A person’s attachment style is a specific way of relating to others, which influences our feelings of security, how well our relationships progress and our ability to maintain intimacy with others.

Of the following four attachment styles, we each have a primary one:

1. Secure – autonomous in relationships
2. Avoidant – dismissive of relationships
3. Anxious – preoccupied with relationships
4. Disorganized – fearful of relationships

Early attachments with parents or caregivers shape your abilities and expectations for relationships. From infancy you begin finding out if you can depend on important people to keep you safe — or not. It’s where your nervous system either grows with the idea that you’re lovable or drives you to cope with emotional pain if you don’t feel accepted. If your bond is secure, your nervous system learns what it feels like to be in a relationship where your needs are met.

Secure attachment also teaches your nervous system how to regulate – by understanding what healthy consistent behaviour and relationships are. About 60% of adults have a secure attachment and 40% have avoidant, anxious or disorganized.

Secure Attachment

No one has a perfect childhood. If you grew up with a secure emotional bond, your parents or caregivers were good-enough at being consistent and reliable. With secure attachment, your caregiver’s behaviour allowed you to feel safe and protected. You felt confident that they accepted you and were emotionally present with you. You found that when they left, they returned as expected. You learned that you are loveable and can love. You learned that if you became upset, you felt seen. In general, you felt secure.

As an adult, you are likely to become close with others easily and develop relationships that feel good. You are comfortable with closeness and also with independence. You are compassionate and responsive to others.

  • Do you generally feel close to others?
  • Are you comfortable with closeness, and also with independence?
  • Do you feel you communicate effectively and resolve conflicts as they arise?
  • Do you feel like you have fairly stable relationships?
  • Do you trust your partner(s)?
  • Do you feel safe in being vulnerable with your partner(s)?

Avoidant Attachment

Some babies and children had to depend on a caregiver who was emotionally unavailable or unaware of their needs. Perhaps crying was discouraged, and you felt you had to “grow up” quickly.

As an adult, you may place primary importance on your independence. You may feel uncomfortable depending on someone or being depended on by others. When presented with opportunities for closeness, you may pull away. You may not seek out relationships because you feel like counting on others is unsafe.

People with an avoidant attachment style dismisses their needs and often chooses a partner who is possessive.

People with an avoidant attachment style often come across to others as self-sufficient and independent. They also tend to have commitment issues and fear being vulnerable.

  • Do you feel closer to others when you’re away from them?
  • Do you feel the urge to pull away when your partner(s) is seeking intimacy?
  • Do you dismiss the importance of relationships in your life?
  • Do you distance yourself from stressful situations or conflict?
  • Do you have a difficult time remembering your childhood and feel uncomfortable reflecting on the past?
  • Do you feel emotionally removed from others?

To move from an avoidant to secure attachment:

  • Work on your self-esteem, self-respect and self-love.
  • Learn to identify, honour, and assertively express your emotional needs.
  • Build safety with your partner(s).
  • Identify your conscious and unconscious distancing strategies that you learned to use to protect yourself. Work on understanding these distancing strategies by identifying when they happen. Then work on reducing them by asking for what you need.

 Anxious Attachment

Your childhood may have included a parent who at times, responded well to your needs, yet at other times, was not present for you. You may have grown up feeling insecure and uncertain of what treatment to expect.

As an adult, you may find you need a lot of reassurance and responsiveness in a relationship. You may become overly dependent on your relationships to feel okay. When the person you care about is gone, you may feel heightened anxiety.

People with an anxious attachment style are good at reading their partner’s emotional cues, but then overthink those cues or personalize them.

People with anxious attachment try to get their needs met through constant reassurance and often choose a partner who is distant or hard to connect with.

People with an anxious attachment style frequently look to their partner to rescue or complete them. They also often feel possessive, jealous and moody.

  • When you and a loved one disagree or argue, do you feel overwhelmed or extremely anxious?
  • If the other person needs a break, do you pursue them until they give in?
  • Do you feel the need for lots of reassurance in a relationship?
  • If your partner is away, do you question their love for you?
  • Do you have a difficult time being by yourself?
  • Was your childhood characterized by disappointment and frustrating efforts to please your parents?

To move from an anxious to secure attachment:

  • Work on your self-esteem, self-respect and self-love.
  • Slow your thoughts down and do not jump to conclusions or make assumptions.
  • Pay more attention to how you’re feeling and what you need.
  • Be authentic and direct.

Disorganized Attachment

Disorganized attachment can be a combination of avoidant and anxious styles. Perhaps your caregiver was frightening, abusive or behaved toward you in inappropriate ways. You may have felt fearful of them. Yet as a child, your instincts led you to believe that you should be loyal. You may long for closeness, but also fear it. These experiences can lead to inconsistency and confusion in adult relationships.

People with disorganized attachment live in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid to be both close and distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings in but are also unable to do this. They want to be close to others, but also fear closeness as it leads to pain.

People with disorganized attachment tend to have rocky and dramatic relationships with highs and lows. They also are often suspicious of others’ intentions, words and actions.

  • Do you crave emotional intimacy, but also feel it’s safer to be on your own where you won’t get hurt?
  • Was your primary caregiver abusive?
  • Are you frightened by memories and emotions associated by early trauma?
  • Did your primary caregiver show love one minute and abuse the next?

To move from a disorganized to secure attachment:

  • Work on your self-esteem, self-respect and self-love.
  • Use positive self-affirmations (e.g. “I am worthy of love).
  • Build safety with your partner(s).
  • Practice acceptance of yourself and others to become less faultfinding.
  • Learn to be assertive through asking for what you need and setting boundaries.

Secure Attachment Is Possible for You

Securely attached adults tend to have more stable, positive and happy relationships.

If you are worried that your attachment style is less than ideal, please know that any attachment style can change to be more secure. Attachment styles aren’t set in stone! No matter which attachment style you currently have, secure attachment is possible for you. You can learn, practice and develop new ways to connect through self-awareness, therapy and healthy relationships.

Recommended Books

“Attached” by Levine and Heller

“Attachment Adulthood Structure, Dynamics, and Change” by Mikulincer and Shaver

Recommended Article

Click here

To find out your attachment style, take one of these assessments:

1. The Attachment Styles Quiz

2. Experiences in Close Relationships Scale

If you want to learn more or need help to build secure attachment in your relationships, please reach out!

Written by: Hadley Mitchell, R. Psych
Map Psychology Solutions
[email protected]
(587) 330-2999

Share This