There are 3 main attachment styles—here’s the type that ‘everyone should strive for,’ says therapist

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Our attachment style is shaped and developed in early childhood by our relationships with our parents.

According to the attachment theory, first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, we mirror the dynamics we had with our parents — or primary caregivers — as infants and children.

As a therapist who specializes in relationships, I’ve found that attachment style discussions are not typical until much later on in life, when we must start to examine our relationship patterns and connecting dots.

The 3 main attachment styles: Which one are you?

Attachment theory is nuanced, like humans are. Although it is a spectrum of four styles, common parlance refers to only three: anxious, avoidant and secure.

Studies show that people who are securely attached have the healthiest relationships, and it’s the type that everyone should strive for.

Understanding which style you fall under — and the specific details surrounding it — can help you take control of how you relate to other people, particularly in stressful situations.

1. Anxious attachment style

Anxious attachment is characterized by a concern that the other person, whether with a significant other, friend or family member, will not reciprocate your level of availability.

This is generally caused when a child learns that their caregiver or parent is unreliable and does not consistently provide responsive care towards their needs.

I am anxiously attached. My parents came to America with very little money. They worked a lot and were more worried about paying the bills than creating a safe emotional space where secure attachments grew.

Anxious attachment types have a sense of unworthiness but generally evaluate others positively. As a result, they strive for self-acceptance by tying their worth to approval and validation from their relationships.

Knowing this about myself has been a game-changer in my current relationship. Instead of demanding, wanting more, feeling rejected and unwanted, I can take ownership and remind myself that how I feel may not be the reality.

2. Avoidant attachment style

My partner Vanessa leans towards an avoidant attachment style. Children who fall under this category tend to avoid interaction with their parents, and show little or no distress during separation. The child may believe that they cannot depend on the relationship.

An avoidant attachment style shows up in adults who hold a positive self-image and a negative image of others. They prefer to avoid close relationships and intimacy in order to remain a sense of independence and invulnerability. It’s a way to hide and not truly show themselves.

The avoidant struggles with intimacy and expressing feelings, thoughts and emotions. They are often accused of being distant and closed off. The closer someone gets and the needier they seem to become, the more an avoidant withdraws.

Knowing that Vanessa has more of an avoidant attachment style makes me understand and listen to her more, instead of immediately jumping to blame.

3. Secure attachment style

People who are securely attached appreciate their own self-worth and ability to be themselves in their relationships. They openly seek support and comfort from their partner, and are similarly happy when their partner relies on them for emotional support.

During the childhood years, their caregivers made sure they felt valued, supported, heard and reassured. Here are some ways securely attached kids show up as adults:

  • They are able to regulate emotions and feelings in a relationship.
  • They have a strong goal-oriented behavior when on their own.
  • They don’t struggle with opening up and trusting others.
  • They are comfortable being alone and use that time to explore their emotions.
  • They have a strong capacity to reflect on how they are maneuvering in a relationship.

Secure attachment is what everyone is swimming towards, including Vanessa and me. But it takes awareness and practice.

The good news about attachment styles

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