Ever wondered why you sometimes sound and act like your parent? It may even be a behavior you dislike but unwittingly display when you are with others that you are close with. Attachment Theory may throw some light.
Attachment theory suggests that the moment we are born, we instinctively seek emotional connections and bonds with others (e.g., mother, caregivers). These early relationships play a pivotal role in shaping our emotional development that influences how we relate to people throughout our lives.
This theory was first developed by John Bowlby (1982) that explains how we can better understand our emotional bonds with others to build interpersonal relationships
There are attachment styles that develop as a result of our relationship with our caregivers. These continue to influence your relationships throughout life:
- Secure attachment: These are people who are comfortable with intimacy and autonomy. They value healthy interdependence between with their partners and relationships. They are not afraid of trusting others and forming a secure bond.
- Anxious attachment: These people seek constant reassurance and closeness as they fear being abandoned from another party. This can be considered as being needy or clingy in relationships.
- Avoidant attachment: These people value independence and distance, are wary of emotional vulnerability and fear intimacy. They tend to feel that their needs may not be satisfied in relationships.
- Disorganized (fearful) attachment: These are those who struggle with inconsistency and move between the extremes of avoidance and feeling anxious. They find trouble developing close relationships but have a sense of desire of these feelings.
Recognizing various attachment styles a person may offer valuable insights into their behaviours and interactions.
Here are some examples of the type of family background that contributes to the different attachment styles:
- Secure attachment: Comfortable with both intimacy and autonomy, valuing healthy interdependence between both parties. Not afraid of trusting others and forming a secure bond.
Imagine Sarah, who grew up in a nurturing and loving family environment. Her parents were consistently available, supportive, and provided her with utmost care and concern. Sarah likely developed a secure attachment style. In her adult interpersonal relationships, she is confident, expressive, and capable of forming deep emotional connections with her friends. She has no trouble balancing time with her partner and time for herself.
- Anxious attachment: Seeking constant reassurance and closeness while fearing abandonment from another party. This can be considered as being needy or clingy in relationships.
Imagine John, whose parents who were inconsistent in their attention and affection as they are always busy with work. He never knew when his parents would be available emotionally, so he developed an anxious-preoccupied attachment style. In his adult relationships, John often seeks frequent validation and reassurance from his partner, fearing that they might leave him or abandon him. This constant need for affirmation can sometimes create tension in his relationships and can be known as “needy”.
- Avoidant attachment: Valuing independence and distance, wary of emotional vulnerability and fearing intimacy. Tend to feel that their needs may not be satisfied in relationships.
Imagine Rebecca, her parents were often emotionally unavailable during her primary/secondary school. To cope, she learned to be self-reliant and dismissive of her own emotional needs. Rebecca grew up, she has developed a dismissive-avoidant attachment style. She finds it challenging to open up emotionally to her partner or friends and tends to keep her distance. While she values her independence, her partner and friends sometimes feel shut out.
- Disorganized (fearful) attachment: Struggle with inconsistency and move between the extremes of avoidance and feeling anxious. They find trouble developing close relationships but have a sense of desire of these feelings.
Imagine Tom, he grew up in a chaotic household where his parents’ emotions were unpredictable, swinging from loving to hostile. This led to Tom developing a fearful-avoidant attachment style. In his adult relationships, he often desires intimacy and connection but is afraid of getting hurt emotionally which can lead to inconsistent behaviour. For instance, Tom might pull away emotionally when he starts to feel close to his partner, only to later crave their closeness again. This cycle may repeat itself multiple times.
Now, let’s explore how these attachment styles can be harnessed for personal growth.
- Open Communication: Sarah, with a secure attachment style, can enhance her relationship by maintaining open and honest communication with her partner and friends, this can help to resolve conflicts more effectively. https://shadee.care/challenging-conversations/
- Self-Reflective Practice: Recognizing your attachment style and its roots is crucial. It allows you to identify patterns in your behaviour and emotions. For example, if you notice you’re constantly seeking validation like John, you can work on building self-esteem self-motivation and self-assurance. https://shadee.care/self-acceptance/
- Therapy: Rebecca, with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style, might benefit from therapy to explore her emotional barriers and develop healthier ways to express her feelings and form stronger interpersonal relationships. https://shadee.care/what-to-expect-in-therapy/
- Mindfulness Techniques: Tom, with a fearful-avoidant attachment style, can use mindfulness techniques to become more aware of his emotional triggers and learn to manage his emotional reactivity better. This may come in form of deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation techniques or meditation! https://shadee.care/self-care/
By understanding your attachment style and taking steps to address its challenges, you can build stronger, more satisfying relationships and have healthier relationships!
Remember, these styles are not fixed! They can change and develop with self-awareness and conscious effort.
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52(4), 664–678. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.1982.tb01456.x
Li, P. (2023, September 28). Attachment Theory – The Ultimate Guide. Parenting for Brain. https://www.parentingforbrain.com/attachment-theory/
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2005). Attachment theory and emotions in close relationships: Exploring the attachment-related dynamics of emotional reactions to relational events. Personal Relationships, 12(2), 149–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00108.x