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Attachment styles

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Date: 30/12/21-16/02/22

Author Name: Udita Singh

Qualifications: BA (Hons), MA- Applied Psychology (specialization in clinical psychology).

Designation: Consultant Psychologist, ACRO Mental Health Services.

Word count: 2025 words

Reading time: 14 minutes

Reviewed by: Sareem Athar and Aishwarya Krishna Priya

Last edited by author: 16/02/22

What is attachment?

Attachment is a special bond, especially an emotional bond, which is formed with the help of comfort and a sense of security with our primary caregivers, i.e. our parents in our childhood. We tend to be more attached to our parents if we feel secure and receive comfort from them (1).

What are attachment styles?

Attachment styles are how we tend to behave and communicate in our various intimate and close relationships. Attachment styles develop in our childhood when we start interacting and bonding with our primary caregivers or legal guardians (2). In adulthood, our attachment styles can be observed in our romantic relationships. The roots of attachment styles can be traced back to the “attachment theory”, given in the 1960s by John Bowlby (3, 4).

There are primarily four attachment styles:

  1. Secure attachment

  2. Anxious attachment

  3. Avoidant attachment

  4. Disorganised attachment

Points to remember about attachment styles:

  • Adults’ attachment styles are developed from the availability or lack of parents’ comfort, leading to rejection, security, and responsiveness. This usually leads to the type of attachment style the kids develop when they become adults.

  • The type of attachment style strongly influences the longevity and sustainability of a romantic relationship.

  • Attachment styles are not permanent. Insecurely attached adults (those with anxious, avoidant, and disorganized attachment) can learn to move towards a secure attachment style (5-8).

Secure attachment style:

People with a secure attachment style are usually quite empathetic and good at communicating their needs to others, they usually feel safe, secure, and satisfied in their various intimate relationships (9). They tend to feel confident and assured to take responsibility for their mistakes and also feel secure to be accountable for their actions. They are quite affectionate, and considerate (10). They are also quite conversational and another key aspect of being securely attached is that they do not hesitate to ask for help from others when they need it. They recognize that they need help, and they are not afraid to ask for it (11).

They behave in a way that adds value to their relationships, and they are usually at ease with intimacy and also with expressing their feelings and emotions (12). They do not shy away from relying on others and they love exploring as they feel confident and are entirely self-reliant (13). Securely attached adults feel comfortable when it comes to committing to a romantic partner, and whenever they are going through something difficult, be it mentally or emotionally, they openly ask for help or support from their loved ones (14). Moreover, they don’t get easily threatened by conflicts and issues and they tend to primarily focus on positive and loving aspects of various situations (15).

They tend to strive towards being in a committed relationship, unlike people with insecure attachment styles. Securely attached people tend to have more balanced, reliable, fulfilling, pleasant, warm, affectionate and committed romantic relationships. Moreover, they usually hold rational and reasonable expectations from their partners (16). An important point to notice about securely attached adults is that they tend to maintain a healthy balance of the seven dimensions of life and wellness: physical, intellectual, spiritual, environmental, social, financial, and emotional dimension (17). To summarize, people who are securely attached tend to not struggle with being vulnerable with their loved ones, they don’t get easily triggered and they usually don’t react much to external triggers, they are very open, loving, supportive and generous, they feel safe to express their needs and emotions, and they are pretty consistent too. They are good at forming and maintaining emotional connections with their loved ones (18, 19).

Anxious attachment style:

People who have an anxious attachment style tend to spend a lot of time worrying about their relationships, especially romantic relationships. They get negatively affected if they feel that their partner is distant from them physically and emotionally (20). They tend to indulge in their fears and doubts about their relationships, and they are pretty sensitive if they feel threatened in any way. They crave intimacy, especially physical contact, and if they think they are not getting enough, they might get upset easily (21). They tend to get triggered quickly, and hence, they spend an extensive amount of time in intimate relationships (22).

They fear being abandoned by their partners or being rejected by a potential partner. It has also been found that anxiously attached people tend to experience emotions like anger and frustration and express them to their partners if they feel that their partners are being distant from them (23). This is their way of gaining their partners’ attention to get closer and become intimate with them. They might withdraw from their partners to gain their attention(24). They might keep tabs on their partners’ behaviours that are disliked. They might portray that they are occupied and ignore their partners’ calls, and they might even behave in a way that might make their partner feel jealous (25).

People with anxious attachment styles crave encouragement and reassurance from their partners. Close people in their lives might believe that they are not good enough for their partner and usually react rather than respond to challenging people or words (26). Their pattern is that they get excessively dependent on their partners emotionally and might believe that their partner might leave or abandon them, even if everything is going well in their relationship (27). They also have trust issues and might find it hard to believe even if their partners might constantly reassure them that they won’t abandon them (28).

