We are social beings. We seek contact and relationships with others to provide and receive love, support and comfort. However, for many of us, relationships are not as problem-free as we would like them to be.

Have you ever asked yourself why your relationships follow a pattern? Attachment is the emotional bond that you have with someone else. It is the fundamental framework for understanding human connection. How we view the value and reliability of relationships is formed in early childhood and develops from the moment we are born.

Your attachment style does not explain everything about your relationships and how you interact with others, but it probably explains a lot about why your relationships have failed, or equally, succeeded. It may even explain why you are attracted to the types of people that you are.

Attachment styles develop in childhood

An attachment style is an innate pattern to how we relate to others. Attachment styles develop in response to how our mother and/or father (or primary caregiver) took care of us and our perception of the bond we had with them. Attachment theory suggests that the early blueprints we develop in childhood affect every future relationship we have, either with others or even with ourselves.

If you have children of your own, or have observed those of other people, you will notice that very young kids stay close to their parents when they are out and about. If they venture away, and something scares them, they will quickly run back to seek the person they are with.

We call this an “approach method” of attachment. It is part of our survival instinct as human beings. The opposite of this is an “avoid method” in that children steer away from something that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.

The attachment system is powerfully activated during periods of fear and physical or psychological pain. This is why our style of attachment matters when it comes to dealing with trauma.

Young woman visiting therapist counselor. Girl feeling depressed, unhappy and hopeless, needs assistance. Serious disease, unwilling pregnancy, abort or death of loved one, addiction to drugs concept

Secure and insecure attachment styles

Attachment styles are described as secure or insecure. A secure attachment style enables you to form meaningful and fulfilling relationships. An insecure attachment style means you are more likely to have difficulty in doing so.

A child that grows up with a secure attachment is grounded and forms, indeed expects, reliable relationships. That person will develop into an adult that trusts others and be emotionally mature - that is being able to deal with the emotions of others. Solid and healthy friendships and romantic relationships are naturally formed, and the adult with a secure attachment style is more likely to raise children with the same values and abilities.

Do you have a secure attachment style? The following statements may give some indication:

  • I find it easy to get emotionally close to a partner.
  • I rarely worry about my partner leaving me.
  • When I tell my partner that I love them, I am confident they will feel the same way about me.
  • When I am upset I want my partner to be with me.

There are three forms of insecure attachment styles:

Ambivalent-insecure attachment

This attachment style is common in adults whose parents were sometimes present and at other times not present when they were children. This inconsistency can create high levels of anxiety in the child, who then goes on to become highly attuned to their partner later in life.

A lack of trust can develop in the adult and the individual can focus on small things in their relationships. This is because they lack the belief that their partner will stick around or follow through on things they may have promised. It results in doubts and questioning and the person might push others away as a result. When two people share this attachment style it can result in a chaotic relationship that fluctuates between being close and being distant.

Do you have an ambivalent-insecure attachment style? The following statements may give some indication:

  • I often worry that my partner does not really care about me.
  • I fear that our relationship will end.
  • I feel that my partner is reluctant to get as close to me as I need them to be.
  • When I open up and share my worries with my partner, I feel like they don’t really care.

Avoid-insecure attachment

This attachment style can be a result of parents who were consistently not present or who were dismissive of their child’s needs, activities and achievements. As a consequence, children develop the view that their world is a place they inhabit in which others cannot be relied upon. Such children will often have unmet emotional needs.

As adults, this can manifest as a fear of closeness or reluctance to be intimate with others. It can also be hard for such individuals to recognise the needs of others and when they might require support. Such an attachment style can present as being selfish or aloof when in reality it is as a result of vulnerability. In a relationship, the person may pull away from their partner or simply struggle to get close to them at all.

Do you have an avoid-insecure attachment style? The following statements may give some indication:

  • I don’t want to talk to my partner about my feelings.
  • I tend to keep to myself, even when I am around my partner.
  • If I don’t give them the chance to do so, then my partner can’t let me down.
  • I wouldn’t care too much if my partner left me, and I certainly wouldn’t show it.

Disorganised-insecure attachment

This is considered the most damaging attachment style. A lack of consistency from caregivers can be the cause and it can become more extreme when children grow up in a household that swings between apparent caring behaviours from parents to alarming or downright frightening.

Children who grow up in this type of environment may struggle with relationships throughout their adult life. They may constantly seek attention but at the same time push others away. Reactions to separation or distress can be unpredictable as the person does not know what they want or how to get it. An individual with this form of attachment style is also more likely to be prone to physical or psychological assaults on their partner.

Do you have a disorganised-insecure attachment style? The following statements may give some indication:

  • I don’t want to be without my partner even though I feel our relationship isn’t working.
  • When I want to feel close to my partner I cannot trust that they want to be close to me.
  • If I get emotionally close to my partner I know that they will hurt my feelings
  • When I am under stress, my emotions will get the better of me, even though I really try to keep them in check most of the time.

How the attachment styles tend to end up with each other

What is really interesting about attachment styles is that different types tend to form relationships in predictable ways.

For example, secure types are comfortable dating each of the other forms as they are confident in themselves and will give their insecure partner plenty of reassurance, or their avoidant partner the space they need.

Insecure and avoidant attachment types often end up in relationships with each other. If you are an avoidant type, you will have become so good at pushing others away that only an insecure type will put in the effort to keep plugging away at getting their attention.

It is when a relationship between different attachment styles develops a dysfunctional imbalance that problems occur. A cycle of one pursuing intimacy with another who constantly rejects it, will probably eventually lead to problems.

young man needing consoling

How I explore attachment styles with you

The attachment styles described can be helpful in understanding behaviours and attitudes towards relationships.

A person’s attachment style can profoundly affect the relationships they have with others. It will also shape the impact that a traumatic event will have on the individual. That is because our attachment style is innately linked to our self-esteem and our confidence in ourselves and others.

Most of us have complex histories and rarely neatly fit into one particular ‘box’. You might tend towards one style with elements of the others. I will apply the theory of attachment styles as a useful way to recognise behaviours and work with you to alter them. Your attachment style can change over time, but it does need to be worked upon. We can also work upon recognising the types of people - and attachment styles - that you might be better to seek, and indeed to avoid.

That’s not to say that your current relationship will fail because your styles are not compatible, not at all, but therapy can help you make the most of being with a partner. Insight is everything.

Get in touch

Do you recognise some of the themes described in attachment styles? Did you answer “yes” to any of the questions that resonated with you? If so, get in touch and we can begin a journey that leads to your relationships being more meaningful, successful and positive.