It’s no secret that relationships are complicated. Navigating the fights, the miscommunications, and the general ups and downs of any typical pairing can be downright exhausting. But it turns out our individual “attachment styles” have much to do with how we interact with our partners (and with the people in our lives in general).
For those new to the term (we certainly were!), an attachment style is the way in which you emotionally attach yourself to others, and most psychologists agree that our styles are formed in early childhood and are shaped by formative experiences.
According to John Bowlby, the pioneer of attachment theory, there are only four basic attachment types. AKA, four basic ways in which people connect to those around them. And knowing your style can potentially help you isolate your own potentially negative patterns.
Here are the four types in a nutshell:
Secure attachment is considered the “healthiest” of the four, and is estimated to be exhibited by 60% of people. If you’re a secure attacher, it likely means you had a secure relationship with your parents (aka, you knew they weren’t going anywhere and you could always depend on them). People of this type generally view their romantic partners in the same way — they feel secure in the connection and don’t spend much time worrying about if the other person really loves them, will leave them, or fall for someone else. Relationships between two secure attachers are usually marked by a healthy mix of love and independence.
Anxious attachers are those who look for their partner to complete them, but who are also filled with anxiety about how their partner truly feels. When feeling insecure, the anxious attacher can become possessive or overly-needy, which ironically can push their partner away — which only exacerbates the anxious attachers fears while seeming to confirm what they secretly believe to be true (aka: “My partner doesn’t really want to be with me.”). Recognizing your own anxiety, and how it causes you to behave, can be the first step in working toward a more healthy approach to relationships.
Dismissive attachers are the people among us who attempt to protect themselves from heartache by limiting how connected they get to those around them. They like to think of themselves as 100% independent and that they rely only on themselves — even when in a committed relationship. They also may seem to shut down before showing any true or authentic emotional responses.
Fearful attachers are the people in life who feel rejected when a romantic partner doesn’t seem to want them, and conversely, feel stifled when a partner seems genuinely invested. They may often feel that the “timing” just isn’t right when it comes to romance. That’s because, at their core, fearful attachers want to have their needs met by a partner, but are fearful they will get hurt if they get too close.
If you recognize yourself in any of the non-secure attachment styles, don’t worry — hope is definitely not lost. By recognizing your type of attachment and the particular defense mechanisms that go along with it, it’s believed that you can work toward an “earned secure attachment style” (i.e. it might not come naturally to you, but you can definitely achieve it through self-awareness, consistency, and work).
Also, if you’re not a secure attacher, it can be super helpful to seek a secure attacher out in a partner (because, for example, two anxious attachers, or an anxious attacher and a fearful attacher, can lead to a toxic dynamic).
And if you’re not sure where you stand in terms of attachment styles, fear not: Here’s a handy quiz from PsychologyToday.com that can help you figure it out. Tell us what you think, and good luck!