Attachment Styles | Personal Relationships From Infancy to Elderhood

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By: Pariza Fazal

This blog has been reviewed by Mihaela Zlatanovska and Gingin Chien; edited, formatted and published by Nicholas Murray.

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This blog is Part 1 of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association’s Personal Relationships Series, by Pariza Fazal and Mihaela Zlatanovska. In this blog we will explore four attachment styles and their effects on relationships. Additionally, we will look at strategies to cultivate a more secure attachment style in adulthood!

Developing Relationships: Are there Strings Attached?

The attachment style that we manifest in adulthood is thought to be shaped by the bond we had with our caregivers during our early developmental milestones.

You may have heard of attachment theory, which was originally developed by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby in the 1950s.¹ But, have you ever considered the implications of your own attachment style within your day to day life? Your attachment style can be defined as the way you relate to other people in relationships. Your personalized way of interacting with others initially buds during early childhood development. The attachment style that we manifest in adulthood is thought to be shaped by the bond we had with our caregivers during our early developmental milestones. The relationship dynamic between us and our parents in infancy and adolescence is often what determines how we communicate, express ourselves, interact with others, and form relationships over the course of our lives.

Attachment styles are measured on two dimensions; anxiety and avoidance. Anxiety in attachment styles is a reaction to stress, or changes in a relationship. An avoidance behaviour can be defined as an action one takes to escape from difficult feelings and thoughts.²

Attachment styles can be categorized into four different types, on the basis of those two dimensions:

Secure Attachment

A secure attachment style allows one to develop stable, loving relationships with other individuals.¹ Secure attachments are low on the dimensions of avoidance and anxiety.² When we have a secure attachment style, we are able to love and accept love, easily trust others, and can build close relationships with ease. If a person is securely attached, they are typically not afraid of intimacy and are able to depend on their partner without becoming overly reliant on them.³ A securely attached individual is able to take time and space away from their partner, without becoming overly anxious.

Anxious Attachment

The anxious attachment style is a type of insecure attachment that is rooted in a fear of abandonment.¹ Anxious attachments are low on the avoidance dimension, but high on anxiety.² When we are anxiously attached we might have the tendency to be very insecure about our relationship. These individuals may be constantly preoccupied with the thought that their partner may leave and are constantly seeking validation. They might also be prone to having a negative self-image, and may need more attention and responsiveness from others.³ Anxiously attached individuals may be described as having needy or clingy behaviours. They may feel anxious when their partner doesn’t respond right away and may regularly feel as if their partner doesn’t care enough about them.

Avoidant Attachment

An avoidant attachment style is a form of insecure attachment which is characterized by the fear of intimacy.¹ Avoidant attachments are low on the anxiety dimension, but high on avoidance.² Avoidantly attached individuals have difficulty building close relationships and trusting others. Those who have an avoidant attachment style are likely to have high self-esteem and a positive view of themselves. These individuals prefer to be independent and self-reliant, and being in relationships may feel suffocating for them.³ Avoidantly attached people are usually emotionally unavailable in their relationships and tend to maintain some distance from their partners.

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment

The anxious-avoidant attachment style is an amalgamation of both the anxious and avoidant attachment styles.¹ Anxious-avoidant attachments are high on both the anxiety and avoidance dimensions.² This attachment style can also be described as disorganized or fearful-avoidant. When one has an anxious-avoidant attachment style, they desire affection yet avoid intimacy. These people are reluctant to get close to their partners in romantic relationships, although they still feel the need to be loved by others.³ If one has a disorganized attachment style, they may have trouble regulating their emotions and struggle to trust and depend on others.

Cultivating a Secure Attachment Style

“The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature” ~ John Bowlby

Attachment styles are relatively stable over the course of the lifetime. Having a secure attachment style is not an indicator of a flawless individual, nor does it guarantee a relationship without conflict. However, research has found that individuals with secure attachment styles tend to have more stability and longevity within their relationships. In contrast, individuals with anxious or avoidant attachment styles experienced increased negative emotions in social situations and have poorer conflict management skills.

Here are some positive psychology concepts you can implement into your life, in order to cultivate healthy relationships and a secure attachment style:

  1. Appreciate your own self worth: Ever heard the quote You can’t love others until you love yourself? That rule is essential for building a secure attachment style. Appreciating your self-worth is important in order to be yourself in relationships. A simple way to do this is through positive self-affirmations. For example, remembering and repeating “I am worthy of love!” You can find a blog post on positive affirmations here on the CPPA Students Medium, written by Emeline Wyckaert.
  2. Spend time with yourself and others: Taking space and time to yourself is just as important as spending one-on-one time with your partner. This helps foster an environment where you don’t feel overly anxious when the two of you are apart. Make sure you spend time with people other than your romantic partner as well. Having a good support system with friends and family will also help you feel less self-reliant.⁴
  3. Take responsibility for your actions: During rough patches in their relationships, individuals with a secure attachment style will be able to own up to their mistakes and shortcomings. Accepting your mistakes is not a sign of weakness, rather it shows that you are willing to learn from your mistakes. It also reflects that you prefer to deal with conflict in the relationship, as opposed to avoiding it.
  4. Seek help when needed: Recognizing when you are in need of extra support shows that you are capable of identifying your own needs and are comfortable expressing your feelings, hopes and desires. It also highlights your emotional awareness, increasing the ability to channel, manage, and cope with your emotions. Expressing yourself may feel uncomfortable if you are anxious or emotionally unavailable. However, relationships are mutual transactions; hence, a securely attached person will emote and seek help as much as they will offer it.⁴
  5. Non-verbal communication: During our interactions with others, we continuously give and receive signals through our gestures, posture, and eye contact. Nonverbal cues are able to send messages to others about our emotions. Learning how to express ourselves non-verbally and read into the non-verbal cues of others not only makes it easier to understand one another, but it may also deepen our connections with each other. You can read more about non-verbal and other forms of communication in one of my previous blogs here.

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If you enjoyed reading this blog, please take a moment to like, share, and comment. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me at parizafazal@gmail.com. In the next blog, we will be covering the four types of parenting styles, how they can affect your relationships, along with tips for cultivating an authoritative parenting style.

If you are interested in positive psychology, I encourage you to become a member of the CPPA. Don’t forget to check out our Student Zone too!

References

  1. Bretherton I (1992). “The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth” (PDF). Developmental Psychology. 28 (5): 759–775. doi:10.1037/0012–1649.28.5.759. http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/online/inge_origins.pdf
  2. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/attachment-theory-and-the-4-attachment-styles
  3. https://www.attachmentproject.com/blog/four-attachment-styles/
  4. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_you_cultivate_a_more_secure_attachment_style

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We are the Student Ambassador Program of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA). Find our website here: https://www.cppa.ca/Student-Zone

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