Have you ever noticed repeating patterns in your love life? Perhaps you always seem to be more involved than your partner. Or maybe you have always desired to be in a relationship, but once things get emotionally intimate, you immediately back off.
If you’re wondering why some people are aloof and unattached in their relationships while others are clingy and need constant validation, this could be due to our different attachment styles. Attachment theory was first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s.
“The expectations formed during infancy and childhood tend to provide a template for how we view others’ ability to meet our emotional needs in the later stages of life,” explains Muhammad Haikal Jamil, a senior clinical psychologist and founder of Impossible Psychology Services.
For example, some parents, in response to their child’s separation distress, may dishonestly reassure them about their return. This fosters anxious attachment when those promises go unfulfilled. In contrast, parents who openly acknowledge and calm their child’s anxiety without resorting to deception tend to promote secure attachment. Inconsistencies in parenting, particularly when one parent is reassuring and the other dismissive, can result in disorganised attachment.
How do attachment styles affect our relationships?
Attachment styles affect multiple aspects of our romantic relationships: from how we select our partner, how we respond to threats in a relationship, and even how we end it. “Individuals with insecure attachment styles may lack trust in the ability of future partners to meet their emotional needs,” says Haikal.
An individual with an anxious attachment style might seek partners willing to invest substantial time in the relationship, potentially leading to connections with self- sacrificing or possessive partners. Conversely, someone with an avoidant attachment style may exhibit hyper-independence, feeling they don’t require emotional support. They might be drawn to emotionally closed and insensitive partners who mirror their own tendencies, potentially overlooking their own emotional needs.
Attachment styles, however, are not set in stone. Haikal notes that it’s possible to change one’s attachment style by first becoming aware of behavioural and emotional patterns in relationships.
“Changing attachment styles involves addressing self-perceptions, especially for those with insecure attachments who may believe they are unlovable or inadequate. Focusing on positive qualities and learning to express needs in a healthy way is crucial,” he says. “Acknowledging the importance of emotional needs, while being empathetic to a partner’s response is key, especially if both individuals have insecure attachment styles. Overcoming long-standing responses from insecure attachment styles may be challenging, and seeking guidance from a professional can be beneficial.”
The four attachment styles
There are four attachment styles, with each having its typical traits and characteristics. It’s important to note, however, that each person does not necessarily fit veritably into a single category. As there are only four broad categories, one might not identify with all the characteristics in their attachment style.
The four attachment styles are anxious (also referred to as preoccupied), avoidant (also referred to as dismissive), disorganised (also referred to as fearful-avoidant), and secure.