If you’re on the internet at all, chances are you’ve heard the term ‘attachment style’ used somewhere. Attachment styles are defined as “a specific pattern of behavior in and around relationships,” and consist of three main ‘types’: anxious, avoidant, and secure. Within these three types are also a few that are in-between, such as fearful-avoidant and disorganized. Attachment styles are thought to develop based on the dynamics we have with our caregivers as children, and can affect platonic relationships as well as romantic ones. As you read through this guide, it is important to note that no attachment style is ‘worse’ than any other. We generally do not get to pick our attachment style, but we can work to improve it if we have the desire to. Regardless of your attachment style, it is entirely possible to have loving and healthy relationships with others!
Anxious attachment styles are often tied to a fear of abandonment by loved ones, and often result from having an unpredictable caregiver as a child. As a result of this fear, people with an anxious attachment style will compulsively seek validation from their partner as a way to try and ensure their partner will not leave them. People with anxious attachment styles may struggle with feeling ‘needy’ and worrying that their partner does not truly care about them. They may become very distressed if their partner doesn’t reply to their texts or calls quickly, or if they sense that their partner might be upset about something. Circling back to the unreliable caregiver narrative, people with an anxious attachment style may have difficulty trusting others, despite longing for intimate relationships, feeling as though they may be let down by the people they are closest to.
If you feel that you have an anxious attachment style and you would like to work on it, as simple as it may sound, becoming aware of the patterns of behavior you display within your relationships is a great place to start. Noticing how you react to certain things, and working on changing those reactions even when it feels scary, is a process that can be done over time with the help of a therapist and/or a trusted team of people in your life. In healing my own anxious attachment, I found DBT, specifically this workbook, to be extremely helpful. DBT helped me to challenge a lot of the ways of thinking I had in my relationships, and learn healthy ways to handle strong emotions so that I could have a better relationship with myself and others.
I also struggled with a lot of feelings of shame when I was deeper in the throes of anxious attachment, and having one or two friends who I could reach out to in really difficult moments also helped a lot. When I would feel an intense thought come up, just knowing that I had people who I could text or call to talk through it would often dull the power that the thought had over me and allow me to take a deep breath and start to see things from a different perspective.
Avoidant attachment is hallmarked by a fear of intimacy with others, and is thought to stem from having a childhood caregiver who was neglectful. Like with an anxious attachment, a fear of getting too close to others and a fear of intimacy is present, though it manifests in a different way. People with an avoidant attachment often struggle to be emotionally available, and often will keep a distance between themselves and their partners to avoid becoming too bonded to another person. A person with avoidant attachment may believe that they do not have any needs in relationships with others, and find themselves feeling at a loss when relationship conflict arises.
Healing an avoidant attachment style involves slowly leaning into intimacy with others, as frightening as that may feel. The key is to allow intimacy to develop at a pace that isn’t overwhelming, and practice expressing emotions. Also be sure to take the time to acknowledge when you are struggling to express your emotions, or to validate the emotions of your loved ones. Working with those close to you in your life, as well as a therapist if you have access to one, is a useful way to do this. Allowing for curiosity about others, and approaching relationships with more creativity and less logic can also be helpful. Being compassionate with yourself as you become aware of the parts of you that feel closed off from others is very important as well, as difficult as that can be at times.
Those with a secure attachment style do not really struggle to form loving relationships with others. They find it a lot easier to trust others, and to give and receive love. A secure attachment style can allow you to let intimacy into your life without feeling as though you need to depend too much or too little on others. When your partner or loved ones want to share closeness with you, you don’t shy away from it. Likewise, when your partner or loved ones need a bit of space, you don’t feel rejected or panicked.
Working towards a secure attachment style doesn’t only benefit you in the realm of romantic and platonic relationships. It can also help in the workplace, or when joining a club or activity where you’ll meet new people.
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None of these sound entirely like you? There are plenty of attachment style quizzes online that can help you determine what your attachment style leans toward, and from there you can figure out what actionable steps to take in terms of working towards a secure attachment style. Remember to keep in mind that no attachment style is “bad”, and having an anxious or avoidant attachment style (or anywhere in between) does not make you any less deserving of love or healthy relationships. It can be undeniably difficult to work on an attachment style, especially when the work has to do with behavior that dates back to the people who raised you in childhood, but it is absolutely possible to do that work and succeed.
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