If you’ve ever been to therapy or spent some time on Mental Health TikTok, you’ve probably heard the term “attachment” floating around! But what exactly does attachment mean?
Basically, Attachment refers to pervasive patterns in how people interact with others, usually based on their childhood development and experiences. Knowing your attachment style can be really helpful, because it can give you a lot of insight into your typical patterns, strengths in relationships, and pitfalls to watch out for. There are 4 generally recognized attachment styles for adults, and we’ll break down each one!
A person with an anxious attachment style is likely going to be more insecure in their relationships and worried about being rejected or abandoned. Anxious attachment folks tend to be a little “needy” and overly sensitive in their relationships, and also tend to need more reassurance from their partner about the security of the relationship.
The anxious attachment style can also struggle with personal boundaries, and they often stretch themselves thin with poor boundaries. They can be a little moody and unpredictable, and at times will start conflicts in an attempt to connect. You might hear an anxious attachment person say they start fights with their partner without necessarily knowing why, “just to feel something.”
You can also think about anxious attachment folks as being “pursuers” in their relationships. They always want to know how they’re doing and how their partner is feeling, but can easily take things too personally as well. In addition, anxious attachment folks rarely spend a lot of time single. They tend to jump from one relationship to another for security.
Often, those with anxious attachment styles are also preoccupied by unresolved family issues from their past. They often learned that they had to put themselves right in front of their parents in order to get attention, and that love and affection could easily be taken away. They tend to carry feelings of fear, rejection, and betrayal into their adult relationships.
The avoidant attachment style is almost the opposite of the anxious style in a variety of ways. Where the anxious folks pursue, the avoidant folks withdraw. They tend to be emotionally distant, not wanting to commit or get too close. They will usually reject others before they can be rejected, and they tend to be pretty good at seemingly turning their feelings on and off.
Those with an avoidant attachment style tend to value independence over closeness, and are often perfectly happy being alone. They’re very calm and collected in emotionally difficult situations, because again, they tend to shut off those emotions that might make someone else feel panicked.
Because they don’t express emotions well and keep their partners at arms’ length, avoidant attachment folks often find themselves feeling pushed to be and do more in their relationships. This often leads to the avoidant person leaving, because they fear getting too close, making themselves vulnerable, and then getting hurt.
Those with an avoidant attachment style also typically develop it in childhood. As kids, the avoidant folks often had disengaged or neglectful parents, and became used to being hyper-independent. They learned early on that they needed to take care of themselves, because the adults in their lives weren’t going to take care of them. They bring that fear of vulnerability and resulting disconnection into their adult relationships.
The third attachment style is called disorganized, or unresolved. These folks are often suffering with other mental health concerns, such as PTSD, severe depression, schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, and others. They are often very unpredictable in their relationships, with bouts of rage or fear, and tend to have very dysfunctional relationships.
Folks with a disorganized attachment style often cope with substance abuse, self-harm, and even criminal behavior. Sometimes that behavior shows up in their relationships through abuse and violence. This attachment style also struggles with empathy and relating to others in general.
As kids, these folks were often severely abused or neglected. They didn’t have the opportunity to learn many healthy interpersonal skills from their caregivers, and were often exposed to violence, substance abuse, fear, and intense anger early on. They tend to carry these patterns into adulthood.
A secure attachment style is essentially a healthy attachment style. These folks are very comfortable in loving, affectionate, and supportive relationships. They can both depend on others, and be the dependable one. They tend to be able to separate true conflict from situations that shouldn’t be taken too personally. They can take about their emotions and concerns with their partner without feeling like it’s going to ruin the relationship or cause the partner to leave.
As children, folks with a secure attachment often grew up with loving, securely attached caregivers who met their physical and emotional needs. Because of that, they’re able to carry these patterns into their adult relationships.
Can I Change My Attachment Style?
If you recognize an attachment style in yourself that doesn’t feel healthy, or know that you weren’t given the right environment for a secure attachment in childhood, don’t despair! You can actually change your attachment style over time. This is called an Earned Secure Attachment, and it’s my favorite one, personally. That’s because those who do the hard work in therapy to understand and change their patterns, heal past trauma, and improve their relationships have truly earned their Secure Attachment, and they deserve that joy and stability.
If you’re interested in healing your attachment style or patterns with the help of a therapist, the psychologists at North Berkeley Counseling are here to support you. We see clients in our office in Berkeley, California, as well as online throughout California, Florida, Virginia, and Hawaii. Book your first session today!