Written By Lauren Abrams, Contributing Writer
The way we’re brought up determines a lot of things about us, including the way we interact with romantic partners. Attachment styles are generally exposed in long-term relationships– “long-term” meaning within familial bonds (i.e. parent/child) or romantic partnerships.
Attachment theory, first considered by John Bowlby, began out of his curiosity about children’s dependence on parents. He figured that each child has a way that he/she/they interact(s) with a caregiver, and as research built upon his initial hypothesis, psychologists realized that familial attachment sets the tone for how that child then relates to romantic/intimate relationships (“What You Should Know About Attachment Styles”).
That said, more factors can go into your attachment style than just your relationship with your parents. You might have had a secure attachment style from your parents, but maybe were cheated on in a past long-term relationship. Other sources of trauma or developmental relationships can also affect your attachment.
The four major attachment styles are as follows:
Essentially, “the thought of living without a partner (or being alone in general) causes high levels of anxiety. People with this type of attachment typically have a negative self-image, while having a positive view of others. The anxious adult often seeks approval, support, and responsiveness from their partner (“Attachment Styles and Their Role”). People with an anxious attachment style generally experience low self-image, low self-worth, in constant fear their partner will leave them for someone else/someone better. They are also more likely to experience instability after a relationship comes to an end (“What You Should Know About Attachment Styles”).
Those with the avoidant/dismissive attachment style are generally strong, independent, and self-sufficient. As children, they may not have shown much preference for parents over strangers (“What You Should Know About Attachment Styles”). Often, they feel emotionally autonomous and closed off as well as uninterested in relying on others for emotional support. Characteristically, they have a positive view of themselves/higher self-esteem, lower view of others, and feel they only need themselves at the end of the day. Avoidant/Dismissive attachments are averse to emotional vulnerability and emotional intimacy, and often suppress their feelings in highly emotional situations.
Insecure attachments often behave ambiguously and unpredictably within relationships–they crave a relationship but fear closeness because of an aversion to depending on others. They generally struggle with trust, emotional regulation, and often find themselves avoiding relationships at the last minute out of fear of vulnerability. These attachment styles can develop when a child is put in a position to take care of the parents, or a situation where the child is both comforted and afraid in the presence of a parent.
The secure attachment style is the only healthy type of attachment. Those who experience secure attachment do not fear being alone, but also enjoy being in relationships. Usually, they do not need to depend on validation from partners and have a positive image of themselves and others, they enjoy the emotional closeness and feel comfortable with honesty (“Attachment Styles and Their Role”).
Just because you experience one of the first three, unhealthy attachment styles does not mean you are incapable of a successful relationship. Generally, it takes a level of communication to unpack these things with your partner–this means making accommodations for their attachment style and each working on picking up the slack where your shortfalls might be. That’s much easier said than done (much easier) but not impossible.
You can take an attachment style quiz here to find out what style you are: https://www.attachmentproject.com/attachment-style-quiz/ (quiz!)
“Attachment Styles and Their Role in Adult Relationships.” Attachment Project, 29 July 2021, http://www.attachmentproject.com/blog/four-attachment-styles/.
“What You Should Know About Attachment Styles.” Verywell Mind, 24 June 2020, www.verywellmind.com/attachment-styles-2795344.