Ever wonder why you always seem to be the one who’s more clingy in relationships, or why you kill a connection off early if someone doesn’t demonstrate excessively reassuring signals to you? In yet another thing to
blame your parents for discover about yourself, there are four main attachment styles in adult relationships.
Attachment theory has been around since the 60’s and is an incredibly popular way of conceptualizing personality expression in romantic relationships (i.e. figuring out why you behave in certain patterns whenever you meet someone you’re into).
The theory supposes that, based on the way your primary caregiver(s) attended to your needs and were able to regulate their own positive and negative emotions, you form a certain style of attachment. This style on carries into adult relationships, powerfully coloring your perspective about the level of intimacy you can and should expect in a relationship.
Without further adieu, here are the four attachments styles (and yes, one is theoretically healthier than the rest, sorry):
1. Secure: People with secure attachments feel okay being in a relationship and okay being alone, though they generally choose to be in a relationship. They like needing someone else, as well as being needed themselves (i.e. they maintain inter-dependent connections). Securely attached people find ways to be independent in their relationship while still maintaining a strong sense of intimacy, and even though they can become jealous at times, they’re generally trusting and relaxed about the connection they’ve built/are building with someone. Lastly, people with secure attachments hold a strong image of their partner and of themselves.
2. Anxious/Preoccupied: People with anxious attachments think highly of their partner/prospective partner, but base a large part of their own self-worth on whether or not they’re getting approval, attention and responsiveness from their partner. This is the classic, “When we’re together it’s great, but…” This attachment style is associated with being ‘too clingy’ and feeling like you’re always the one to initiate conversations about where the relationship is going, how you’re both feeling, etc. When faced with rejection, this attachment style typically runs toward the source of rejection like a moth to a flame.
3. Dismissive/Avoidant: People with this predominant attachment style think highly of themselves and often express a high desire for independence. They might downplay the value of romantic connections and view people who express a need for romantic companionship as insecure or not self-sufficient. When faced with rejection, they distance themselves almost immediately from the source of the rejection.
4. Fearful/Avoidant: This group both wants and doesn’t want a close romantic connection. More specifically, feaful/avoidant attachments are marked by a strong desire for a lasting, loving partnership as well as a deep distrust of partners or relationships in general. This dichotomy extends to all aspects of the connection – they think their partner is great one week, then they think their partner is deeply flawed the next. They think highly of themselves one week, then they think they don’t deserve a quality relationship the next. Since the strong mix of fear of intimacy and desire for intimacy can be so overwhelming, this group tends to avoid romantic relationships and/or experience significant and consistent distress while in relationships.
Understanding what your particular attachment style is can be an incredibly useful self-awareness tool. Attachment styles can change (with concentrated effort) so if you’re starting to see that you have a default attachment style that you don’t like, you can begin to work on changing it. Ironically, you probably need someone else to do this with; attachments aren’t created in a vacuum, after all. Use this therapist locator to connect with a professional who can help navigate you through the exciting – but sometimes terrifying – new terrain of reforming your attachment style.