Paper Clips, Staples and Folding Over- Attachment (styles) matter!
Everyone that’s ever been in a relationship that didn’t quite work out in the way that we wanted can attest that, amongst many other things, when it’s over you’re left with questions. Why didn’t it work out? Was it you? Was it the other person? Undoubtedly, a mature person will (eventually) be able to take the onus for their part in a failed relationship. But, in doing the work to get to the bottom of things, what exactly are they looking into? How does one begin to even look into reasons that something ended without looking at the beginning?! But this time, I don’t mean the beginning of a relationship. I mean the beginning of you. How YOU began to learn to attach to people starting with your first set(s) of relationships – more specifically, your family- matters. This is to say that we all have different attachment styles and yes! Though they happened with your early childhood bonds, they impact your adult relationships in ways you may not recognize.
We, the lay people of the world, are always throwing out these wild notions about relationships that are only loosely supported by facts that we learned in that one psychology class about Freud. And while Freud did contribute to the notion of attachment/attachment styles, a psychoanalyst named John Bowlby is who is credited the most for developing a theory about how we attached to our parents and the influence those attachments have on our romantic (and other) relationships. He coined three different attachment styles: (1) Insecure/anxious attachment, (2) insecure/avoidant attachment, and (3) insecure/disorganized attachment. Already at just the mention of these I’m sure your brain is already starting to percolate thoughts about which one you have. So, let’s get into it.
Before we start breaking down each attachment style, it is important to discuss the rubric for how Bowlby, and later others, used for determining which style is which. Essentially, each style is based on where a person lands in four key areas:
- (1) Proximity maintenance: The desire to be near the people we are attached to.
- (2) Safe haven: Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat.
- (3) Secure base: The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.
- (4). Separation distress: Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure.
The insecure/anxious attachment style, also called the preoccupied attachment style, is what happens when a child has inconsistent parenting. Generally, the child experiencing this kind of attachment has a parent that is sometimes there and sometimes not. Sometimes that parent can be trusted to take care of the child’s emotional needs and sometimes they can’t. So, the child growing up and navigating the world doesn’t start with a first relationship that has real consistency. I’m sure you can already see the overarching relationship issues that this can lead to. Since the parents’ wishy-washy behavior doesn’t seem to be connected to anything that the child does, a mistrust develops because a consistent ability to trust didn’t. Does that make sense? I hope so.
So, as you can probably imagine, the children that grow up with an insecure/anxious attachment style often grow up to be adults that think more highly of others than they do themselves. They need constant reassurance that they are enough and many times internalize and take on the blame for relationship failures. They are highly sensitive to taking care of their partner’s needs, but doubt their own worth/value in a relationship. Does this sound like anyone you know?
Adults with an insecure/avoidant attachment style, also known as avoidant-dismissive attachment, are typically those that grew up with super strict parents who valued and encouraged autonomy. Their parents were not emotionally connected (even to the point of discouraging emotional and creative expression), and probably promoted the attributes of “being tough” as a way to get through life.
As adults, these people appear to be confident and have it all together. However, they are chronic lone wolves (in their personal and professional lives) and may have extreme challenges in forming healthy bonds/relationships with others because they place little or no value on emotional or physical intimacy.
The insecure/disorganized attachment style is characterized by some as the most challenging attachment because it incorporates the avoidant attachment style, the anxious attachment style and adds fear on top. Children with insecure/disorganized attachment styles, also known as fearful avoidant attachment, are often physical or sexual abuse survivors or witnesses. This attachment style is, unfortunately, the result of what happens when your safety nets become sources of fear themselves. When the only people that you know are responsible for your mental and physical safety, and that goes awry, you learn to not trust – it didn’t serve you. That makes sense to me.
As adults, the people with insecure/disorganized attachment have trouble trusting other people. Seems like a no-brainer, right?! They also have higher instances of substance abuse and other mental health challenges.
This was just a short breakdown of the three basic attachment styles. Honestly, just learning that there are reasons for how and why we are the way that we are may lend comfort to some. The pursuit of a WHY can be a significant factor in getting down to the root of you, and who and why you are the way you are in relationships. Though these may seem like downers, there is good news! Your insecure attachment styles do not have to govern your life!
If you’re reading this blog, you’ve already begun the work. And having an awareness of your own whys is an awesome first step to changing the negative behaviors associated with your attachment style. Yes! They can be changed. You know why? Because at the end of the day, no matter how bad your upbringing was, you survived it (and the crowd goes wiiiillldddd!!!). And you have made it to a day where you can read about your own or your loved ones characteristics and have a better understanding. You can change the things you want to change because, at the end of the day, you are in control of YOU!
Now, you may not be able to do it on your own. I mean, it took years for these types of behaviors to develop and it’s going to take some heavy lifting to unpack and unburden yourself from them. But, it is not impossible and we, the Beltran family, are here to help…every step of the way.
None of these blogs are meant to be plugs to get you to come see us for new business. Instead, they are meant to be a natural extension of resources to help you be more knowledgeable about yourself, and to, hopefully, make you feel less alone in the world. So, if you’re ready to do the work to get to having more healthy, connected and satisfying relationships with yourself and others but you need a little help, our doors are always open.