Common Effects of Your Attachment Style
Hi there! Welcome back to part 2 of my series on the influence of attachment styles. If you’re reading this blog, chances are it is a continuation of the first part of my series, “What are attachment styles?” The former article went into depth about the four attachment types and how they can develop. I’ve provided a brief overview of those attachment styles below:
Secure attachment: These individuals’ parents provided constant or near-constant fulfillment of their needs as infants and children. As a result, adults with secure attachments yield high self-esteem and confidence in themselves. Securely attached individuals trust easily and seek connection with others while being comfortable with their independence. Securely attached individuals can adjust easily and cope well with life’s adjustments or changes within a relationship.
Anxious attachment: Anxiously attached individuals develop the attachment from inconsistent fulfillment of needs from their caregiver as a child. Insecure attachment can be due to various reasons: parents with demanding careers, single or unsupported parents with multiple children to tend after, emotionally unavailable parents, or another trauma to the attachment. As a result, the inconsistency may yield adults who struggle to trust others’ ability to meet their needs and experience low self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, anxious attachment can cause individuals to fear abandonment from those they love due to a deep-rooted concern that love and care is unpredictable. This fear often drives anxiously attached individuals’ behaviors where they need constant reassurance from their partner or do somewhat impulsive things within the relationship, later regretting these behaviors.
Avoidant attachment: An avoidant attachment stems from consistent dismissal or inability to meet a child’s needs. Over time, the child learns to rely on themselves physically or emotionally for survival. A loss of a caregiver without adequate support, or caregivers who become easily overwhelmed by the child’s needs and check out emotionally, may lead to an avoidant attachment. As adults, these children grow up to be uncomfortable with emotional vulnerability. Avoidant individuals struggle to trust others with their intimacy or emotions and may feel suffocated when others try to connect past a superficial relationship. Their issues with depending on others and getting close often yield disconnection and seeking distance in times of stress, which can create distance between them and their partner(s).
Disorganized attachment: Individuals with disorganized attachment develop from experiencing abuse or neglect from a caregiver. This abuse and neglect can be direct from parent to child or witnessed by the child of the caregiver abusing another individual. The contradiction between abuse and love from a caregiver creates fear of love and connection in the child. As an adult, disorganized attachment lends to difficulty accepting love and connection. Individuals desire intimacy but fear it simultaneously and waver between clinginess and avoidance. These behaviors often confuse the disorganized attached person and their partner, reporting exhaustion from figuring out their needs.
Now that we’ve introduced the different types of attachment styles, it’s time to discuss how our attachment styles impact us in the long term. In the previous article, I discussed our internal working model. An internal working model is the mental representation of relationships we take into adulthood. You may have heard it referred to as your worldview. It affects how we approach connection with others and is highly influenced by our attachment style. Depending on your attachment style, you will perceive and approach relationships differently.
Table of Contents
Anxiously Attached in Love:
Anxiously attached individuals have created an internal working model that the relationship is a central part of their life and identity. When they fear losing the connection, they also fear losing much more significant things- their identity, a primary source of love, validation, and comfort. Sometimes, an anxiously attached person can lose a part of themselves. This loss can happen due to enmeshment. As they become entangled in the relationship, they struggle to differentiate between what is theirs and what is the other person’s. People with anxious attachments rely on others to meet their needs and may be unsure how to meet them for themselves.
An example of how anxious attachment plays out in relationships can be when one partner becomes heavily dependent on the other for sources of validation. The anxiously attached partners fill with self-doubt quickly in many areas of their life as they receive reassurance and validation in an unpredictable way growing up. Thus, creating a worldview that love is inconsistent. To make sure their partner still loves them regardless, they may ask time and time again for that reassurance.
Most of the time, reassuring your partner that they meet your needs feels good. Other times, or depending on the other partner’s attachment style, the frequent or constant need to provide validation and reassurance can be tiring. It is not to say that the other partner doesn’t believe what they tell the anxious partner. However, each individual has their well-being to care for on top of caring for one another. Relationships are often not 50-50% for effort and caring, but if the effort and care stay at 80%-20% for too long, the relationship may see effects from that imbalance.
Avoidantly Attached in Love:
Avoidantly attached people have created quite a different worldview of relationships. While all humans need connection, a relationship may feel like a “high-risk, high-reward” situation. Avoidantly attached individuals have created a worldview where a connection isn’t a priority; they’ve worked their whole life trying to convince themselves that they don’t need love because they didn’t receive it growing up. In other words, opening themselves up for connection feels incredibly risky but ultimately gets them closer to the desired relationship one craves. Opening up to emotional intimacy can be a learning experience for someone avoidant. They have learned not to expect their needs to be met and have little experience giving others that same intimacy. The idea of a committed relationship can feel like making a $10 deposit into someone’s bank when you only have $10 to begin with-” What if they let me down again, and I lose all my savings?”
