward each other.
ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT – Unlike securely attached couples, people with an anxious attachment tend to frequently look 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. For anxiously attached people relationships can be great sources of stress. As the name suggests, there is often a general low level anxiety around being close to someone and whether they are getting enough love. Even though anxiously attached individuals act insecure, in extreme moments, their behaviour exacerbates their own fears. They can become addicted and when they feel unsure of their partner’s feelings and unsafe in their relationship, they can become clingy, demanding or possessive toward their partner and inadvertently frighten them away.
AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT – People with an avoidant attachment have the tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. They may seek isolation despite our human need for connection. People with an avoidant attachment tend to lead more inward lives, both denying the importance of loved ones and detaching easily from them. They are often quite 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.
Within avoidance, there are 2 categories:
Dismissive: Whereby we create distance by being grandiose and critical at times, often numbed out from our feelings (low anxiety). We can be guarded and evasive, and tire very quickly when confronted with the responsibilities of a relationship. Generally relationships are seen as unneeded, as the avoidant is “fine as they are”.
Fearful: Have the characteristics of both anxious and avoidant attachments - we desire close relationships but feel uncomfortable relying on others and fear being let down or rejected. We want relationships but get fearful when things progress and closeness and intimacy are increasing (high anxiety).
A common couple combination is where one individual is anxiously attached and the other is avoidant. These two attachment styles gravitate towards each other and fit each other hand in glove: the anxiously attached will always want more from the aloof avoidantly attached individual, and the avoidant partner will generally feel a bit smothered by the enthusiastic anxiously attached partner.
Anxiously Attached adults anticipate rejection or abandonment and look for signs that their partner doesn't care or is losing interest.
ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT STYLE: Where it all began for us
Many parents or caregivers are inconsistently attuned to their children. Attachment researchers note how at times parents are nurturing, attuned and respond effectively to their child’s distress, while at other times they are intrusive, insensitive or emotionally unavailable.
When parents vacillate between these two very different responses, their children become confused and insecure, not knowing what kind of treatment to expect. These children often feel distrustful or suspicious of their parent, but they act clingy and desperate. They learn that the best way to get their needs met is to cling to their attachment figure. These children have an anxious attachment with their unpredictable parent.
Children who have an anxious attachment often grow up to have preoccupied anxious attachment patterns. As adults, they tend to be self-critical and insecure. They seek approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves their self-doubt. In their relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to feel overly dependent on their partner. These people’s lives are not balanced: their insecurity leaves them turned against themselves and emotionally drained in their relationships.
Adults with preoccupied/anxious attachment patterns often assume the role of the “pursuer” in a relationship. They often have positive views of other people, especially their parents and their partner, and generally have a negative view of themselves. They rely heavily on their partner to validate their self-worth. Because they grew up insecure based on the inconsistent availability of their caregivers, they are “rejection-sensitive.” They anticipate rejection or abandonment and look for signs that their partner is losing interest.
Some questions and talking points to consider or to discuss with your partner:
1. Can you recognise your dominant attachment style? Often it’s the one that comes out when there is conflict or difficulty in the relationship.
2. Knowing your attachment style now can you see how it might impact how you communicate with your partner? And how and why you and your partner respond the way you both do? (Try not to judge here! Remember we are in research-mode and looking to understand (become more conscious of) ourselves and each other better. What to do to manage all this comes later).
3. Psychotherapists say that anxiously attached people are frightened of abandonment, and avoidantly attached people are frightened of engulfment. Do either of these ideas resonate with you and your partner?
4. What can you work on so you may be more secure in your current or future relationship?
A common couple combination is where one individual is anxiously attached and the other is avoidant. These two attachment styles gravitate towards each other and fit each other hand in glove.
DISMISSING ATTACHMENT STYLE CRITICAL VOICES OR THOUGHTS COULD BE:
“You don’t need anyone.”
“Don’t get too involved. You’ll just be disappointed.”
“Men won’t commit to a relationship.”
“Women will try to trap you.”
“Why does he/she demand so much from you?”
“There are more important things in life than romance.”
“You’re going to get hurt in this relationship.”
“You’re too good for him/her.”
According to Dr Dan Siegal (clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA), individuals with Dismissive Avoidant Attachment likely had parents with an Avoidant Attachment who tended to be emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to their children a good deal of the time. They disregarded their children’s needs, and may have been rejecting when their child was hurt or sick.
These parents discouraged crying and encouraged premature independence in their children. This kind of caregiving causes infants to disconnect from their needs and minimise the importance of emotions & they often ‘avoid’ emotional closeness in romantic relationships later in life.
Dismissively attached adults will often seek out relationships and enjoy spending time with their partner, but become uncomfortable when relationships get too close. They may perceive their partners as “wanting too much” or feel smothered when their partners desire emotional closeness.
When faced with threats of separation, dismissive men and women focus their attention on things outside of the relationship. They tend to withdraw to cope with the threat on their own. They deny their vulnerability. When they do seek support from a partner, they use indirect strategies such as hinting, complaining, and sulking.
Many dismissing adults use “pre-emptive” strategies to keep themselves safe: they choose not to get involved in a close relationship for fear of rejection; they may “tune out” a difficult conversation; they suppress memories of negative events, such as a breakup. In fact, adults categorised as dismissing report few memories of their early relationship with parents. Others may describe their childhood as happy and their parents as loving, but struggle to give specific examples.
They can be overly focused on themselves & largely disregard the feelings and interests of other people. They find it difficult to disclose their thoughts and feelings to their partner. Their typical response to an argument and other stressful situations is to become distant and aloof.
Dismissively attached adults will often seek out relationships and enjoy spending time with their partner, but become uncomfortable when relationships get too close.
FEARFUL AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT: A mixture of Anxious and Avoidant attachment styles
Individuals with Fearful Avoidant Attachment likely had parents who were highly inconsistent, possibly abusive or unresponsive to their children a good deal of the time. They neglected their children’s needs, and could also be bullying, inappropriate and invasive at times.
This kind of caregiving causes infants to not look to their parents for nurture or care and they can be stressed and fearful when emotional closeness is expected from them in romantic relationships later in life. This is known as Fearful Avoidant Attachment – a mixture of anxious and avoidant attachment styles.
Fearful attachment style resembles the dismissive attachment style, as they both result in the person being avoidant of attachments. Fearfully attached individuals however, have a negative self-regard and therefore rely on others to maintain a positive view of self. This need for approval often sets them up to become dependent on their partner even though they are initially very hesitant to get attached, because they anticipate they will be rejected when they try.
The fearful-avoidant attachment style can be a difficult style to understand. It is characterised by a strong desire to protect oneself and to avoid relationship, while on the other hand still having a strong desire to be in relationship. Due to the self-consciousness that a fearful avoidant person experiences, they become dependent in relationships and may struggle with separation anxiety. They have difficulty building trust and often avoid conflict.
After entering into a relationship, those who are fearfully attached tend to be insecure and have more invested in the relationship than their partner. They tend to internalise problems in the relationship as being their fault and assume a passive role within the relationship. Because of this, fearfully attached individuals often try to physically and emotionally avoid intimate connections with others as it is just too overwhelming.