What Are Relationship Attachment Styles?

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve probably seen #attachmentstyle floating around. The hashtag has been viewed more than one billion times on TikTok.

So what is attachment style?

Relational attachment style refers to how people behave in relationships, from expressing intimacy to managing conflict. The term became popular in 1969 when psychologist Mary Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation Procedure (surprisingly not trending on TikTok) to measure the attachment between the caregiver and the child.

Ainsworth’s attachment theory says that the emotional bonds we form with our caregivers (usually parents) when we are babies play an important role in how we behave in relationships as adults. For example, if you had a caregiver who was not attentive to your needs or trustworthy, you are more likely to have difficulty in adult relationships.

Therapist Lori Gordon-Michaeli, LCSW, said that learning your attachment style can help you better understand how you act and how you respond to your partner. “It helps us know what our needs are and how we can help our partner meet them. “It also helps us understand our partner and their approach to the relationship.”

Read: What are the 5 love languages? >>

Gordon said that attachment style is driven by the subconscious self rather than the conscious self. “If we know our attachment style, we can navigate a healthy version of interactions. Instead of reacting, we learn to respond in relationship. Many times relationships do not work due to our attachment styles and lack of awareness in responses.”

The four attachment styles are:

  • Sure
  • Anxious
  • avoidant
  • Unstructured

All three insecure styles (you guessed them) have negative impacts on relationships. But you can take steps to recognize insecure attachment styles and make changes to help form healthy relationships.

We asked Gordon about the basics behind the 4 attachment styles and what to know if you or your partner has an insecure attachment style.

1. Secure attachment style

People who have a secure attachment style tend to trust the bond they have with their partners. Therefore, they usually do well in relationships.

They are comfortable sharing feelings and are good at communicating. They usually don’t read things and are okay with intimacy and vulnerability while still feeling secure in who they are. Basically, the kind of couple we all want.

If you or your partner have a secure attachment style: People with secure attachment styles will typically gravitate toward each other. However, if they are in a relationship with someone who has an insecure attachment style, they are likely willing to meet their partner where they are and/or help resolve problems.

2. Anxious attachment style

People with an anxious attachment style usually had something happen in their childhood or childhood development that caused them to feel abandoned. So as adults, they want to feel close and intimate with their partner to feel calm and secure.

However, the need for constant reassurance and validation can be difficult in a relationship. Anxiously attached people may sabotage the relationship by seeking attention to gain validation. Feeling insecure, jealous, and needy are also signs of an anxious attachment style.

If you or your partner have an anxious attachment style: It may be beneficial to work on coping skills through talk therapy, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to self-soothe and Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). EMDR, which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, can also help overcome feelings of abandonment.

Read: What is EMDR and how can it help trauma survivors? >>

3. Avoidant attachment style

People with avoidant attachment tend to withdraw during intimacy and shy away from closeness in general. This is because the idea of ​​being vulnerable is threatening to them. People with avoidant attachment have difficulty trusting other people and invest little in relationships.

If you or your partner have an avoidant attachment style: Therapy can help people with an avoidant attachment style learn to trust and share thoughts and feelings. Note: Avoidant and anxious attachment styles can become very toxic when together, so both parties should consider therapy.

4. Disorganized attachment style

People with disorganized attachment styles have a combination of anxious attachment with avoidant traits. Typically, people with this attachment style have been through trauma and/or abuse and find it very difficult to trust anyone.

Disorganized attachment can lead to unpredictable behaviors and problems regulating emotions. Signs of disorganized attachment include contradictory behaviors, such as being hot and cold, and fear of rejection.

If you or your partner have a disorganized attachment style: Therapies that include trauma support can help people with disorganized attachment. EMDR and trauma-focused CBT are two examples that can also help people process and move toward healthier relationships.

The good news is that people with any of these attachment styles are capable of having happy relationships. “Therapy is very helpful in all aspects of gaining insight into ourselves in ways we’ve never thought about,” Gordon said. “If you are having problems in your relationships, it may be a good idea to start with self-reflection so you can be the best version of yourself. That usually changes the way we interact with others, which in turn takes relationships into more pleasant waters.”

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