I learned about attachment styles a little too late in life. Had I known my attachment style or the attachment style of my previous partners, I could have saved myself (and them) a lot of pain and trouble. I study my past relationships now with my 20/20 vision (literally, figuratively, and chronologically…lol) and actually cringe to see how both me and my various partner would respond to each other based on clearly horrific attachment styles.
The idea of an attachment style is a psychological theory about how we attach to those around us in our relationships. Sort of an evolved Freudian model, attachment theory believes that secure attachment (the only healthy attachment) occurs when a child is provided stable, consistent, and healthy emotional connection and support. The three unhealthy attachment styles occur when a child experiences the direct opposite. As the child grows, they continue to experience unhealthy attachments towards other adults either platonically or romantically, repeating their childhood attachments…What fascinates me the most is that we can have different attachment styles with different people.
Securely attached people have a positive sense of self and are able to hold space for themselves and for others if necessary. They are capable of enforcing boundaries with people that protect their mental and emotional well-being. Conversely, they are also capable of having close and intimate relationships and do not shy away from vulnerability. They are balanced, trusting, and interdependent. I am securely attached in all of my friendships. I understand and respect my friends’ boundaries and time, I do not expect much from them in terms of communication as long as I am respected, and I do not have meltdowns if they are not around.
Ah, and then comes anxious attachment, which is the one I am currently trying to untangle from after my last relationship. Anxiously attached people tend to focus on the relationship for fear of losing it….and are SO afraid that they do not respect or hold their own boundaries so they can “save” the relationship. They tend to have a negative sense of self while praising their partner. They require a lot of reassurance, patience, and calmness. They are preoccupied, stressed, and dependent. This can be exacerbated when paired with the next unhealthy attachment: avoidant.
I call people with avoidant attachment ‘cowards’ because they do exactly what their named style suggests: they avoid everything. (I’m not being bitter here; I call anxiously attached people clingy and weak.) Avoidant people shut down when approached with relationship topics or when asked to communicate about their emotions and feelings. They have a high view of themselves and a negative view of others, they are independent, and they find it extremely difficult to be vulnerable. They will refuse to communicate (can you imagine how horrible that is to someone with an anxious attachment?!) and will leave (the room or the relationship) to avoid conflict. They have extremely stringent boundaries that are meant to keep people at such an arm’s length that they will not form close relationships.
I read somewhere that avoidant and anxious people tend to gravitate towards each other (what a freaking nightmare) and make each other’s attachment style worse because the anxious craves closeness and the avoidant craves distance. They might truly care about each other but the inner children are trying to soothe and protect themselves the only way they know how…and it’s not in a healthy manner. This turns into a toxic and emotionally damaging circle that can be impossible to extract from without serious harm. Anxiously attached people seem to be the only ones capable of staying around an avoidant person because they believe they can change themselves enough to make the avoidant person fulfill them (which is extremely self-harming). It’s a shitshow.
The final attachment style is a disorganized (or fearful) attachment, which is harder for me to explain or narrow down because it is so confusing. It has been linked to having an abusive childhood or traumatic experiences. Disorganized people both crave and avoid connection, they have a negative view of themselves and others, they abuse themselves, and they have firm boundaries that they constantly break (blaming themselves and others for this phenomenon). They are afraid of the connection that they desperately need.
Unfortunately, I believe I have been shifting back to my childhood attachment style (disorganized) because I am unsure of where love is coming from and I feel incapable of loving myself. I have been working SO hard to not be anxious-attached and I haven’t quite figured out secure romantic relationships…so I am defaulting to disorganized clingy and distant. It is confusing for me and I’m sure the people I date. I have to actively work to not to let this attachment style affect my friendships in the meantime. Relationships are exhausting. As a side note…I think disorganized attachment is why I have been drawn to polyamory in the past…I could connect to people with emotional and relational safety nets. I could use polyamory as a crutch to forming healthy and secure relationships…pulling away when I needed to and running to someone else if someone pulled away from me. When I went back to monogamy, I shifted to anxiously attached. I guess it comes down to learning how to trust yourself and others…
The good news is that you can learn to become securely attached in your relationships. Don’t ask me how yet…I am figuring it out.
I was introduced to attachment styles by @lizlistens on Instagram, who holds a 365 Love Learner’s Course to learn about relationships (family, friends, and lovers…and with the self). I am one month into this course and learning so much. She is a therapist, not an inspirational fitness model. My own therapist has helped me see how my childhood has affected my attachments too. Now *that* is hard work.