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Adult Attachment Styles and How They Affect Relationships

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Your attachment style indicates the way you emotionally connect with others and form relationships, including with your children. Unsurprisingly, it’s the result of how your parents or primary caregivers responded to your emotional needs during your early childhood.

In a previous post, we talked about the four styles of childhood attachment and the science behind them. Today, we’re focusing on adult attachment styles. We’ll discuss the way they affect your interpersonal relationships and – good news! – how you’re not powerless against them.

The Four Adult Attachment Styles

1. Secure Attachment

People with a secure attachment style are generally happy in their relationships. Because their parents met their need for love and security, they’re trusting and expect others to reciprocate their love. They also set appropriate boundaries with other people. Meaning that while they form intimate relationships, they still respect their partner’s need for alone time and independence without feeling threatened or rejected. Secure personalities are good with emotions too. They manage and communicate their feelings well, and, being positive people, they don’t tend to hold grudges.

2. Avoidant/dismissive Attachment

Children with emotionally unavailable parents eventually stopped turning to them for comfort. They’ve learned to take care of themselves from an early age and continue to do so as adults. People with avoidant attachment have renounced intimacy and closeness, and are keen supporters of independence. They prefer to set rigid boundaries to keep others at a safe distance. That includes rarely discussing or expressing their feelings. If someone manages to get into a conflict with them, which they won’t allow easily, they have an extraordinary ability to shut down their emotions and act like they don’t care.

3. Anxious/Preoccupied Attachment

When a parent fails to be consistently available, the result is a person that develops anxious/preoccupied attachment as an adult. These individuals are what many people call “needy” or “clingy.” They have deep-rooted insecurity about themselves and fear of abandonment. This leads them to seek reassurance from others and become overly dependent on their partner. Because they are in a constant state of anxiety and worry, they often explode or may seem overdramatic. Unfortunately, their lack of boundaries and emotionally exhausting behavior act as a self-fulfilling prophecy and often drive people away.

4. Disorganized/Fearful Attachment

Disorganized insecurity is the result of unprocessed trauma, usually caused by a hostile or abusive parent. People with disorganized attachment have learned that the one they love can hurt them. As a result, they go back and forth between avoidant and anxious attachment, both seeking and dreading close relationships. These people are also likely to become involved in seesaw or abusive relationships.

If you want to find out more about the importance of attachment, then Susan Johnson’s new book Attachment Theory in Practice: Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with Individuals, Couples, and Families is for you. Here you’ll find success stories of the author’s patients that show how emotional connection, which is best achieved through secure attachment, plays a tremendous role in overcoming relationship problems and reducing anxiety and depression.

… And Earned Secure Attachment

So, what if your parents didn’t get it 100% right? Does that mean you’re doomed to follow the same dysfunctional relationship pattern for life? Luckily, attachment styles are not set in stone. You can still develop an earned secure attachment style as an adult.

One way to do this is to form a relationship with a person that appears to have a secure attachment style. The catch here is that they must act both as a responsive caregiver and a therapist. They must successfully meet your emotional needs and point out unhealthy behaviors. That’s a lot to ask from a person.

Therefore, the most effective way to work towards secure attachment is with the guidance of a professional, who will help you revisit and interpret your childhood memories and change your behavioral pattern.

Don’t allow past mistakes to determine who you are today and how you’ll treat your kids tomorrow. It may take time and consistent, conscious effort to rewire your brain, but you owe it to yourself. Get in touch to schedule an appointment.






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