Attachment theory was first formulated in the 1950s by psychologist John Bowlby. It is a well-accepted psychological theory, and is the idea that every person can be characterised by one of four different attachment styles. Your attachment style is grounded in the nature of your relationship to your parents as a child and how they raised you.
Parent/child is usually our first meaningful relationship, so is important because it shapes our cognitive development and understanding of the world. This relationship will go on to shape how we act in our future relationships.
Of course, there aren’t just four types of parents out there, who raise adults with one of four neat attachment styles directly related to their parenting type. Everyone’s relationship with their parents will be different in some ways to anyone else’s.
The way that your relationship to your parents translates into your attachment style later in life will vary based on a huge range of factors. These include:
- the other aspects of your personality
- your parents’ personalities
- how you perceive the relationship between you and your parents
- how you perceive the relationship between your parents
- the magnitude of the role of your parents and other caregivers in your life
- other environmental factors affecting your development
Your attachment style breakdown
You may have traits that point toward you being, say, an avoidant attacher. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean your parents have failed you and that you should cut them off. Everyone is different, everyone’s parents are different. If you wanted, you could spend hours wondering how you came to be this way, but attachment theory is best used for reflecting on your own, current relationships.
Even though attachment theory makes predictions about your needs and behaviour for your friendships and romantic relationships in adult life, the theory is perhaps most useful for understanding your romantic relationships. Your attachment style will dictate your handling of conflict, your needs and expectations in a relationship, and how well you can communicate with your partner. Let’s take a look at the four attachment styles and what traits characterise each.
People with secure attachment style typically report the highest levels of satisfaction in their relationships. These are people who generally have healthy relationships, are good at recognising red flags, and need no assurance that they deserve the best.
You might have a secure attachment style if…
- Your mum is your best friend, or you’ve always been daddy’s little girl. As in, you’re one of those people who has always been close to your parents and they make you feel that you can be open with them about how things are going in your life.
- You have pretty clear cut ideas about what you want and deserve in a relationship. If you aren’t getting your needs met, you’ll cut your losses and walk away. Good for you!
- If you are getting what you want and need, you feel satisfied and fulfilled rather than restless and weird.
- Generally, when things don’t work out, you can get over it.
- You can keep a cool head, and make a good mediator in arguments. People tell you you’re good at dealing with conflict.
You might have an anxious attachment style if…
- People tell you you’re high maintenance, or clingy.
- You’ve been in (or currently are in) a toxic relationship but struggled to break up with them because you fear the thought of being alone.
- You meet someone at a party and spend the whole next day wondering if they’re the one.
- When things aren’t going so smoothly, you think “hmm, what could be the absolute worst case scenario? Because that’s probably what’s going on here.”
- You crave deep conversations and want your partner to bare their soul to you.
- Going a day or two without feeling like you’ve gotten enough affection from your partner makes you feel super down.
- You worry your partner doesn’t value you as much as you value them.
It might help if you…
- Lowkey avoid people with an avoidant attachment style. Romantically, they just are not really your people. It can be tempting to go for these folk for whatever reason – they’re hot, mysterious, whatever, but long term they’re unlikely to give you the attention and reassurance you need.
- Give yourself your own reassurance. If you actually know your partner loves you but that you just get in your head sometimes, you can avoid potentially tiring them out with your needs for reassurance and instead just repeat affirmations to yourself that you know they love you, and you just need to chill.
- Generally practice self love. Do things that you know raise your self-esteem and make you feel empowered so you don’t feel the need to lean on your partner too much. Ideas include playing social sports, hanging out with a dog, or doing an elaborate Korean skincare routine.
You might have an avoidant attachment style if…
- Sometimes you feel like a cat – sometimes you find a person you like and while you want to feel connected to them, you want to keep your independence more.
- You worry if you get too close to someone, they’ll take over your inner space and somehow change or diminish you.
- You are very private about your thoughts.
- Having a one-night stand leaves you fairly happy and fulfilled.
- In your relationships, you prioritise peace, space, and low conflict.
It might help if you…
- Be upfront with your partner about being someone who values space. Tell them early on that you’ll need space sometimes and they shouldn’t take it personally when you do. When you do need space, aim to tell them a ballpark of how long for. Hopefully, they’ll be accommodating of your needs if you communicate them effectively.
- Try journaling your feelings to get in touch with them more. Once you’ve processed your emotions on your own, it might be easier to contemplate sharing them with your partner.
- You could attract avoidant partners, and that could be why they’re non-committal.
Fearful Avoidant Attachment
You might have a fearful avoidant attachment style if…
- You want to be close to others, but struggle to know how to do this without getting hurt.
- When people are really into you it ends up scaring you off, as you feel overwhelmed by their intensity.
- The majority of your crushes are on people who are already in a relationship, or in a position of power to you, or have sexuality incompatible to yours. Read: they’re unavailable.
- Your relationships tend to be rocky, with lots of emotional highs and lows.
- You worry about being inadequate for your partner.
It might help if you…
- Many people who have a fearful avoidant style have gone through some very difficult experiences early in life. If you feel this attachment style is impacting your life very negatively it may help to see a therapist.
- Recognise that the emotions you feel in your relationship may not be an accurate representation of how things are actually going. If you can understand this is your attachment style, you can try to remind yourself not to shut off from your partner who wants you guys to be open with each other.
- Take some time (hours, days? Depends on you) to really consider taking action that is based on your strong emotional reactions.
- Accept that you’re someone who needs relationships to move very slowly for them to stay healthy. Try to find someone who genuinely feels the same way. They exist.
You don’t necessarily have to be the same attachment style your whole life. When I, and I’m sure many other people, look at the traits associated with secure attachment style, it seems kind of idyllic. But rather than going “well, I wish that were me but hey”, you can remember that although some people are raised into a secure attachment style, I think it is a mindset anyone can strive to emulate.
Even if you are anxious, avoidant or fearful avoidant, you certainly aren’t inferior to someone with a secure attachment style.
If a secure attachment style feels a bit far off your base psyche, it can be useful to just understand which category you fall into, like knowing your Myers-Briggs personality type. Being self-aware of your attachment style and coming up with strategies that work for you to mitigate some of your insecurities can help you have healthier and more satisfying relationships.