What is my attachment style?
Updated: May 4
First of all, what is attachment?
Attachment refers to the particular way in which we relate to other people, especially when we are distressed. It also refers to the way we relate to ourselves, driven by our core anxieties and the kind of defences we adopt to deal with these anxieties.
And why is it important to know?
Knowing our attachment style can help us to understand the emotional patterns that we are likely to experience in relationships. These emotional patterns will affect our levels of openness, trust and intimacy. Knowing our attachment style can also help us to find ways which we can improve our relationships with our friends, family and children.
When do our attachment styles form?
Our attachment styles form during our first two years of life. Infants need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order for their social and emotional development to occur normally. How our caregivers respond to us, particularly during times of distress, establishes the types of attachment patterns we form. These patterns will go on to guide our feelings, thoughts and expectations as adults in future relationships.
Infant attachment styles:
To form a secure attachment to our primary caregiver during our first two years of life, we require an adult who is emotionally attuned to us by being sensitive and responsive when we interact with them. This allows us to feel safe, seen, heard and soothed. It is vital that this attachment figure remains a consistent caregiver throughout this period of our life. We can then begin to use our caregiver as a secure base from which to explore the world confidently and become more independent.
If our primary caregiver is emotionally unavailable, insensitive to our needs as an infant, we can develop an insecure, avoidant attachment style. These caregivers have little or no response when we are distressed and discourage crying. We quickly develop the need to be independent, taking care of ourselves and pulling away from needing anything from anyone else.
If our primary caregiver is inconsistently attuned to us, we can develop an insecure, ambivalent attachment style. These caregivers will offer sensitive responses at times but insensitive or intrusive responses at other times causing us to feel confused, not knowing what type of treatment to expect. We then often feel suspicious and distrustful of our caregiver but at the same time, we act clingy and desperate.
If our primary caregiver is abusive and we experience cruelty and fear as an infant, then we can develop a disorganized attachment style. Our survival instincts are telling us to flee and find safety with our caregiver but safety is the very person who is terrifying us. In these situations, we may need to disassociate, detaching from what we are experiencing, blocking it from our consciousness.
Depending on our attachment styles we form during childhood, we usually form equivalent adult attachment styles.
Adult attachment styles:
Fearful - Avoidant
Secure adult attachment:
Those of us who formed secure attachments during childhood usually have secure attachment patterns in adulthood. As adults, we have a strong sense of ourselves and we desire close associations with others while feeling independent. We generally have a positive view of ourselves, our partners, children and friends.
Avoidant adult attachment:
Those of us who formed avoidant attachments during childhood are likely to continue having avoidant attachment patterns as adults. As adults, we tend to be more isolated, viewing relationships and emotions as being relatively unimportant. We usually suppress our emotions and distance ourselves from stressful situations.
Preoccupied adult attachment:
Those of us who formed ambivalent attachments during childhood often grow up to have preoccupied attachment patterns. As adults, we are usually self-critical and insecure, seeking approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves our self-doubt. In our relationships, we often feel worried about being rejected which makes us act clingy and overly dependent with our partners.
Fearful-Avoidant adult attachment:
Those of us who formed disorganized attachments during childhood often develop fearful-avoidant patterns of attachment. As adults, we continue to dissociate or detach from ourselves at times. Although we desire emotionally close relationships, when we have a partner we find ourselves experiencing the same feelings of fear as we did as children with our abusive caregivers. We find it difficult to have a clear sense of who we are and have great difficulty developing trusting relationships.
Can we change our attachment style?
The good news is that we can work towards becoming more securely attached and emotionally connected to others in a healthy way. To change our attachment style, we require therapy alongside relationships with securely attached individuals. These relationships can teach us how to express and manage our emotions, and build our self-esteem. We then have the opportunity to develop a healthy dependency and a secure base from which to explore the world. Good therapy provides a secure attachment which allows us to grow and become more autonomous.