Attachment Styles from PsychAlive
Attachment refers the particular way in which you relate to other people. Your style of attachment was formed at the very beginning of your life, during your first two years. Once established, it is a style that stays with you and plays out today in how you relate in intimate relationships and in how you parent your children. Understanding your style of attachment is helpful because it offers you insight into how you felt and developed in your childhood. It also clarifies ways that you are emotionally limited as an adult and what you need to change to improve your close relationships and your relationship with your own children.
The attachment style you developed as a child based on your relationship with a parent or early caretaker doesn’t have to define your ways of relating to those you love in your adult life. If you come to know your attachment style, you can uncover ways you are defending yourself from getting close and being emotionally connected and work toward forming an “earned secure attachment.” - How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship on PsychAlive
What is your attachment style? - quiz.
People who formed secure attachments in childhood have secure attachment patterns in adulthood. They have a strong sense of themselves and they desire close associations with others. They basically have a positive view of themselves, their partners and their relationships. Their lives are balanced: they are both secure in their independence and in their close relationships.
Those who had avoidant attachments in childhood most likely have dismissive attachment patterns as adults. These people tend to be loners; they regard relationships and emotions as being relatively unimportant. They are cerebral and suppress their feelings. Their typical response to conflict and stressful situations is to avoid them by distancing themselves. These people’s lives are not balanced: they are inward and isolated, and emotionally removed from themselves and others.
Children who have an ambivalent/anxious attachment often grow up to have preoccupied attachment patterns. As adults, they are self-critical and insecure. They seek approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves their self-doubt. In their relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to act clingy and overly dependent with their partner. These people’s lives are not balanced: their insecurity leaves them turned against themselves and emotionally desperate in their relationships.
People who grew up with disorganized attachments often develop fearful-avoidant patterns of attachment. Since, as children, they detached from their feelings during times of trauma, as adults, they continue to be somewhat detached from themselves. They desire relationships and are comfortable in them until they develop emotionally close. At this point, the feelings that were repressed in childhood begin to resurface and, with no awareness of them being from the past, they are experienced in the present. The person is no longer in life today but rather, is suddenly re-living an old trauma. These people’s lives are not balanced: they do not have a coherent sense of themselves nor do they have a clear connection with others.
Early Attachment Patterns
Young children need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order for their social and emotional development to occur normally. Without this attachment, they will suffer serious psychological and social impairment. During the first two years, how the parents or caregivers respond to their infants establishes the types of patterns of attachment their children form. These patterns will go on to guide the child’s feelings, thoughts and expectations as an adult in future relationships.
Ideally, from the time infants are six months to two years of age, they form an emotional attachment to an adult who is attuned to them, that is, who is sensitive and responsive in their interactions with them. It is vital that this attachment figure remain a consistent caregiver throughout this period in a child’s life. During the second year, children begin to use the adult as a secure base from which to explore the world and become more independent. A child in this type of relationship is securely attached.
The attachment style you developed as a child based on your relationship with a parent or early caretaker doesn’t have to define your ways of relating to those you love in your adult life. If you come to know your attachment style, you can uncover ways you are defending yourself from getting close and being emotionally connected and work toward forming an “earned secure attachment.”
There are adults who are emotionally unavailable and, as a result, they are insensitive to and unaware of the needs of their children. They have little or no response when a child is hurting or distressed. These parents discourage crying and encourage independence. Often their children quickly develop into “little adults” who take care of themselves. These children pull away from needing anything from anyone else and are self-contained. They have formed an avoidant attachment with a misattuned parent.
Some adults are inconsistently attuned to their children. At times their responses are appropriate and nurturing but at other times they are intrusive and insensitive. Children with this kind of parenting are confused and insecure, not knowing what type of treatment to expect. They often feel suspicious and distrustful of their parent but at the same time they act clingy and desperate. These children have an ambivalent/anxious attachment with their unpredictable parent.
When a parent or caregiver is abusive to a child, the child experiences the physical and emotional cruelty and frightening behavior as being life-threatening. This child is caught in a terrible dilemma: her survival instincts are telling her to flee to safety but safety is the very person who is terrifying her. The attachment figure is the source of the child’s distress. In these situations, children typically disassociate from their selves. They detach from what is happening to them and what they are experiencing is blocked from their consciousness. Children in this conflicted state have disorganized attachments with their fearsome parental figures.
