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  • Dawn Shapiro, AMFT

Attachment Theory


Attachment theory is a psychological and evolutionary theory concerning relationships between humans. In regards to intimate relationships, our attachment styles describe how we relate to our partner.
If you’re stressed because your partner isn’t texting you back, or feel like your partner is texting you too much, that’s probably a characteristic of your attachment style. These attachment styles develop in our childhood, but they can be recognized at any point in our lives.
The four main attachment styles are secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.
Regardless of the style that you fall into, understanding it can help you develop the tools necessary to have stronger and healthier relationships. Here’s how it works: Where do attachment styles come from? Attachment Theory was first theorized by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1960s.
Bowlby studied the attachment behavior of infants and children to their caregivers. The child’s need for physical proximity to their caregivers and the caregiver’s response seemed to impact the child’s development of attachment, thus creating Attachment Theory.
Later, in the 1980s, Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver applied attachment studies into adult social connections. They found that adult relationships matched many core components of the caregiver and infant dynamic.
How do attachment styles work?
Attachment styles impact how people respond within relationships during loss and separation, hurt, or a perceived threat. These threats are anything that makes one feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Awareness and understanding your or your partner’s attachment style can aid in communication with one another, and help to avoid conflict and confusion.
Secure In childhood, these types were likely to have a caregiver that was emotionally available, caring, and responsive. Secures aren’t turned off by intimacy, but they aren’t threatened by it either.
Because of their comfortable approach to love and relationships, secures don’t often exhibit any jealousy or possessive behavior. They don’t feel the need to do everything with their partner, but they also enjoy intimacy.
Anxious-Preoccupied This attachment style is presented as the individual being overly focused on their relationship. They are uncomfortable if they aren’t in close relationships; therefore, tending to fear others not placing the same value on them.
High levels of intimacy, responsiveness, and approval are important to the anxious-preoccupied type. The coupling of these desires results in dependency on their loved one or romantic interest.
Those with anxious-preoccupied styles often had parental figures that were undependable or made love feel conditional. This inconsistency led to self-blame as they tried to gauge how to act to predict the caregiver’s response. This all created an emotional seesaw.
Dismissive-Avoidant Dismissive-Avoidant individuals have a tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partners. They often ignore feelings and aren’t overly concerned with connectedness. Independence, self-sufficiency, and emotional invulnerability are the main characteristics of this type. They don’t value close relationships as much and often deny the need for them. Suppression of feeling and defensiveness are common.
Caregivers were likely emotionally unavailable and may have even been hostile and insensitive. The child then coped by forming strategies to disconnect. This attachment type learned to function independently. Depending on others creates feelings of anxiousness. Often, however, the dismissive-avoidant craves closeness on a subconscious level, they just aren’t sure how to go about it.
Fearful-Avoidant Fearful-Avoidants are the least common attachment style. With this type, there is difficulty in trusting others, a fear of abandonment or rejection, hesitation in approaching relationships, partner dependency, and avoidance of conflict.
People with this attachment style instinctually feel the need to protect themselves by avoiding relationships, but they still experience the human desire to be in one. Fearful-avoidants are seen as having low self-esteem and a negative outlook regarding relationships. They may feel that there is too much uncertainty in trusting that another person could love them for fear of rejection, betrayal, or abandonment. They tend to either isolate or have surface-level relationships.
Your attachment style should not be limiting. There is nothing wrong with any of these attachment styles. It's simply a matter of self-awareness. The goal is to equip oneself with tools to better understand ourselves, friendship dynamics, and our partners (including dating habits). You may even challenge yourselves to be more empathetic or understanding of others.
A focus on how you can work with your attachment style can be very fulfilling. As you learn more about how you operate, you’ll eventually make more rewarding choices within your relationships.
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