The quality of your relationships, how you handle conflict, and what you desire from connection to others are all direct products of your attachment style. Attachment theory proposes that the connection we have with our primary caregiver (or lack thereof) during out first few years of life will determine how we behave in all relationships. Evolutionary psychology has long been fascinated with how humans use relationships as a means to optimize well-being and guarantee survival. And we now understand that the process of attachment begins from the moment of conception. In utero, the emotional states of the pregnant mother significantly impact the neurodevelopment of the fetus. The mother and fetus are engaged in a constant process of synchrony and bonding. This can be a positive or negative influence depending on the mother’s mental state, physical health, diet, energy, etc.
Once we actually enter the world, the process of attachment becomes even more profound. Infants and children are in an endless mutual regulatory system with their primary caregivers. Meaning, they directly influence one another. How the caregiver responds to the child’s needs will determine the child’s behavior and vice versa. This is the first place we learn how to behave in relationships. We learn whether or not our needs will be met, how our behavior influences those around us, and if it is safe to be close and intimate with another person. As we grow into adults and engage in romantic partnerships, the attachment style we developed early on in life often takes center stage.
There are 4 major attachment styles:
- Trusting, Lasting Relationships
- Healthy Self-Esteem
- Comfortable with Intimacy
- In-Tune with Emotions
- Able to share feelings/emotions with others
- Communicates and Upholds Boundaries
- Seeks out connection
- Cooperative and flexible in relationships
- Avoids Closeness
- Extremely Self-Reliant
- Feels Uncomfortable being emotionally close to another
- Critical of others
- Rigid in Expectations
- Intolerant of partner’s mistakes
- Anxious and Insecure
- Controlling of Others and Situations
- Blames Others for discord
- Erratic and Unpredictable behavior
- Chaotic Behaviors
- Low Self-Esteem
- Terrified of Rejection
- Insensitive toward others
- Explosive in confrontation
- Abusive towards others
- Untrusting, even when craving security
A single individual can showcase characteristics of one or all attachment styles, depending on the specific partnership they are engaged in and their own journey of personal development. In order to overcome the childhood influence of attachment, it is important to recognize the repeated patterns we engage in throughout our various relationships.
Identify the personality types of the partners you seem to attract. Do you find that you end up in the same type of relationship over and over again? Research suggests that there are strong attractions among certain categories of attachments. For instance, individuals who subscribe to anxious attachment style often seek out avoidant partners. The anxious partner seeks out someone who cannot give them what they want or need. Sounds strange, but if you grow up with a parent/caregiver who doesn’t care for your needs, you learn that this is what is relationship should look like. So, they find partners who are distant, uncomfortable with giving and receiving care, and avoid closeness. That way, the anxious partner never has to confront the fear that their needs won’t be met again. It’s already confirmed and thus the cycle can continue. Conclusion: we attract people that confirm what we already believe about relationships.
Notice when you feel triggered and how you respond. Are you responding out of fear or love? Are you confident that you can ask for what you need and your partner will honor your request? Do you believe that conflict can be resolved or only result in turmoil and someone leaving? Does it feel safe or frightening to be close and intimate with another? Regardless of what your partner has done, it is important to understand that our reaction is more about what is going on within ourselves and less about their behavior. For example, if you grew up with uncertainty of how or if you would be taken care of, you may be incredibly dependent upon your partner, constantly needing reassurance that they love you, as you are always anticipating that they will leave. Our responses to the world around us always come back to what our past experiences have taught us and, ultimately, our attachment style.
Written by: Aubrey Koel, LPC