Our deepest desire as humans is connection. This idea is grounded in attachment theory. Attachment theory focuses on how our bonding with caregivers as infants impacts the quality of our relationships later in life. We look to caregivers to provide safety and security, and we learn and adopt behaviors that foster emotional bonds. This impacts our brain development! Attachment patterns are deeply rooted, and we carry these subconscious patterns into adulthood and future relationships. Our attachment style is part of who we are and how we interact with the world around us, including how we relate to others and how we build connection. This is why some people very aloof and unattached in their relationships, while others are clingy and need constant validation.
According to attachment theory, it’s because different people have different attachment styles.
Here’s everything you need to know about how they’re formed in childhood, the attachment styles, and how to develop a secure attachment style.
How Your Childhood Effects You
Our early caregiving environment – for example, how caregivers respond to our distress – teaches us what to expect from relationships. 2| We develop behaviors in attempts to reestablish emotional connection when we feel distressed. 3| Lack of a supportive relationship in infancy can negatively impact social and emotional development.
Attachment styles are generally understood to fall into four types. Read on to learn more about what these types might look like in childhood and adulthood.
Find Your Attachment Style
Many resources can help you identify your attachment style, but remember that we’re all bio-individuals! We’re complex, and we’re continually changing. It’s not about fitting into one particular style. You might see yourself in a couple of styles, and your tendencies can change over time with awareness and development. Use this Relationship Attachment quiz in Psychology Today.
Children see caregivers as secure bases who provide safety and security. Caregivers are consistent and accepting overall. Children feel free to explore, knowing that a caregiver will be there for them when they return. They might get momentarily upset when a caregiver leaves, but they quickly bounce back.
Adults usually find it easy to get close to others and experience low anxiety in relationships. They can tolerate their emotions and communicate effectively. Adults tend to have fairly stable and trusting relationships. They can be vulnerable because they feel safe. They feel connected with their partners while being comfortable with independence.
Anxious attachment style is a form of insecure attachment style marked by a deep fear of abandonment. Children saw caregivers as inconsistent and, therefore, aren’t sure what kind of response caregivers will provide. Children might become upset when a caregiver leaves and have a difficult time being soothed when the caregiver returns.
Anxiously attached people tend to be very insecure about their relationships, often worrying that their partner will leave them and thus are always hungry for validation. Anxious attachment is associated with “neediness” or clingy behavior, such as getting very anxious when your partner doesn’t text back fast enough and constantly feeling like your partner doesn’t care enough about you.
Avoidant attachment style is a form of insecure attachment style marked by a fear of intimacy. As children their caregivers were more emotionally unavailable or unaware of their needs. Children don’t appear as distressed by separation from a caregiver and don’t seek out the caregiver upon return.
People with avoidant attachment style tend to have trouble getting close to others or trusting others in relationships. They typically maintain some distance from their partners or are largely emotionally unavailable in their relationships, preferring to be independent and rely on themselves.
Fearful-avoidant attachment style is a combination of both the anxious and avoidant attachment styles. Children saw caregivers as an unpredictable blend of loving and dangerous (e.g., physically or emotionally abusive). They likely have some form of developmental trauma. Children might have mixed feelings about caregivers, struggling between loyalty and self-protection or desire for and fear of connection.
People with fearful-avoidant attachment both desperately crave affection and want to avoid it at all costs. They’re reluctant to develop a close romantic relationship, yet at the same time, they have a dire need to feel loved by others. It’s associated with significant psychological and relational risks, including heightened sexual behavior, an increased risk for violence in their relationships, and difficulty regulating emotions in general.
How to Develop a Secure Attachment Style
Learning more about attachment theories can help you understand why you do what you do in your personal relationships – including your motivations, expectations, and behavior patterns. Understanding how you connect with others can help you navigate and strengthen your relationships with those you love.
+Identify your relationship patterns
Start by thinking about your relationship with your parents as a child. This will help you get more clarity on what may have shaped your attachment style. Assess your current and past attachment style and identify if there are any patterns in choosing romantic partners. Your past unhealthy relationship patterns from childhood can recreate in adulthood.
- How were they toward you as a child?
- How did you respond to them?
- To whom did you go for comfort when you had a problem?
- Were they negligent or reliable?
+Work on your self-esteem
It’s a common characteristic across all insecure attachment styles. Learn to embrace, value, love, and care for yourself first. If you cannot fathom what self-love is because you were neglected, abused, and dismissed as a child, you can start with self-tolerance and self-neutrality. This can look like, ‘I’m a person, and everyone deserves to be valued’ instead of forcing yourself with empty words of, ‘I’m beautiful and valuable.
+Get in touch with your real needs
At the end of the day, all insecure attachment styles are people who tend to form insecure relationships because of deeply held fears that their relationships will not work out. So it’s important to figure out how to make yourself feel more secure in your relationships. Part of that involves being aware of what your needs and desires are in relationships. Learn to be assertive and set boundaries. Honor what you feel, and express your needs in words without manipulation and hidden meanings,” Suh says. “Securely attached people are often direct and appropriately confrontational to create a healthy and meaningful relationship.”
+Don’t be afraid to seek therapy
Therapy is helpful, both individual and couples. A quality therapist will help you to dive into your attachment style, past wounds, ways to identify, establish appropriate boundaries, and promote a healthy relationship.
Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong”. Attachment is only one aspect of building connection with others. Your personality, relationships, and self-awareness all play roles as well.
Recovering fashion blogger and Founder of NYC-based creative consultancy, Hashtag Lifestyle.