What are people talking about when they bring up attachment styles? It seems like all the hype right now for the single, the painfully attached, and the hopelessly romantic, navigating their relationships, breakups, and dating lives. Below I will attempt to provide a simplified, savvy way of describing attachment for all to understand.
Everyone has a specific attachment style based on their unique relationships and relationship history, both with their family systems and with others around them. Our attachment styles predict how we show up in a relationship and how we feel about relationships. Some people have very solid relationships and have an easier time becoming close with friends, holding jobs, and maintaining long-term and stable relationships. Others struggle to become attached or feel that attachment is very painful. These styles can mimic our earliest attachments, starting from our birth. They can also be beliefs we picked up along the way based on dating abandonments and failures, moving school systems and having to start over, or having betrayals within relationships. Loosing a loved one that we are close with can also affect our want or ability to attach again.
Attachment styles are commonly linked to and affected by fear responses. A more in depth description of the 4 fear responses can be found in my previous blogs. The 4 fear responses are the flight response, the fight response, the freeze response, and the cling response. If our past relationships have given us a reason to believe that we have a reason to be afraid of the other, whether we are afraid that they will cheat on us, fire us, abandon us, or need too much of us, our fear responses may be activated within a relationship at work, with friends, and with romantic partners.
Below are some brief descriptions of the Attachment Styles:
Secure Attachment- Attachment is easy for this person. They are responsive to others, they are good at expressing feelings, they feel things consistently, but maybe not deeply all of the time. They are emotionally regulated and put together. There is no fire because they know how to put a fire out before it begins. Securely attached people don’t struggle to express whether they are sad or angry, and because of this, they have a tendency to move through feelings quickly and don’t hold things against you. Securely attached people are known for being in long term, stable relationships. Securely attached people can date insecurely attached people without it being difficult, because the work of being in a relationship is second nature to them. It is said that, with a lot of work, an insecurely attached person can “earn” a secure attachment style.
Anxious Attachment -This is a person who may be calm and feel relatively normal until they begin to date someone, at which time, they feel constant fear and insecurity. Think “cling” response; some people will cling to others when they are afraid. This is because they have had the experience in relationships of being threatened by an abandonment, ie, having someone leave them. They will do anything to stay in a good place with you, they will sacrifice their own needs, they will consider changing themselves, because they are afraid that you will leave. Their constant texting and need for you could end up being the thing that drives you away, especially if you tend to be more ambivalent or avoidant in relationships. An anxiously attached person is in a lot of pain in relationships, most likely because they had to fight so hard to get their relational needs met from an early age on, and they know that the first step to getting any need met is to take care of the other. These people do best with securely attached people, but they will intuitively choose an insecurely attached partner to try and work through their past Karma.
Avoidant Attachment- Someone who is avoidant tries to avoid having serious feelings in general, mostly by having a series or string of casual sexual interactions that never become more than that. Thing the “flight” response- they may run away when threatened by closeness. An avoidant person is actually anxious underneath it all but they have a hard time letting themselves feel the full extent of that by guarding themselves from closeness. Their parents were likely very anxious, very controlling, or over involved- and not in an emotional way. Or, they just weren’t really there at all.
Ambivalent Attachment- Someone with an ambivalent attachment style has an immensely difficult time deciding what they want. They will consistently swing between being anxious and avoidant on a daily basis. Think "freeze" response- they are in a freeze of fear about what to do. They can’t make up their mind about you, about what job they want, about where they want to live. They are terrified in being trapped in a relationship because they don’t know what they need, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know that there was a possibility of getting the need met or how to go about asking for it.
Disorganized Attachment -Maybe this person will be fine one minute, and extremely angry or sad the next, over the drop of a hat. The “fight” response is most commonly displayed in this attachment style. Maybe they will attach very quickly so someone, or to multiple people. Someone who is disorganized will feel a lot of confusion in relationships, and will not know whether or not you are a safe person to trust. Disorganized attachment is a more rare attachment style. Unfortunately, severe trauma, such as repetitive childhood sexual abuse, repetitive physical abuse, and severe early childhood divorce situations often lead to a disorganized attachment style
Healing Attachment Wounding
1. Awareness is the first step.
2. Noticing your tendencies in relationships
3. Trying to be aware of what you are feeling in your triggered moments, of wanting to text, of becoming angry, of wanting to walk away. Pause before acting your feelings out.
4. Being able to recognize and communicate your needs to others.
5. Being allowed to have all of your feelings of disappointment and anger alongside your happier feelings.
6. Trying something new in a relational interaction that you would never have tried before, in your family or with past relationships
7. Individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy- healing through relationships and relational awareness can be a powerful tool
8. Reading books such as “Attached”, by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller
9. Visiting home and family with a new lens
10. Talking to friends
I want to name a couple of important things here. The purpose of using attachment theory is to help understand yourself a little better, or to help put words and meaning to things that do didn't have words for before. It's not meant to put a permanent label on you, stick you in a category, or judge you. It's my belief that someone can have one attachment style, forever, and another person can have multiple attachment styles at the same time. Also, we can move from being anxious into being avoidant into being secure- our attachment changes with each partner we have and with our own will to grow. The interaction of two humans coming together can create an anxious relationship, or a secure one, ect. There is hope here, we aren't doomed to our attachments forever.
Bianca Aarons LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco's Duboce Triangle area. Bianca’s specialties include attachment, trauma, sexual abuse, post traumatic stress, relationship issues, depression issues, couples work and work with teenagers. Learn more about Bianca at www.biancaaarons.com, email her at BiancaAaronsMFT@gmail.com, or call her at (415) 553-5346 to ask any questions or to set up a consultation session.