They tend to have a tendency of being clingy to their partners or loved ones because of their fear of ending up alone so they try to “cling” to their partners (29). It has also been noticed that anxiously attached people mostly have low self-esteem, jumping to conclusions and fear of rejection and various insecurities (30). Moreover, they rarely take criticism well: they might take criticism poorly as it might lead to rejection since they usually have low self-esteem as well as low self-worth (31). It's also possible that they are more likely to not trust their intuition and gut feelings and it's highly likely that the anxiously attached adults are people-pleasers (32). When adults with anxious attachment were kids, they might have learned that if they expressed why they are upset, it might lead to rejection (33).

Unfortunately, they find it difficult to be independent. They have to behave in the manner that would “earn” them love and affection from their partners and loved ones; hence, they usually get attracted to challenging people, i.e., avoidant (34). Their behaviour proves what they are craving: they would usually say things or do that they would want to receive from their partners. This is a key aspect of having an anxious attachment style (35).

One of the reasons why romantic relationships have one person who is anxiously attached is that they expect and hope their partner to guess or read their minds and figure out how they are feeling and what they need (36). They might have a strong belief that if they verbalize their needs, their partner might abandon them. They also focus on their partners’ needs more than their own needs and usually tend to jump to negative conclusions (37).

Avoidant attachment style:

People who are avoidantly attached are primarily opposite to those who are anxiously attached. They tend to “avoid” searching for love or craving attention or comfort to protect themselves from getting rejected. They tend to disconnect from their emotions to not express or show their attachment needs (39). When adults with avoidant attachment were kids, they might have learned that they expressed why that might lead to rejection (38). They aim at being quite independent and they don’t like to be in committed relationships (40).

If and when they get in a relationship, it's unlikely that they would put a lot of effort into the relationship. They prefer to remain independent. They aim towards becoming self-sufficient as they do not prefer to rely on others, and they even deny help when someone offers them help (41). They might even deny that they need love, hence they hesitate in getting emotionally involved with someone. They try their best to not be vulnerable in front of others (42). Unfortunately, they are not even aware of their behaviour’s impact on their partners. Moreover, they tend to focus on the flaws in their partners, which helps them to maintain an emotional distance from their partners, which in turn might help them to reject their partners (43).

They usually feel safe if they hide their emotions from others; this might be a result of childhood neglect. They are afraid to be vulnerable in front of others, and they tend to hide parts of themselves (44). People might describe them as “aloof”, “distant”, or “closed off”. They have trust issues that prompt them to maintain distance from others and they are afraid of craving love and affection from others. They are quite critical of others and tend to focus on the negative traits of others. They likely had parents who were emotionally distant from them; hence they do not know how to express their emotions and healthily needs to others They usually tend to get into relationships with anxiously attached individuals where their partners “need” them, which in turn strengthens their belief that “love compromises personal freedom” (45-48).

Disorganized attachment style:

This attachment style is also known as “Fearful avoidance” and “Anxious ambivalent”. This type of attachment style has the characteristic traits of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles (49). People who have disorganised attachment styles go back and forth between being anxious or avoidant. This type of style is the least addressed style among the other three styles. It is a “trauma response” (50). People with this style do crave love and affection, but at the same time, they are afraid of craving love and affection. So, they are more likely to damage or ruin their romantic relationships (51, 52). The primary cause for developing disorganized attachment is the trauma experienced by their parents and it being unsettled or unresolved (53). They usually behave unpredictably and gets overwhelmed easily by their own emotions (54). They desperately want to feel a deep emotional connection with others, but they get overwhelmed by this need. They are perplexed by their needs and are more likely to be unaware of what their needs are (55).

They usually have black and white thinking: there are little to no grey areas for them. They also tend to “overgeneralise”, which greatly harms their relationships and friendships (56). People who are their partners might believe or say that their partners “gaslight” them; but in reality, they do not know or remember what they have said earlier. Hence, they might come across as people who tend to gaslight their partners (57). Moreover, they tend to become quite defensive whenever they anticipate that a fight or a conflict is coming up with their partner. So, it can be said that people with this attachment style are quite confused and disoriented when it comes to their words and actions (58).

Attachment styles play a huge role in our lives (59). How we attach ourselves emotionally to others signifies the quality of our intimate relationships. Even though it is a gradual process, our attachment styles could change over time (60). If people with insecure attachment styles enter into a relationship with a person who is securely attached, then chances are, the secure partner would directly or indirectly help their partners to become more secure (61).

Suppose you or anyone you know exhibits signs that you have an insecure attachment style, either anxious, avoidant, or disorganised. In that case, you can change your insecure attachment style and adopt a secure style by seeking help from mental health professionals. Therapists help individuals with insecure styles become secure by assisting them in realising what healthy relationships look like, how people become insecurely attached, and help develop and establish healthier attachments with loved ones, especially romantic partners. Through therapy, people can learn to create stronger connections with friends, family, and romantic partners.

Audio-Visual Credits

  1. Image by Lauren Lulu Taylor on Unsplash published on 06/06/18.

  2. Image by Andres Molina on Unsplash published on 12/12/15.

  3. Image by Gus Moretta on Unsplash published on 12/09/17.

  4. Image by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash published on 15/03/18.

  5. Image by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash published on 10/12/18.

  6. Image by Fred Moon on Unsplash published on 29/01/19.


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