Attachment Styles

Attachment theory is used to better understand the dynamics of an individual’s emotional difficulties.  It explores the development of coping styles and relationship patterns formed during early childhood.  Individuals whose primary caregivers were emotionally responsive most likely developed a secure attachment. Those who did not have the same benefit often arrive in adulthood with ineffective strategies for getting their underlying emotional needs met. 

While the early experiences with primary caregivers influences how individuals relate to others, it is not the only predictor of attachment style. Other factors impact attachment styles and can cause it to change over time.  As the individual navigates the developmental tasks of middle school, early and late adolescence, the role of the peer group informs success self-evaluation and group identity. 

The attachment style does not explain everything about relationships, but it can outline a basic understanding for attraction and repeated relationship setbacks.

Secure Attachment Style

Chances are, when an individual is raised having a secure emotional bond with their parents or primary caregivers, they create a secure attachment. The primary caregivers  may not be perfect, but they provide adequately for the individual’s safety allowing them to feel accepted and valued. They are cared for when in distress. When or if the parent or caregiver left, they returned. They met the individual’s need of connection, competency and autonomy. 

As they arrive in adulthood, individuals with secure attachments are at ease being alone and autonomous. They can exhibit interest and affection for others while simultaneously set and apply consistent, healthy boundaries.

This security is the foundation that, carried to adulthood, makes it possible to have mutual romantic relationships, family membership, and meaningful friendships. The individual accepts his/her feelings as valid.  They are trustworthy and able to trust their allies, as well. At the same time, they can tolerate rejection and manage the associated emotions.

Anxious Attachment Style

Caregivers who crave emotional connection focus on the child to meet their needs. They connect with them for reassurance and their own need for comfort. They are not sensitive to the child’s needs. When the child seeks affection, the parent or caregiver is often preoccupied with their own needs. The child has a strong desire to connect to their caregiver to satisfy their needs and, absent the needed care and attention, they struggle with  separation and are slow to self-soothe when they are finally attended to. At times, caregivers may respond to the child’s needs and at other times they may be insensitive or intrusive. The child is left unsure they can depend on anyone.

Raised in an environment where parents or primary caregivers were inconsistent in adapting to the individual’s feelings or needs, individuals are likely to experience an anxious attachment style. 

As adults, these individuals are uneasy or stressed by relationships. Unlike those with secure attachments, the cannot tolerate being alone or single. They require constant validation and reassurance. They are susceptible to abusive or unhealthy relationships. They can be irrational, erratic, and highly emotional. They are suspicious of others, even when they are close to them. 

Avoidant Attachment Style

If the primary caregiver was emotionally unavailable, unaware of the child’s needs or discounted those needs, the child can start believing that they are not worthy of attention. They avoid depending on others and attempt to either meet their own needs or repress them entirely. They never imagine their caregiver is the problem because that might threaten the safety needed for survival. 

This transforms into extremely independent and self-sufficient adults. They can be aloof or dismissive. They are often uncomfortable with intimacy and isolate or emotionally distance themselves from partners. They avoid commitment and have an “escape plan” in place. They often desire a relationship and at the same time feel unsafe risking their feelings with another. Their needs eclipse those of their partner and there are unable to exhibit an emotional connection.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

Similar to “avoidant” parents, children with nonresponsive caregivers may develop a fearful-avoidant attachment. Children whose parents are frightened, disorienting, alarming  or respond in threatening ways may also exhibit a fearful-avoidant attachment style. It is often associated to childhood abuse or neglect.

These individuals struggle with emotional connection which is confused by their desire to have close relationships. Coupled with a self-concept of being unworthy, the mixed messaging makes the desire for intimacy easy to deny because they are more at ease when withholding emotional expression.

Adults with fearful-avoidant attachments struggle with intimacy and commitment. They become familiar with feelings of distrust and recoil at any attempt to get close to them. Familiarity with isolation and mistrust trap them in a lonely, cynical existence or in dysfunctional relationships.
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