4. Theory of Attachment

Have you heard of attachment types?

It’s a theoretical approach to explaining the how and why people act the way they do in interpersonal relationships (romantic or platonic). Before I get any further let me (attempt to) explain the attachment types in as little words as possible.

Secure: People with a secure attachment type usually find it easy to be emotionally close to others. They tend to have trusting, long-term relationships and the ability to share their feelings with other people. Secure adults also usually have a positive outlook (self-esteem) of themselves and others. Although they value independence, when met with intimacy from others, they will always reciprocate with more intimacy. People with a secure attachment type also have little trouble depending on other people as well as being depended on.

Avoidant: People with the avoidant attachment type tend to have trouble with intimacy and closeness. They come off as extremely independent, and normally have an easy time moving on after a relationship ends. Unlike people with a secure attachment type, avoidant individuals prefer not to depend on others or have anyone depend on them. They will avoid intimacy by working longer hours or needing more “alone time” from their significant other/attachment figure. Some may even fantasize about other people during sex because to distance the intimacy between them and their partner. People with an avoidant attachment type tend to hide or suppress their feelings, and will distance themselves from the source of attachment if they’re forced to “open up”. Other characteristics include not being able to support their partners during difficult times and the denial of needing close relationships.

Anxious: People with an anxious attachment type are usually very good at showing intimacy, but have a fear of their partners not being able to reciprocate that intimacy. This often leads to relationships being frequently broken because their partner seems to become cold or distant. Anxious type people will tend to have a negative view of themselves, and will usually blame the destruction of a relationship on themselves rather than sharing the blame. They might feel a sense of anxiousness when being away from their partner, especially if they feel that something (they could have done) has been hurting the relationship. This anxious feeling won’t go away until they’re reunited with their partner and are assured that everything is okay. They also seek high levels of intimacy, words of admiration, and responsiveness from their partner/attachment figure.

Anxious (fearful)-Avoidant: Just as you can guess, this is a mixture of avoidant and anxious attachment types. Anxious-avoidant people want emotionally close relationships, but are afraid to fully commit in fear that they’ll be hurt in the end. They often have a negative outlook on themselves and/or their attachment figure, resulting in the distrust of their attachment figure and ultimately the demise of their relationship. People with anxious-avoidant attachment type also tend to seek less intimacy from their attachment partner and also suppress their feelings, like people with an avoidant attachment type. They deny vulnerability, and when met with emotional distress they will attempt to cope with internally or will just push it aside, never really solving the underlying issue. They also will usually be overly focused on themselves and disregard the feelings of others. Their typical response to conflict is typically distancing themselves from their attachment figure.

Can you connect an attachment type with yourself or someone you know? Or maybe it sounds like someone you’ve dated before, or even a parent? Studies show that an estimated 50% of people show characteristics of secure attachment type, 25% avoidant, 21% anxious, and 4% anxious-avoidant.

How did we acquire our attachment types? Although not 100%, our attachment type is very highly based on how we were treated as children and who our attachment figure was. I won’t get into huge detail, but parents that play with their children more, respond quicker to their children’s needs, and are generally more responsive to their children tend to create a stronger environment for a secure attachment type.

The theory of attachment types say that the ideal attachment type is secure, but fear not if you fall into the other 50% of people who show non-secure characteristics. You can slowly change your attachment type (if you believe in this theory) to becoming secure by identifying your attachment type and realizing how you act, and your impulses around your attachment figures. Studies also show that being with/dating a person with a secure attachment type will slowly pull you towards being secure, as long as you understand your own attachment type and that change won’t be easy/comfortable (especially for the avoidant/ anxious-avoidant people). Be wary though, because it can go both ways.

Let me talk about myself for a bit -

If you read my post Walking Through Memories, you would know how much I value my parents and family. I grew up in a very safe, secure household, creating a perfect environment for a secure attachment type. Up until going to UCSD, I felt like I always had a secure attachment type. Relationships would come and go, but I never felt like I needed to be in one. I was independent, but I loved to give affection and intimacy to the person I care for. But let me tell you, that no matter how secure you are, dating people that aren’t secure can slowly tear you down. If you remember, secure people will always reward closeness with even more closeness, but I didn’t say anything about when they don’t receive intimacy. As humans, we crave intimacy. Even avoidant people crave intimacy deep down, but it’s overshadowed by their attachment type, and this is why understanding your own attachment type is so important. Up until I read the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, I never understood why I started becoming more and more anxious in relationships. I started showing characteristics of an anxious attachment type, causing internal distress and unnecessary conflict in my relationships.

I’ve never had self-esteem issues until now, and I’ll tell you, it drives me insane. I always think to myself “When/why did all of this happen?”, but the answer isn’t simple. It took years and years of dating people who were avoidant, and even anxious-avoidant to break me down and turning me more and more anxious. This last relationship especially tore right through me, and if I wasn’t able to open up to my friends or understand why I feel like I was the one who destroyed the relationship, I wouldn’t know where I would be right now. I blamed everything on myself and felt the most alone I’ve ever felt, but understanding that this, this is because of my attachment type, really helped me see the bigger picture. It helped me take steps into becoming a more secure person again, and steps into loving myself again.

Can you pinpoint your attachment type from the characteristics above? Let me know what your thoughts are on the theory of attachment types in the comments.

Song of the day — La La La Land