Attachment Theory: How Attachment Styles Can Influence Relationships

Attachment theory has become a hot topic on social media lately, as younger generations tackle how their romantic relationships may be affected by behavior learned in childhood. In order to understand how attachment styles can influence relationships, we must first understand the theory behind it. 

What is Attachment Theory? 

While attachment theory has been recently gaining popularity, this concept of attachment styles dates back to the 1950’s. British psychoanalysis John Bowlby created this theory to explain the distress of infants separated from their parents. We develop certain behavior as infants and children to make sure our needs are met, and therefore ensure survival. 

Essentially, we learn different ideas of what it means to be cared for. Our childhood relationships with our caregivers then sets the stage for how we view love and relationships as an adult. It affects how we deal with conflict, intimacy, and insecurity throughout our lives.

The Four Attachment Styles 

There are four adult attachment styles that we can develop as a result of our upbringing. 

Anxious Attachment

Anxious attachment styles often arise when the need for attention, appreciation, and support become a source of insecurity. This style of attachment often develops due to inconsistent parenting, where sometimes a child’s emotions and needs are supported, and sometimes neglected. Other times, the caregiver may seek connection with their children to satisfy their own emotional needs, rather than their children’s. 

As a result of this parenting, the children often develop a strong fear of abandonment, distrust, low self-esteem, and ‘clinginess’ in their adult adult relationships. 

Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment styles, otherwise known as avoidant-dismissive, can sometimes be mistaken as confidence and self-sufficiency. People who develop this insecure attachment style were often raised by strict, emotionally distant parents. These children were forced into early independence, “growing up quick” as they were not allowed to express any feelings or emotional needs. 

Adults with avoidant attachment styles might seem social and confident on the surface, but any attempt at deep, meaningful relationships will be stopped in its path. They avoid any serious emotional intimacy, to the point where they may sabotage their own relationships to distance themselves from making close bonds. 

Disorganized Attachment

Disorganized attachment styles, also known as fearful-avoidant attachment, stems from fear. This is often a result of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse in childhood. It is one of the most challenging types of insecure attachment to tackle, since it develops when the caregiver becomes a source of fear rather than safety. 

Adults with this style tend to have a hard time trusting others, and might feel undeserving of love or closeness in relationships. Relationships feel frightening or unsafe, and the same abusive patterns from childhood might continue into adult relationships. This could lead to selfish, controlling, and insensitive behavior towards your partner.

Secure Attachment 

The secure attachment style is the most common type of attachment in the US, coming up around 66% of the population based on recent research. Adults who develop secure attachments likely had their emotional and physical needs supported as children. They can develop safe, fulfilling and meaningful relationships while still holding healthy boundaries. 

This is not to mean those with secure attachment styles don’t face relationship issues – but they feel secure in seeking support and taking responsibility when needed. 

How Can We Overcome Insecure Attachment? 

It is possible to become securely attached, even if you’ve built an insecure attachment style from childhood. Sometimes these unhealthy behaviors resolve themselves once we enter safe & healthy relationships as adults. Other times it takes self-improvement or even professional help to overcome the behaviors that we learned from our caregivers. 

If you’re looking to tackle some of the issues in your relationships, check out our course built specially for strengthening relationships. Better Together can help you develop, heal, and strengthen your relationships. Embracing You can be your guide to honoring yourself and overcoming self doubt. Contact katiewenger@higherfulfillment.com if you have questions or need guidance, or visit our website for more information on individual and couples therapy.  

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