How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationships on PsychAlive
Secure Attachment – Securely attached adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. Children with a secure attachment see their parent as a secure base from which they can venture out and independently to explore the world. A secure adult has a similar relationship with their romantic partner, feeling secure and connected, while allowing themselves and their partner to move freely.
Secure adults offer support when their partner feels distressed. They also go to their partner for comfort when they themselves feel troubled. Their relationship tends to be honest, open and equal, with both people feeling independent, yet loving toward each other. Securely attached couples don’t tend to engage in what my father, psychologist Robert Firestone, describes as a “Fantasy Bond,” an illusion of connection that provides a false sense of safety. In a fantasy bond, a couple foregoes real acts of love for a more routine, emotionally cut-off form of relating.
Anxious Preoccupied Attachment – Unlike securely attached couples, people with an anxious attachment tend to be desperate to form a fantasy bond. Instead of feeling real love or trust toward their partner, they often feel emotional hunger. They’re frequently looking to their partner to rescue or complete them. Although they’re seeking a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner, they take actions that push their partner away.
Even though anxiously attached individuals act desperate or insecure, more often than not, their behavior exasperates their own fears. When they feel unsure of their partner’s feelings and unsafe in their relationship, they often become clingy, demanding or possessive toward their partner. They may also interpret independent actions by their partner as affirmation of their fears. For example, if their partner starts socializing more with friends, they may think, “See? He doesn’t really love me. This means he is going to leave me. I was right not to trust him.”
Dismissive Avoidant Attachment – People with a dismissive avoidant attachment have the tendency to emotionally distance themselves from their partner. They may seek isolation and feel “pseudo-independent,” taking on the role of parenting themselves. They often come off as focused on themselves and may be overly attending to their creature comforts. Pseudo-independence is an illusion, as every human being needs connection. Nevertheless, people with a dismissive avoidant attachment tend to lead more inward lives, both denying the importance of loved ones and detaching easily from them. They are often psychologically defended and have the ability to shut down emotionally. Even in heated or emotional situations, they are able to turn off their feelings and not react. For example, if their partner is distressed and threatens to leave them, they would respond by saying, “I don’t care.”
Fearful Avoidant Attachment – A person with a fearful avoidant attachment lives in an ambivalent state of being afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to; they can’t just avoid their anxiety or run away from their feelings. Instead, they are overwhelmed by their reactions and often experience emotional storms. They tend to be mixed up or unpredictable in their moods. They see their relationships from the working model that you need to go towards others to get your needs met, but if you get close to others, they will hurt you. In other words, the person they want to go to for safety is the same person they are frightened to be close to. As a result, they have no organized strategy for getting their needs met by others.
As adults, these individuals tend to find themselves in rocky or dramatic relationships, with many highs and lows. They often have fears of being abandoned but also struggle with being intimate. They may cling to their partner when they feel rejected, then feel trapped when they are close. Oftentimes, the timing seems to be off between them and their partner. A person with fearful avoidant attachment may even wind up in an abusive relationship.
The past is not in the past if we have not integrated the memory. The memory center of our brain includes Explicit and Implicit Memory. Explicit memory is the awareness of the facts and reality of an event as it happened in the past. However, implicit memory involves the activation of our sensations, feelings, perceptions, bodily actions, mental models at the time of the event (generalized frame of understanding experience), as well as our priming to react (nervous system ready to respond to similar experience). Implicit memory enters our nervous system without our even being aware of it. It is the first layer of memory processing, and is all we have until the age of 18 months. To integrate an implicit memory into the conscious, factual past of explicit memory requires an area of the limbic/emotional brain called the hippocampus.
Understanding Our Style of Relating When Triggered, read more...
Research has shown that it is not necessarily how bad someone’s childhood was that impacts attachment between parent and child, but how much they’ve been able to make sense out of and feel the full pain of their past, creating a coherent narrative. The better able someone is to resolve trauma and conflict from their early lives, the better able they will be to form a secure attachment with their child.—PsychAlive, Disorganized Attachment
This shows one of the many dangers of denial and how denial is destructive in our own lives and the lives of those around us. People often deny that they underwent a traumatic event or that a specific person that they needed to take care of them failed in their duties to provide care, and therefore cannot integrate the event, leading to a downward spiral of disconnection.