An avoidantly attached partner may thrive in the earlier stages of a relationship, where partners spend time doing fun activities and getting to know each other. However, when one partner begins to seek deeper emotional connection as the relationship grows, the opportunity to connect deeper may be seen as a threat; this threat is the avoidant partner’s fear that their partner will reject their needs or ignore them just as they were in childhood. Once intimacy deepens, and it’s time for the vulnerability to strengthen the bond, avoidantly attached partners may withdraw emotionally or physically as a coping mechanism.
Disorganized Attachment in Love:
Similar to avoidant attachment, relationships can feel incredibly overwhelming for individuals with disorganized attachment. These individuals have learned that sources of love are also sources of other traumatic, negative feelings. As a result, they reject the connection to protect themselves from trauma while desperately desiring it simultaneously. The theme of confusion continues with this form of attachment even into adulthood.
An example of disorganized attachment in a relationship can be challenging to describe as disorganized people struggle to get to the point of a long-term relationship with another person. A reason for this is the disorganized partner is unable to connect out of fear of unpredictability in their partner. Partners with disorganized attachment have a template of love that suggests people who love you will also be the ones to hurt you, emotionally or physically. Disorganized partners may need help to trust the non-disorganized partner or may even become overly paranoid towards their partner because of this template.
We’ve established that disorganized attachments more often stem from various forms of childhood abuse or neglect from someone understood to be loving. One with a disorganized attachment may pursue a partner with affection out of a desire for connection. However, once the relationship moves forward, disorganized partners push the partner away to ensure their perceived survival. Partners who have disorganized attachment can be unpredictable because they never had a predictable, consistent model for how to connect with others.
Securely Attached in Love:
Those with secure attachments have learned that intimacy and relationships provide the connection that all humans need. Therefore, they don’t shy away from deep emotional connections and likely recognize healthy relationship patterns as standard. Securely attached individuals freely pursue their independence, confident their partner will be there for them. Their internal working model, or “representation of attachment,” has shown them they can explore and be themselves while still expecting their needs for love and connection to be met by those to whom they are attached.
Individuals with a secure attachment have confidence in their ability to be a loving partner and be loved by their partners. An example of a securely attached partner seeks quality time and intimacy from their partner but understands when it’s not always possible to receive it. If a partner cannot meet for a date, the secure partner is less likely to internalize this as a reason for their flaws. Securely attached partners will seek other forms of support and connection until their partner is free to spend time together. During conflict, the secure partner can recognize fights as a regular part of relationships and is less likely to fear breaking up or getting overwhelmed by them as often as other attachments. Secure individuals still perceive their partner as a source of love rather than fear or neglect.
Do You Marry Your Parent?
Our attachment styles can also impact the patterns we gravitate towards in relationships. Depending on if you’re securely or insecurely attached, you may tolerate different levels of dysfunction in your relationship. Have you ever heard the expression, “You either marry your mother or your father?” This saying is often true! Sort of… When people hear this expression, they may squirm at the idea of seeking someone who is parental in their eyes. However, that’s not what this expression is getting at. What it means is that people gravitate toward familiar patterns. Familiarity breeds comfort, and it’s most often found in familial relationships since that is typically the longest relationship we have up to that point. Depending on your family’s patterns, seeking familiarity can be good or bad.
Let’s look at Jessica, a 15-year-old girl who grew up with an emotionally reactive father who was often “hot and cold.” Sometimes he would greet Jessica with open arms, but sometimes lash out when he came home from work. (Can you guess what kind of attachment he has?) To keep the peace, Jessica and her mother ensured the house was pristine; Jessica did all her chores, dinner, and homework before he arrived. However, when Jessica’s father came home, he struggled to compartmentalize work from family. He took his frustrations of the day out on Jessica and her siblings by yelling and nitpicking the chores. As a result of her dynamic with her dad, Jessica developed a ‘people pleasing,’ anxious attachment. She hurried around the house, accommodating her dad and staying silent in an attempt to receive approval and reduce his reactivity.
Flash forward ten years, and Jessica is home early from work, gathering the house and making dinner for her and her partner, Mark, to enjoy together. Mark comes home from work visibly frustrated and points out the burnt fries and messy kitchen. Mark continues by yelling throughout the house and slamming doors. Familiar with this behavior, Jessica knows just what to do. She falls silent and begins scurrying around the house, looking for ways to accommodate Mark’s anger, fearing that his anger means he is dissatisfied with the relationship and her. Jessica knows this role. She does it well. Instead of communicating about what she’s noticing, she makes herself small, and people please her way into Mark’s acceptance.
