The 3 Powerful Forms Of Relationship Attachment

The 3 Powerful Forms Of Relationship Attachment

Attachment Theory: Are you Anxious, Avoidant, or Secure?

I have a question for you.

How do you see people?

With your eyes, yes. But how do you see those people that are close to you?

Do you see them as being near and warm, far and cold, safe or indifferent? Do you not get enough of them, or are you with them too much?

Think about this.

There's a healthy way to see someone, and then there are unhealthy ways to see to someone - which lead to healthy and unhealthy ways of communicating and acting around them. A secure way, and insecure ways. This is determined by the way we attach to people.

Let's find out where you stand on this spectrum of healthy relationship attachment and see just how insecure you may be. 

Our Attachment System and Attachment Theory

The way you see your partner, as well as your close friends and family, is determined by your attachment style. We each show signs of all three, but tend towards one of these methods of attaching to others:

1. An Anxious Attachment Style

2. An Avoidant Attachment Style, and

3. A Secure Attachment Style

 

These styles come from a concept called Attachment Theory, which basically assumes we all need emotional and physical attachment in order to grow as human beings (as opposed to being purely rational and logical beings without too much need for emotion). If you tend towards an anxious or avoidant attachment style, this is considered insecure attachment. If you tend toward a secure attachment style, this is, of course, secure.

Before we get into each style, let me ask you why we may have insecure attachment styles to begin with. From an evolutionary perspective, why on earth are there still so many anxious and avoidant characteristics?!

How could someone insecure compete with someone secure in the race to pass on their genes?

"He's so insecure, there's no way he has the guts to talk to that girl"

"She's so insecure, she's going to push away any chance at love"

"They're so insecure, they'll never find someone to start a family with"

Yes, insecurity is something our society wants us to grow out of, and for good reason; not only healthier mental behaviours, but also a happier mental attitude towards life. So why are we so insecure?

It turns out, showing insecure behaviours has actually helped our ancestors pass on their genes.

Anxious Attachment Style

In the past, harsh environments would actually warrant anxious behaviour in order to keep a strong hold on our partners and stay close enough to pass on our genes -- thus the anxious attachment style.

Today, individuals with an anxious attachment style are characterized with:

  • Being clingy.

  • Having an intensely persistent and hypervigilant alertness towards their partner's actions or inactions.

  • They love to feel close and have a large capacity to be intimate with their significant others, but tend to overthink whether or not their partner feels the same way.

  • They need to know what their partner is doing at all times and are easily sensitive and upset by small shifts in their partner's mood or behaviour.

  • The stakes always feel high in their relationship and tend to be on the edge of a break up at any sign of doubt.

  • Very minor inattentiveness and disregard in any form from their partners are seen as a threat to their relationship and thus tend to act out on impulse and say things they later regret.

  • Anxiously attached individuals become very demanding in their relationships because they need control and have specific expectations for what they need in order for to meet their "good relationship" standard.

  • They become very self centered on their own strong needs and not their partner's.

     

According to John Bowlby, founder and pioneer of these attachment style studies, these anxious adult behaviours can be attributed to the way we were raised by coquettish parents.

In Bowlby's 1959 book Separation Anxiety, he coined an anxious attachment style from infants and their parents. When children were separated from their parent, a child would go through a 3-step cycle of:

1. Protest - cry, roll around, and anxiously be on the lookout for any signs of their parent coming back to them, and

2. Despair - lose all hope in being reunited with their parent and give up on finding them, then

3. Feel hope - when their parent returns, they feel that love that they lost.

But when the parent is out of sight or isn’t emotionally available, the child starts to protest, despair and go through the entire cycle again - often leading to regrettable behaviour. They're always scared their parent won't come back, regardless of how many times they actually do.

The anxious baby goes through this cycle, and ultimately grows up in to the anxious adult we've come to be familiar with.

Avoidant Attachment Style

On the other end of the spectrum, again on an evolutionary basis, if a harsh ancestral environment meant individuals weren't likely to survive long enough to rear offspring, it would have made more sense to quickly move on to other partners -- thus the avoidant attachment style.

Today, individuals with an avoidant attachment style are characterized with:

  • Being emotionless.

  • They would rather withdraw from any conflict than address any one problem.

  • They don't like to talk about specific issues about their partner and instinctively resort to saying they don't like them as a whole, grouping any good characteristics into bad ones.

  • To them, being independent and self-sufficient is way more valuable than being emotionally intimate or close.

  • Even if they do want to be close, they find it uncomfortable and don't like to open up.

Where the anxiously attached individual is highly aware of any threat to the relationship, those that are avoidant are very aware and sensitive to any signs of control or imprisonment of their freedom and autonomy. 

Again, Bowlby attributes these adult behaviours to the way we were raised by our parents or caregivers. Just like the anxious individual, the avoidant individual goes through a cycle of:

1. Protest - cry, roll around, and anxiously be on the lookout for any signs of their parent coming back to them, and

2. Despair - lose all hope in being reunited with their parent and give up, then

3. Detach - they feel so lost and so helpless that they've completely detached themselves in order to feel better.

Where the anxious clings on, the avoidant completely loses any signs of wanting love. They feel any signs of attachment as dangerous and something to be fought against in order to feel sufficient. Secretly, they may truly just need a hug.

Secure Attachment Style

Then in the centre of the above styles is secure attachment. Instead of either being too clingy or too cold, a secure attachment style comes from, evolutionarily speaking, those raised in peaceful environments that afforded time to emotionally invest ourselves in another, and reap the benefits for both ourselves and our offspring.

Today, individuals with a secure attachment style are characterized with:

 

As a child, these secure individuals were lucky to have attentive parents and could take their relationship cues from their secure childhood. The parent was good at listening to them, helped the child understand their feelings, didn't anxiously micromanage behaviour, taught the idea that problems could be tackled and didn't need to be avoided, and most importantly, gave the impression that they could securely take on life's hurdles without them.

 From a secure parent-child bond, the child grew to endure times without being too needy for acceptance or reassurance, less distraught by defeat, and grew a healthy, secure sense of self-worth.

 

In Conclusion:

Obviously we'd all like to be secure in our relationships, but unfortunately we weren't all raised to be this way. We weren't all exposed to the healthiest people around us. Some of us grew up with busy parents, unavailable parents, and unstable households. Thus we see varying ways of attaching to people

  1. Anxious Attachment

  2. Avoidant Attachment

  3. Secure Attachment

Now this doesn't mean insecure individuals are incapable of happy and lasting relationships. In fact, the reason anxious and avoidant individuals are common is because they work. In future posts I'll be talking about how each attachment system can best be used to find and hold on to healthy and mature love.