Understanding Attachment Styles and 7 Tips for Building Healthier Relationships

“I don’t know what is wrong with me,” a client said the other day, looking dejectedly at me through my computer screen. 

“I meet a guy, feel a connection, and get way too excited. I expect way too much from him at the start. I get anxious when he doesn’t text me, I feel super insecure, I doubt myself, and I allow him power over my feelings, thoughts, and overall mood.” 

“There is nothing wrong with you,” I say, “It just sounds like you have a more anxious attachment style.” 

What are attachment styles and how do they affect our relationships?

Attachment styles refer to the particular way an individual forms relationships with others. Our understanding of attachment begins in infancy when our caretakers’ nurturing ability essentially informs our future ability to connect with others. 

If our caregivers are warm, reliable, and attentive, we are likely going to be that way towards others in our life. Conversely, if our caretakers are neglectful, avoidant, or abusive, it will be difficult to form healthy relationships. 

What are the different attachment types?

There are two main types of attachment: secure and insecure, with the second broken down into three subtypes. Try to reflect as you read about the different types to see which you identify with. 

The point is not to prescribe yourself a permanent style but rather to know how you approach relationships, why you approach them the way you do, and how you can develop healthier habits and patterns to create more positive ones.

Secure Attachment Style

When someone has secure attachment, they have a positive view of themselves and others. People with secure attachment likely had emotionally open interactions with their early caretakers. They are often comfortable with intimacy and independence. They can trust in themselves and the people around them, which helps them stay content and relaxed in their approach to relationships. Secure attachment is the “ideal” form of attachment.

Insecure Attachment Styles

There are three different types of insecure attachments, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant, and Fearful-Avoidant. Read on to understand the differences between each.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style

A person with this attachment style has a negative view of self but a positive view of others. They believe the statement, “I need to be in a close relationship, but I don’t think people value me the way I value them.” 

An Anxious-Preoccupied individual has little to no self-esteem and constantly seeks approval, validation, and attention. Within their relationships, they are often impulsive, needy, and have a high level of emotional dysregulation. This attachment style comes from caretakers who are neglectful or emotionally unavailable. The person with this attachment style learns to overcompensate for lack of attention by constantly proving their worth. 

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

A person with this attachment style has a positive view of the self but a negative view of others. They are comfortable without any close relationships or connections. They deny wanting close ties and prioritize their independence. 

A defensive attachment style; this person suppresses feelings and deals with rejection through isolation and distancing themselves. This attachment forms when a caretaker is unavailable or rejects a child in infancy or early years. To cope, this person learns to distance themselves emotionally, self-soothe, and become their own caretaker.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style

A person with this attachment style has an unstable and erratic view of self and others. This attachment style comes from trauma, loss, or sexual abuse in childhood. 

A person with this style has a very challenging time trusting others or opening up to people. They worry that they will inevitably get hurt by being close to others and are uncomfortable expressing their emotions or affection. Fearful-Avoidant individuals may also have a hard time understanding intentions and have a higher likelihood of developing depression and anxiety.

Can You Have Multiple Attachment Styles?

After reading through the different types of attachment, you probably identify with components of several of them. Rest assured, this is normal for many reasons.

Today, dating and relationship culture lends itself to creating insecure attachments. With so many options at your fingertips, how can you truly trust someone who may be engaging with several people at once? When do you allow yourself to be vulnerable? How do you relax when your crush hasn’t written back? All of these anxieties and more are a natural byproduct of today’s technologies, but they do not have to ruin your chance at finding a healthy relationship.

How To Become More Securely Attached

Instead of allowing your current attachment style to complicate prospective relationships, take time to reflect on yourself and what you can do. Below is a list of practices that may help you stride towards becoming more secure.

  • Ask yourself why you need a text message to validate you.
  • Seek the support and fulfillment you crave from friends and loved ones.
  • Focus on self-care and improving yourself before you ask that of someone else.
  • See people for who they are, and ask yourself if you can accept them entirely.
  • Allow yourself the possibility that someone could be suitable for you.
  • Realize that history does not dictate the future.
  • Understand that you can keep a part of your heart open while protecting yourself.

We are not our attachment styles. They are not an ailment, nor are they permanent. By practicing mindfulness and self-love, we can mindfully identify better partners, become more comfortable with being alone, and strengthen the connections we already have.

 


 

Looking for more from Dahlia Mayerson, LMSW? Check out her last post on Emotional Dumping. The most diverse collective of New York-based therapists are sharing their insights and offer advice covering a wide range of topics here in the Thought Lab

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