Last week, we discussed how sometimes we can process unmet needs as obligations, and how that can feel and present in a relationship dynamic. If you haven't read the article yet, it's up on the blog so feel free to check it out. Just look for 'Is it needy? Or do you mistake unmet needs for obligations?'
We identified in the article that this is symptomatic to avoidant attachment. And over the last week, some of you have been asking about the different attachment styles. So this week I thought we could break them down.
There are 4 attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment (also referred to as fearful-avoidant) and disorganised attachment.
The theory behind attachment styles is as follows:
Attachment styles are ways we learned to connect at birth with our caregivers. If our attachments were safe (secure) we become resilient, confident, and more able to navigate relationships and the world around us in a regulated way.
If they were unsafe or unpredictable we are more likely to become insecure, unsure of who we actually are, we struggle to trust, and we feel anxious or overwhelmed at the idea of emotional connection with our partner(s).
At any age in life, we can become more secure. We can do this be addressing our own needs, by learning to take care of ourselves, by having boundaries, and by giving ourselves what we feel we needed from our caregivers.*
It is common to have a blend of these styles. And what I mean by that is you can see yourself in more than one. It is also common to have different types of attachments depending on the relationship. For example, with work colleagues or with close friendships you might lean towards secure. In romantic relationships, you may lean towards anxious. Different traits in people bring out different aspects of attachment.
Before we look into each attachment style in closer detail, it is important to ask you to do so with open curiosity over judgement.
Let's look into each type of attachment:
able to regulate emotions
comfortable talking about feelings and having difficult conversations
dependable, supportive and trustworthy
nervous system is flexible
faces conflict directly and confidently
trusts those around them
words and actions match
able to grow, be playful, curious and open in relationships
How we develop secure attachment:
caregiver is open, predictable and has consistent responses
caregiver has clear boundaries and honours and respects child's boundaries
child feels safe and comfortable expressing themselves and their feelings
clear communication and working through conflict is modeled at home
caregiver is emotionally resilient
in conflict, a caregiver stays connected to child (does not shame them)
chronic fear of abandonment in relationships
hypervigilant to people's emotional states
may pick fights in order to 'feel close'
struggles to set boundaries, and honour the boundaries of others
conflict of disconnection feels overwhelming and scary
highly emotionally reactive when triggered
tends to neglect themselves in relationships
How we develop anxious attachment:
caregiver is not available emotionally
caregiver is inconsistent or unpredictable
caregiver doesn't have boundaries and/or violates child's boundaries
caregiver struggles to regulate their emotional state (shuts down, has rage explosions, etc)
caregiver doesn't respond to our emotions, or help us understand/process our feelings
caregiver has unstable unpredictable relationships with others
might ghost or withdraw in relationships when they become too close
deeply desires connection though doesn't know how to actually connect
ends relationships abruptly if needs aren't met
has unrealistic expectations of partners (e.g. should be able to read their minds or meet all of their needs)
can be highly critical
can lack empathy, struggles to understand the needs of others
How we develop avoidant attachment:
caregiver shuts down regularly (silent treatment or dissociation)
caregiver tends to be a 'lone wolf' and withdraws when they have stress or difficult emotions
caregiver is 'icy' or appears detached or unconcerned with child's experience of the world
caregiver shames child or doesn't accept part of who they are
perfectionistic of authoritarian styles of caregiving
push/pull dynamic in relationships (going from 'I don't need you' to 'I can't live without you')
romantic relationships tend to be very triggering or highly overwhelming
cynical or a resentment around relationships
unconsciously creates chaos or re-enacts childhood experiences even with a secure partner
addicted to 'excitement' or 'drama' in relationships
struggles to trust others and themselves
How we develop disorganised attachment:
Witnessing violence, abuse, and/or neglect from a caregiver
substance use, poverty, or situations that consistently create a lack of safety for the child
caregiver who unconsciously shames child or engages in harsh punishment
'Dr. Jekyll' persona (caregiver is one way in the home and completely different outside the home)
child feels uncomfortable or afraid to share what they think or feel with caregiver.
* This is known as reparenting our inner child.