Relationships and Attachment

By November 26, 2018Counseling

Have you ever noticed yourself struggling with the same thing over and over again in your relationships? As we grow up, we develop a style of relating to people from our experiences and upbringing. These relational styles drive our sense of developing meaningful and fulfilling relationships. The styles we develop from our early experiences and upbringing are called attachment styles. Attachment has been researched for many years and has been proven to play into the context of our lives. There are four dominating attachment styles:

1. Secure Attachment
2. Avoidant/Ambivalent Attachment
3. Anxious Attachment
4. Disorganized Attachment

Each of these styles is unique in what we learned growing up through our everyday encounters with our caregivers. Some of the encounters are at the forefront of our mind while others are buried deep in the back of our mind. Our brain holds the key to our survival, and these attachment styles were developed to protect us in our relationships and our connection with people. Our attachment style has a huge impact on our mind, brain, and relationships. Each attachment style holds patterns and behaviors that are acted out in different ways depending on the individual. A description of the attachment styles are as follows:

Child Attachment Styles

  • Secure Attachment (58% of population)
    •  Developing a secure attachment style typically means that parents were: attentive, caring, nurturing, attuned with child’s needs/emotions, and predictable.
    • The belief that a child creates when their parents follow these patterns consistently is “help will come”, “I matter”, and “I can depend on others and myself”.
    • Some traits that are developed with this style are trust/safety, connection, resilience, and empathy.
  • Avoidant Attachment (Insecure) (23% of population)
    • Developing an avoidant attachment style typically means the parents were: dismissive, inattentive, non-nurturing, unavailable, and rejecting for much of the time.
    • The beliefs that a child creates when their parents follow these patterns consistently are: “I don’t need you”, “I don’t matter enough to deserve your attention”, and “I am alone in the world”.
    • Some traits that are developed with this style are distrusting, independent, distant, and critical.
  •  Anxious Attachment (Insecure) (19% of population)
    • Developing an anxious attachment style typically means the parents were: inconsistent, intrusive, noncommunicative, over nurturing, and unpredictable most the time.
    • The belief that the child creates when their parents follow these patterns consistently are: “I must work consistently to get what I want” and “I must control everything to make it predictable”.
    • Some traits that are developed with this style are clingy, controlling, untrusting, and low self-esteem.
  • Disorganized Attachment (Insecure) (18% of population)
    • Developing a disorganized attachment style typically means the parents were: unpredictable, abusive, noncommunicative, neglectful, and chaotic.
    •  The beliefs the child creates when their parents follow these patterns consistently are: “the world is not a safe place” and “the way to survive in this unpredictable world is to be unpredictable”.
    •  Some of the traits developed from this style are aggressive, unaffectionate, extreme, and distrusting.

It is easy to see how attachment can have an impact on our adult relationships. Now you ask, these are all attachment styles that I developed as a child, what does that mean about my adult relationships? Our attachment styles typically carry over into our adult relationships unless there is an intervention. The adult attachment styles and descriptions are as follows:

Adult Attachment Styles

Secure – For most of the time people are: able to regulate themselves in stressful situations, comfortable in relationships, able to seek help from others, resilient, and empathetic.

Dismissing – For most of the time people are: greatly independent, often do not seek out relationships, highly critical, emotionally withdrawn from others, and intolerant of others.

Preoccupied – For most of the time people are: fearful of rejection from partner, desire extreme closeness, controlling and blaming behavior, unable to regulate self (often need others to do it for them), codependent in relationships, and living in extremes.

Unresolved – For most of the time people are: chaotic, insensitive, aggressive, unpredictable, unable to regulate self, abusive, and explosive.

**All listed qualities are not a must in every situation. These are general researched characteristics for each attachment style**

Adult attachment styles are important to understand because it is how we relate to people and the world around us. Whether it be friends, significant others, coworkers, bosses, acquaintances, and other environments we find ourselves in. Our attachment styles also tell us about how we think about ourselves and the relationship we have with ourselves. It impacts our self-esteem, our self-worth, and our self-love. Attachment styles do not have to remain the same forever. It is important to understand and build awareness around our styles because through awareness we can begin to develop a healthier sense of self and connection with people.

Attachment work takes time and effort to work through. Our brain has created these patterns to help keep us safe because when we were young all we had to rely on was what our parents conveyed to us. The one thing we understood was: we had to do what was needed to survive. If you are trying to break these patterns, and you continue to find yourself repeating the same behaviors over and over again, you are not alone. With the help of a therapist who specializes in attachment, these patterns can be replaced with healthier and more secure ways of attaching. Therapists can help you develop and reach emotional regulation goals, relationship goals, “self” goals, parenting goals, and other life goals.

Rebecca Frank

Author Rebecca Frank

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