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All posts published here are presented as casual conversation pieces to provoke thought in some direction or another, they do not necessarily represent fixed opinions of the Inner Council, as our work exists beyond the spectrum of bound statement and singular clause.

How attachment style impacts relationships

There is much research in the field of psychology, social psychology, behavioural psychology and psychotherapy about attachment styles based on attachment theory. Attachment is part of a natural process that happens during childhood. The key factor involved is the quality of this attachment that was formed at a critical stage in childhood that solidifies in our learned capacity to relate to others in adulthood.

Not all attachment styles can be classified as functional, or healthy. Often, if a non-secure attachment takes place during the early developmental years in childhood, the resulting non-secure attachment shows up in adult life as dysfunctional ways of relating and behaving with others.

In particular in our family of origin, our families we create and our significant relationships in life like our spouse, partners and children. They are all interconnected with how we relate to one another and what was modelled for us in childhood, resulting in certain ways of relating, is what creates patterns of reactions and responses to situations in our relationships in adult life.

For example, anxious attachment style plays out in romantic relationships whereby the person with this attachment style might look to their partner to get their need of feeling safe and secure in themselves met by the other. This can be expressed in behaviours that are motivated by a fear of being abandoned so a partner might unintentionally seek reassurance and cling to their partner for safety.

By becoming aware of your attachment style and that of others around you in your relationships brings the opportunity of personal growth and development. There are avenues of support available in therapy and similar therapy based settings like counselling, couples therapy or marriage counselling, as well as relational therapy and relational inspired methodologies and techniques such as reparenting.

What is attachment style?

Attachment styles are based on the roots of attachment theory, which was introduced by British Psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who observed that attachments, formed by our primary caregivers such as our parents, were based on a level of security and safety that was provided for an infant. The extent to which our need for security and safety was met as a child is correlated to the degree of that we then form a secure attachment.

Attachment styles are therefore the resulting behaviours that we learn as a child in response to the attachment formed with our primary caregivers. During the early developmental years when our attachments are formed, they continue to concrete as learned behaviours in our development years and into adulthood. Ideally all attachments need to be secure; however, three other attachment styles have been identified as the most common forms of non-secure attachment styles.

The four types of attachment are secure, anxious (preoccupied), avoidant (dismissive), and disorganised (fearful-avoidant). The non-secure attachment styles usually result in some form of dysfunction in life, whether that’s through repeatedly difficult relationships, making non optimal choices in and about relationships and a low sense of satisfaction for safety, security and belonging.

Returning to the role of parents and our caregivers as providing a sense of security and safety within the early years of life, consistency and attunement are paramount. It is inevitable that our parents cannot meet our needs all the time, yet the overall experience of a parent being attuned to a child to do their best in meeting this need is what sets apart a secure attachment with a non-secure one.

If as children we didn’t receive secure modelling in parenting and have our needs met to the extent we needed, then it’s likely we grow up with a non-secure attachment.

Considering your attachment style

There are four attachment styles that have been researched, mapped and studied that include secure attachment and three non-secure attachment styles: anxious (preoccupied), avoidant (dismissive), and disorganised (fearful-avoidant).

Beginning with a secure attachment style, children who formed a secure attachment with their caregivers generally feel safe with a degree of independence to explore the world and feel capable of doing so. Anxious attachment styles however are insecure in themselves and seek relationships that offer them safety. People tend to have a negative view of themselves and a positive view of others, especially their partner, who they view as being their anchor and perhaps seek to be rescued by them.

Avoidant attachment styles carry tendencies like independence and focus on being self-sufficient. Generally, individuals tend to have a positive view of themselves and high self esteem. Disorganised, also known as fearful-avoidant, is rather illusive in how it shows up in behaviour. On the one hand, the partner desires close relationships whilst also being afraid to get too close, resulting in some ambiguity.

Whilst this information is not enough to determine your attachment style, it is worth considering if these feel familiar with patterns or situations in your relationships that you recognise. Like the majority of conditioning that occurs during childhood, it is formed on an unconscious level so we may not perceive anything as dysfunctional and not be able to recognise attachment styles so readily.

There are also multiple factors to understand and consider when identifying attachment tendencies. Rather than relying on a fixed label of attachment styles, a holistic and integrative approach allows for some flexibility to be given and therefore offer some support and guidance with adapting attachment styles.

One such approach includes interpersonal neurobiology, which examines relational, neural and inter relational factors that support mind, body and relationships.

Attachment styles in relationships

Secure attachment styles in relationships feel safe and secure by themselves and in relationships. They are able to offer support in relationships and have a secure base from which to communicate their needs and receive requests from their partner too.

Anxious attachment styles in relationships often have an underlying fear of abandonment that results in a non-secure attachment. This can show up as a partner with anxious attachment needing reassurance and safety from their partner. This can lead to seeking approval and needing validation from their partner in order to feel safe and secure.

Dismissive attachment styles tend not to rely on relationships and hold beliefs that they don’t necessarily need a relationship to have others depend on them or depend on others. They might come across as emotionally distant, reinforcing their belief to not need to get too close to others. Without attaching and fully committing to a relationship, the relationship can lack connection and intimacy.

Lastly, the disorganised, or fearful-avoidant, is both seeking connection in relationships and simultaneously afraid of it. This results in a disorganised, or not having a fixed strategy for getting their needs met, it is also challenging for them to regulate their emotions.

Whilst attachment styles are recognised as traditional ways of relating in relationships, they are not as clearly predictable and straightforward as first impressions might imagine. It is perhaps worth exploring attachment style accompanied with other holistic approaches to psychotherapy to gain a fuller, more considered understanding of the complexities of human behaviour.

Although the significance of our initial attachment formed is key, there are ways of changing our behaviours. This brings opportunities for those with non-secure attachments to learn new ways of relating that brings harmony and balance to individuals and their relationships too.

Creating a secure attachment for yourself

Whilst exploring your own attachment style, it may be worthwhile considering your partner’s too. Often we attach, or attract to the models of attachment that were provided to us by our primary caregivers in our closest relationships; we seek to repeat the model that was modelled for us. If a non-secure attachment occurred, it’s likely we continue to seek a non-secure attachment, subconsciously.

Furthermore, if some dysfunctional ways of relating is identifiable as a repeated pattern within the relationship this understanding brings options to change and relearn functional and healthier ways of relating.

Attachment styles do play a role in the way we relate to one another, however the important message is that one learned model can be adapted to another. There are many healing modalities that examine attachment styles and wider forms of relational learning in order to resolve challenges in marriages, relationships and inherited patterns from generational culture.

For non-secure attachment styles you can revisit your past, understand what was modelled for you by your primary caregivers and the resulting learned behaviours. There are modalities with techniques such as reparenting that internalise the parenting model, so rather than relying on external sources, such as your partner in a relationship to fulfil your need of safety and security, you cultivate a secure attachment within yourself.

To read more about the parenting model explained in relation to attachment, follow the link to the article here.