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Your Attachment Style and How it Affects Your Relationships

Attachment theory is a concept that has been studied extensively in psychology and developmental science. It is believed to be formed in early childhood, often as early as infancy, and it can have long-lasting effects on a person's relationships and emotional wellbeing throughout their life. Researchers have found that the quality of care provided during the formative years of infancy and childhood (0-8 years) can have a profound effect on an individual's attachment style.

Apart from the mother, there are various individuals in a child's life that can have an impact on his/ her development. This includes siblings, relatives, godparents, nannies, daycare workers and teachers among the many others. Even peers can have a role to play in shaping the character of a child. This touches on some important questions - What kind of environment and values are children exposed to? How do these shape their character and impact their ability to connect with others in meaningful ways?

Attachment styles are believed to be formed in early childhood, often as early as infancy, and it can have long-lasting effects on a person's relationships and emotional wellbeing throughout their life.

How Children's Attachment Styles are Developed

According to attachment theory research, newborns placed in an unfamiliar setting and removed from their parents would typically behave in one of the following ways upon reunion with their parents:

  1. Secure: These newborns were distressed when separated from their parents, yet they sought comfort and were readily consoled when their parents returned.

  2. Avoidant: These babies either didn't react to their parents' separation at all or very mildly, and then they disregarded or avoided them after they were back together.

  3. Anxious: Some newborns seemed to seek consolation from their parents after being separated from them, while others seemed to try to "punish" their parents for abandoning them.

  4. Fearful: When a child is abused, neglected, or experiences trauma at the hands of their carer, the child may develop a disorganised connection. Because of the lack of predictability, the youngster reacts by becoming anxious and withdrawn.

Although psychologists can pretty conclusively say that it’s not entirely the mother’s fault or even the fault of both parents, we know that a child’s early experiences with their parents have a profound impact on their relationship skills as adults” (Positive Psychology)

Our relationships with others are deeply affected by our attachment styles. Attachment styles are the way we relate to other people, and they are based on our early childhood experiences.

The four primary types of attachment styles and how they affect thoughts are:

  1. Secure - Low avoidance and low anxiety

  2. Avoidant - High avoidance and low anxiety

  3. Anxious - Low avoidance and high anxiety

  4. Fearful - High avoidance and high anxiety

Our attachment style affects our actions, thoughts and relationships, thus influencing the type of person we pick as our partner. (Levy & Orlans, 2014). Each type of attachment style has its own unique characteristics that can have a profound effect on how we interact with the people around us.

The Effect on Your Relationship

From a young age, our relationships with parents and caregivers can have a huge impact on the way we view the world later in life. The quality of these connections and attachments can shape our mental representations, forming our outlook and behaviour as adults.

People with a fear of abandonment may go through life assuming that others close to them may abandon them in the same way that their parents left them, which can contribute to developing behaviours such as self-isolation and social withdrawal. The quality of these early attachments can have lifelong effects on our emotional development and well-being, to the point where we might see greater fulfillment, stronger relationships, and improved communication in our lives.

The four attachment styles have profound effects on romantic relationships. Understanding them can help couples build strong, healthy connections.

Secure (low avoidance and low anxiety) style and it's impact on relationships:

  • In an emotionally intimate connection, at ease

  • Depends on and is reliant on their partner

  • When their partner requires it, they are available

  • When their partner requires separation, they do not feel rejected

  • Trustworthy and accepting of differences between themselves and their relationship

  • Relationship troubles should not cause you undue stress

  • As a parent, they are warm and compassionate

Avoidant (high avoidance and low anxiety) style and it's impact on relationships:

  • Maintains an emotional distance from their partner, leaving them seeking more closeness

  • Sees connection as a loss and prefers independence

  • Unable to rely on or be reliant on a partner 

  • Uncomfortable discussing emotions, therefore communication is intellectual

  • Independent, wanting to be alone

  • In a crisis, takes leadership while staying emotionless

Anxious (low avoidance and high anxiety) style and it's impoact on relationships:

  • Insecure and focused on the relationship

  • Needy and fearful of abandonment

  • Thinks about unresolved difficulties from the past

  • Emotional, arguing, domineering, and enraged

  • Blames the other person while refusing to cooperate

  • They are inconsistent with their children, which causes them to be nervously attached

Fearful (high avoidance and high anxiety) style and it's impact on relationships:

  • Inability to accept or regulate emotional intimacy

  • Abuse and unhealthy relationships are possible

  • Argumentative and lacking in empathy

  • Criminality and substance addiction are examples of antisocial behaviours

  • Mistreats their children, resulting in the formation of disorganised attachments

It is helpful to remember that “anxious adults had inconsistent parents. Avoidants had caregivers who were distant and rejecting” (Levy & Orlans).

In the end, our attachment styles as adults are significantly influenced by much earlier parent–child interactions, as well as genetics. They influence our temperaments and our capacity to form intimate relationships and a satisfying, low-stress marriage.

Can Your Attachment Style Change?

The evidence is in and it's clear - up to date research has confirmed that successful relationship therapy can drastically alter one's attachment style. According to a study conducted by Mikulincer and Shaver (2016), a considerable number of psychodynamic psychotherapy client's shifted to a secure emotional state. It is important to be aware of trauma due to rejection, separation and loss, and their effect on mental health when dealing with attachment-based interventions.

Examining our past choices and learning from them can help us understand the factors that define our relationships. Putting in the effort to create a more secure bond with our partner can lead to even stronger, more meaningful unions. Things you could try include:

Get To Know Your Partner

Taking steps to increase our sense of security in relationships can help us build stronger bonds with our partner. We can do this by exploring our partner's likes and dislikes, learning more about them, and sharing details of our own life with them. This leads to improved connection and a better understanding between the two of us.

For instance, ask each person a series of questions and prompts, including:

  • List your top five dinner companions (famous individuals or close acquaintances, living or deceased)

  • Describe the ideal day of your life

  • Describe the location or moment you would most like to visit

  • What three characteristics do you share?

  • Name five positive qualities about your partner

Sharing answers can strengthen the couple's relationship by fostering deeper connections and understandings.

Share Activities

Enhancing your presence when connecting with someone can foster a healthier relationship and help break any unhealthy patterns that may have been created from past attachment styles. Spending quality time together is essential for a strong and happy relationship. Here's a list of activities you and your partner can do to strengthen your bond: cooking together, taking walks in nature, playing games, outdoor sports, going on hikes/bike rides, watching movies/TV series, exploring different hobbies or interests.

Making meaningful connections with others is an important part of life, and it can be difficult to do so in a healthy way. Enhancing your presence when connecting with someone can help foster healthier relationships and break any unhealthy patterns created from past attachment styles. If these strategies are applied correctly and consistently they can help build a strong foundation for relationships that are based on trust and respect.

What's Your Attachment Style?

If you want to gain insight into your attachment style, there is a variety of online tests, scales and surveys at your disposal. One test is a 5 minute quiz produced by the Attachment Project -

Your Thoughts?

Attachment theory is a fantastic starting point for understanding yourself and others better. It's not the only thing that shapes our personalities, but it can certainly be seen as a key element to consider when it comes to developing strong relationships and building meaningful connections.

Attachment theory is also incredibly useful when it comes to understanding how we think and feel. For example, if you have abandonment issues, chances are you'll feel insecure and anxious around people who won't really be there in the long run. If you struggle with intimacy, those feelings of anxiety will likely keep you from entering deeper into the experience with others

What are your thoughts regarding attachment theory? Do you believe that there are attachment styles that are not included in the four categories?



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