Jessica’s story is just one example of how people may be attracted to partners who embody the traits of their parents, even if it’s not ideal. Oddly, knowing what to do in this situation is comforting for Jessica, so she is drawn to a partner who displays familiar behaviors that she already knows how to handle. Although Jessica may explicitly say she does not want a relationship like her parents, implicitly, there is something about repeating this pattern and the familiarity of it that brings her solace. Additionally, Jessica’s tolerance for Mark’s anger is much higher than someone who did not grow up with a father who also displayed those behaviors. Over time, her father’s anger became normal. Given her anxious attachment and her familiarity with anger, she may read someone who doesn’t get angry all the time as someone who does not care about her or that isn’t interested in her.
It’s also possible to seek partners who embody the positive traits of our parents. This section’s principle highlights the tendency to gravitate toward what we know. With awareness and intent, we can shift our behaviors and expectations in a healthy way that leaves us fulfilled and satisfied. However, it may require some work if we come from patterns that are further from perfect.
How can I overcome an insecure attachment style in my relationship?
Awareness of patterns
While working towards a secure attachment is ideal, these connection patterns are deep within you and potentially intergenerational. Understandably so, it may be challenging to break habits immediately. In the meantime, creating awareness around your patterns will allow you to acknowledge what you may need at the moment. For example, each attachment style will have different methods of regulating when triggered by feelings of suffocation, abandonment, or fear. An individual may pick up on what about the environment led to this by examining conflict patterns or moments right before a trigger. While there may not be a solution to the situation immediately, this knowledge can provide insight into how to approach triggering situations.
Communication can be helpful when navigating different attachment styles in a relationship. For example, a typical relationship duo is avoidant attachment and anxious attachment. As we’ve learned, an avoidantly attached partner can quickly feel suffocated by intimacy. On the contrary, the anxiously attached partner may take this personally or struggle with concern over disconnect.
A conversation around boundaries may allow each partner to limit how much vulnerability or intimacy they can handle. For example, avoidantly attached partners may need to schedule periods of alone time to decompress from intimacy. During this time, an anxiously attached partner may find comfort in planning for those periods to fill their time. On the other hand, anxiously attached individuals may benefit from a phone call or check-ins throughout the day to let them know their partner is still connected. In this scenario, the avoidant partner can reassure their anxious partner without pushing their limits with vulnerability.
Awareness of self/partners’ needs
In connection with communication, it’s essential to understand your partners’ needs and your own. In doing so, each partner can work to consistently meet the needs of the other in an attempt to create a secure attachment. After all, the consistency of the caregiver is what influenced these patterns, to begin with, so utilizing that consistency in how you care for your partner in adulthood will be impactful. That said, it’s important to be able to meet your partner where they are. Similarly to love languages, each attachment style comes with different needs. If you can learn the needs of your partners’ attachment style, they receive love and connection in a way they can appreciate.
On the other hand, an ideal path to creating secure attachment is learning to meet your own needs as well. Not to be confused with hyper-independence, growing comfortable with being self-reliable and showing up for yourself is also crucial, especially when your partner isn’t available. Showing up for yourself looks like planning to spend alone doing activities you love, checking in with your emotions, and responding with what you think you need to self-soothe, whether it’s a good cry or time in nature.
Seeking a partner with a secure attachment to model after
If an individual is not already in a relationship, one way to work towards secure attachment is to look for traits of a secure attachment in others while dating or socializing. Seeking these traits is an intentional way to find a partner but it can pay off in the long run. A securely attached person likely embodies the qualities we’ve mentioned in part one and may help you feel more secure in your attachment by their consistent ability to meet your needs. In addition, secure partners can serve as a model for you to develop healthier patterns of attachment while allowing space to work through dysfunction from past patterns without the fear of losing them.
Therapy is an excellent resource for individuals and couples looking to work through dysfunction and heal inner wounds. Couples and individual therapists can work with you to gain insight into where these patterns developed and how they emerged in adulthood. Couples therapy can prove helpful in gaining awareness of how the dynamic in your relationship may bring out specific patterns. At the same time, individual therapists can help to process what comes up for you individually. The therapist can also help to move you beyond just awareness to shifting some of your interactions and breaking out of specific patterns that don’t serve you.
As we conclude the second part of this series, let us acknowledge the massive role our attachment styles have in building and maintaining relationships. Depending on whether you are secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized, you may experience your relationships drastically differently. And require various methods of connection and communication. One of the most essential takeaways from this article is understanding your patterns and your partner’s needs. With the help of therapy, communication, and self-awareness, building a more secure attachment that leads to more fulfilling relationships is possible.