What is your attachment style? 

In her weekly column Dr Michelle O'Driscoll looks at attachment styles
What is your attachment style? 

It’s fascinating to begin to understand the patterns and habits you may have in relation to how you interact with others and build relationships with them. Picture: Stock

AN important aspect of personal wellbeing, and understanding what makes us tick, is some insight into how we relate to others.

This is known as your attachment style. These are thought to essentially be your ability to emotionally bond with those closest to you, or your degree of connectedness with others.

The first attachment we have is usually with our primary caregiver, but attachment relationships are not limited to this, and can be with other important figures in our young lives. Indeed, our attachment styles can be influenced by significant events in adult relationships.

The level of attachment created in early years depends largely upon how responsive and consistent those individuals are to our needs. Over time, repeated behaviours create an expectation in us around how others are going to behave, and we then attach accordingly.

It’s fascinating to begin to understand the patterns and habits you may have in relation to how you interact with others and build relationships with them. Firstly, because it can provide some understanding about what you experienced in your early years in terms of relationships and bonding, and secondly, because it can remove the blinkers around how we ourselves parent and engage in (or perhaps sabotage) important relationships in our adult lives. Furthermore, it might allow us to better understand where others are coming from too.

There are four mains types of attachment styles; anxious, avoidant, anxious-avoidant (disorganised) and secure.

Anxious – this style of insecure attachment emerges when we learn to distrust our caregiver’s reliability at a young age, and explore new relationships with trepidation. Carers may be inconsistent, fluctuating from overly involved, to disengaged. As adults, this leads to constantly seeking approval, clingy-ness and a need for reassurance in relationships, finding it difficult to express love and connection. There is a constant fear of abandonment, which prevents the person from relaxing fully into and trusting a relationship.

Avoidant – this style of insecure attachment is due to emotional needs being consistently unmet in early years. Carers are continuously dismissive and distant. This teaches us our needs won’t ever be met, and aren’t valuable enough to be fulfilled, that we are essentially unlovable. In future relationships, people with this style of attachment avoid engaging in deep or meaningful connections and remain cut off where at all possible, as a protection strategy. There is a fear of intimacy, and a sense of being suffocated if anybody gets too close.

Anxious-Avoidant (Disorganized) – This is a perfect storm of craving intimacy and connection, and also wanting to run from it and avoid it. Carers in the early years for those who develop this style of attachment can be frightening or neglectful. As a result, there is a reluctance to engage in meaningful relationships, coupled with the polar-opposite desire to be loved by others. 

This is a less common type of attachment, but when it presents it can cause significant confusion, upset and distress.

Secure – this attachment style forms when our needs in early years are met, and as a result we are able to get close to and trust others, forming stable, healthy relationships quite easily. There is no fear of others getting too close, or withdrawing from us. We are not worrying about abandonment, or avoiding intimacy for fear of rejection later. This secure attachment style is thanks to carers and signicant figures in our lives that are mostly responsive and attuned to our needs. This reliability creates security.

Having a better understanding of our attachment styles, it is worth looking at current relationships through that lens. 

How do these patterns affect our interactions with our little ones, and how in turn does this affect their future attachment style? 

Do we get in our own way when it comes to building strong relationships, or are we supporting ourselves as much as possible in navigating these challenges?

Awareness of attachment styles and tendencies is paramount, because then our eyes are open to how things tend to play out and why.

Attachment styles can be changed or worked upon with focused efforts. Journaling is a great way to begin to unpack these things. Counselling and therapy are beneficial ways to further explore any ongoing issues in a supportive environment.

Setting boundaries, identifying triggers, and practicing new patterns of behaviour will create the positive feedback loop that will allow the guard to slowly go down in the case of an insecure attachment style. Time and consistency can slowly heal old wounds, and allow security in our relationships to develop.

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