Have you noticed patterns in your romantic relationships, either good or bad? Chances are — if you really think about it — you will see patterns in how you connect with people, feel loved, develop trust, and communicate your needs. Many of these patterns can be predicted by understanding you attachment style. Attachment styles affect how people feel about themselves, how they get close to one another, what they expect from each other, and the unique ways in which they show vulnerability or respond to conflict.
Where Do Our Attachment Styles Come From?
Humans, like all creatures, are hardwired for survival but, developmentally, humans are also highly complex. Wouldn’t it be simple if we just had to outrun others to survive? On second thought… I might be the first to go, so scratch that! So as humans are complex creatures, the way they survive is also complex.
Humans are born with innate instincts to survive and bond with their mothers or other primary attachment figures. By the age of about three years old, they learn to answer three fundamental
questions which contribute to their core beliefs later on. Those questions are:
- Am I worthy of being loved and having my needs met?
- Can people be trusted to meet my needs?
- Is the world a safe place to be?
The answers to these questions are not given in direct statements but are learned from experience. We learn that we are worthy of having our needs met by having our needs met by primary attachment figures. “Needs” doesn’t only refer to basic needs, but the need for love, belonging, safety, and more. Having primary attachment figures who are consistent, predictable, available, and kind teaches us that others can be trusted to meet our needs. We learn that the world is a safe place by being protected from chaos and comforted when we are frightened, sad, and angry.
In these ways, we learn how to survive in this world because, like all pack animals, we recognize we are better off if we stick together. The answers to these key questions contribute to us developing a specific style of attachment, though most of us vary a bit and have qualities of a few.
Attachment Styles in Adulthood
There are four styles of attachment: Secure, Anxious/Ambivalent, Dismissive/Avoidant, and Disorganized. If you already have that burning question about your adult attachment style, Diana Poole Heller has developed the Attachment Styles Test, providing you with your specific results. Understanding your attachment style is one of the keys to experiencing relational healing.
Securely attached adults believe they are worthy of love and that people can be trusted to meet their needs. These adults have confidence in themselves and can also ask for help when needed. These individuals have no problem loving and receiving love. They tend to have trusting, lasting relationships but don’t feel pressure to be in a relationship. They maintain their individuality and are able to fully share their lives with someone else.
This attachment style is also known as “preoccupied” in case you thought it wasn’t confusing enough! Individuals with this attachment style tend to be insecure in their relationships, overwhelmed by fears of rejection and abandonment. They tend to feel as though they are not worthy of love or having their needs met, and they believe they can only feel safe in the hands of someone else. Individuals with anxious attachment style are often seen as needy, seeking constant reassurance from their partner. They tend to neglect outside responsibilities and personal needs due to their preoccupation with the romantic relationship. They often perceive threats to their relationship, even if no rational threat is present and they are known to use manipulation, guilt, blame, or shame to keep their partners close.
Dismissive attachment in adults is often seen as strict independence. These individuals feel safer on their own and do not trust others to meet their needs. They tend to keep everyone at arm’s length and are known for not showing their vulnerable side. They do not often, if ever, ask for help because they learned very early on that people cannot be trusted to meet their needs and that it is safer to manage them alone. Dismissively attached adults tend to isolate and be non-committal. It may seem they do not long for connection, however, they often do want to connect and feel loved, but they cannot escape that lingering fear of being hurt.
The previous three attachment styles all have one thing in common: organized strategies to feel safe and get their needs met. Rational strategies are not necessarily healthy in the case of anxious and dismissive attachment styles, but they are organized strategies, nonetheless. Disorganized attachment style on the other hand is just that… disorganized. As little ones, these individuals never did find a consistent way to get their needs met and feel safe. This is often the case with severely abused children who were frightened of their primary attachment figure or the peculiar scenario in which their primary attachment figure was frightened of them. As adults, these individuals are often unpredictable. They are torn by conflicting experiences of longing to be loved while feeling real fear when they make a connection with someone. They sometimes exhibit behaviors seen with anxious or dismissive attachment, and then vacillate between the two.
Healing Attachment Wounds and Developing a Secure Attachment Style
Insecure attachment, whether anxious, dismissive, or disorganized, is not unfixable! You can heal your attachment wounds. Healing often comes in the form of recreating those healthy attachments and rediscovering that good people can be trusted and that you are worthy of love.
Understanding your attachment wounds and developing a secure style is a journey. There is not a magic fix. You will likely have to deal with some painful memories and realizations, but you will not have to do that alone. Many people find themselves fortunate enough to meet a secure partner or close friends that help them heal. Others look to a trusted therapist who can recognize this type of trauma and is competent in working with attachment wounds. Believe it or not, the therapeutic relationship is designed to do just that!
You might be thinking to yourself that you just keep choosing the wrong person and that you don’t know where to start with determining and understanding your attachment style. Believe it or not, that is all you need to know. Therapists can help you fill in the gaps and perhaps answer those lingering questions about why you do the maladaptive things you do.
Here at Dawn Institute, our providers are specially trained and focused on recognizing attachment trauma and helping individuals heal from it. We offer many different resources to help, including individual and group therapy, as well as trainings to equip you with the skills you need to grow. If you would like to learn more or start your journey of healing, reach out to us today.