Attachment styles

We have seen how, depending on how safe we felt in our first years, we develop some expectations on how future relationships will be.

Let’s now look at the four main types of attachment more in detail.

Children who can separate from their parents safely, knowing they will find support when they come back (a “secure base”) and are happy to reunite with them, have a SECURE attachment. They often turn into adults who are trusting, have good self-esteem and are able to vocalise their feelings and seek social support.

Children with a PREOCCUPIED (or ambivalent) attachment style become very distressed in absence of their parents, but do not appear comforted when they return. This is the result of an unpredictably responsive caregiver, to which they ask availability often through anger. As adults, they tend to be reluctant to closeness, worry that they are not loved and have troubles coping with the end of a relationship.

Children who believe seeking support and communicating needs has no influence on the caregiver, avoid parents and do not seek comfort or contact from them. They have what is called an AVOIDANT style, and as adults they may have problems with intimacy, invest little emotion and have a reduced ability to vocalise what they feel.

Lastly, we have those children who show a lot of anxiety and avoidance, because the parental figure is someone to be loved but also feared, and so they live a confusing internal reality where they seek both connection but also survival. They have a DISORGANISED attachment style, and as adults they may suffer from loneliness, seek connection out of an extreme need for closeness, but due to fear also reject it.

It’s really important to understand that there are no ‘errors’ in interacting with others. However we might be handling intimate relationships, it depends on a process that we enacted when we were very young and that was functional then. Lowering expectations can hurt now that we are trying to trust someone else, but it might have been protective in the past.

Learning how needs change helps us find new ways to respond to them.

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