A person’s attachment style is their specific way of relating to others in relationships. The attachment style was first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s. Our attachment styles are based upon early childhood in response to our relationships with our earliest caretakers. Essentially, our adult attachment style is thought to mirror the dynamics we had with our caretakers as infants and children.
There are four main adult attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. The latter three are considered forms of insecure attachment.
The four attachment styles:
1. Secure attachment
This attachment style refers to the ability to form secure, loving relationships with others. A securely attached person is able to trust others, be trusted, and get close to others with relative ease. They’re not afraid of intimacy, nor do they feel panicked when their partners need time or space away from them. They’re able to depend on others without becoming totally dependent.
All other attachment styles that are not secure are known as insecure attachment styles.
2. Anxious attachment
This attachment is a form of insecure attachment style marked by a deep fear of abandonment. These people tend to be very insecure about their relationships, often worrying that their partner will leave them and thus always hungry for validation. Anxious attachment is associated with clingy behaviour, such as getting very anxious when your partner reply to your texts fast enough and constantly feeling like your partner doesn’t care enough about you.
3. Avoidant attachment
Avoidant attachment style is a form of insecure attachment style marked by a fear of intimacy. People with avoidant attachment style tend to have trouble getting close to others or trusting others in relationships, and relationships can make them feel suffocated. They usually maintain some distance from their partners or are largely emotionally unavailable in their relationships, preferring to be independent and rely on themselves.
4. Fearful-avoidant attachment (aka disorganized)
Fearful-avoidant attachment, also known as disorganized attachment, is a combination of both the anxious and avoidant attachment styles. People with fearful-avoidant attachment both desperately crave affection and want to avoid it at all costs. They’re reluctant to develop a close romantic relationship, yet at the same time, they have a dire need to feel loved by others.
This attachment style is relatively rare and not well-researched. But we do know it’s associated with significant psychological and relational risks, including heightened sexual behaviour, an increased risk for violence in their relationships, and difficulty regulating emotions in general.
Can your attachment style change?
It is possible for a person to change their attachment style. However, this takes a lot of work, patience, and intention if a person is shifting from an insecure to a secure attachment strategy.
There are some ways to start off:
1. Identify your relationship patterns.
Start by thinking about your relationship with your parents as a child. Ask yourself questions like:
- How were they toward you as a child?
- How did you respond to them?
- To whom did you go for comfort when you had a problem?
- Were they negligent or reliable?
This will help you get more clarity on what may have shaped your attachment style.
2. Work on your self-esteem.
Learn to embrace, value, love, and care for yourself first. If you cannot fathom what self-love is because you were neglected, abused, and dismissed as a child, you can start with self-tolerance and self-neutrality.
3. Get in touch with your real needs.
At the end of the day, all insecure attachment styles are people who tend to form insecure relationships because of deeply held fears that their relationships will not work out. So it’s important to figure out how to make yourself feel more secure in your relationships. Part of that involves being aware of what your needs and desires are in relationships.
You yourself can find out how to change your attachment style for the better with one of our therapists here at Aventis: