We’re talking about relationships today and I thought it would be insightful for us to talk about attachment styles. I know when I was starting my coaching career and first started learning about attachment styles, I had so many lightbulb aha moments. We’re all relational. Deep down, we all want to attach to others. As humans, we all want to belong in a group. It’s this evolutionary and biological response we have to keep us close to those we love for survival. It’s genetic.
It’s also not a luxury! If we’ve spent any time around a new baby we know that closeness and comfort, and that relationship with our caregivers is as important as food and water. Our own attachment styles don’t just affect our romantic relationships or the relationships we have with our partners, but our can affect our friendships and the relationship we have with all the people in our lives – family, coworkers, clients, friends, etc.
The way in which we attach is so deeply rooted in our childhood experiences. It’s so fascinating – would you believe that each of our attachment styles is defined by the time we’re 18 months old? That’s crazy to me! In a year and a half, our nervous system has already experienced enough for our bodies to fall into one of these styles.
What’s interesting is that it’s actually the difficulties and the hardships of our childhood and life experience that shape how we grow and evolve, but these same hardships also shape how we’re stunted or stuck in so many areas of relationships too. The number one influence over our attachment style is how we were parented. It can also be influenced by our culture, our genetics, or our environment – but most by how we were, or weren’t, parented. The powerful thing is that our attachment styles are malleable. Depending on our past, and the type or number of traumas we’ve experienced, can make it a different process to heal, but the beauty and hope is found in the fact that it is always healable.
So like anything else, the key is awareness – I always say it, but we can’t intervene in a world we can’t see, right? So just by you reading this post, you’ll start to have a basic understanding of your attachment style, and if you’re so inclined, you can go down a rabbit hole and study this so much further. This new understanding is going to empower you to heal from those difficulties and hardships, which is going to improve your relationships.
So before we talk about the 4 attachment styles and how yours is impacting your relationships, I want to touch on the dependency paradox. This has such an impact on not only us and our adult relationships, but it’s also such great information to have as a parent. Most of us, and our children, are only as needy as their unmet needs. Am I safe? Am I loved? Am I validated? Am I enough? So many things that get in the way of healthy adult relationships, is that we’re still trying to get our unmet needs from our childhood met by others. And when those emotional needs are met, we’re able to turn our attention outwards because we feel secure enough to do so. So it’s wild, but being able to securely depend on our caregivers, allows us to actually be more independent!
The reason for this is that when we when we’re well attached to our caregivers, it helps to regulate our psychological and emotional wellbeing. When we bond in a healthy way, it regulates our nervous system. So how close our parents are to us, how present they are, how available they are – this all influences the stress responses in our nervous system. In theory, and ideally, the more secure we are in the relationships with our caregivers, the fewer unmet needs we have, the more regulated we are, the more independent we can be because our needs are being met, and the more secure our attachment style is.
But whatever needs weren’t met in childhood, we go out and we look for it in our relationships now as adults. We can probably all think of moments we were in relationship in someone and we had this moment where we’re like – woah, this feels a lot like my relationship with my mother. Or dang, this person really reminds me of my dad. I’m feeling how I felt in childhood. We’re looking for those things we didn’t get in childhood. And that’s why an awareness of our attachment styles is so valuable because we can start to see patterns – we can recognize the patterns we’re displaying in adulthood and see their origin in our childhood.
Ok, so let’s jump in and explore the 4 attachment styles – you’re likely going to resonate with one of these and I just want you to keep in mind that simply this new awareness is gold! This isn’t a diagnosis, but rather it’s about understanding so we can have compassion for ourselves. We’re all the way we are – we all do the things we do – for a reason! And then once you’re able to identify your attachment style and the reasons you have that attachment style, then you’re able to start to heal some of the traumas that lead to that style, so you can become more secure which will really strengthen your relationships.
- Secure Attachment Style
This is the attachment style we’d all like to have. This is the healthiest attachment style. It’s the goal we should all be working toward. We can all heal whatever our attachment style is – wherever we are – so a secure attachment style is available to all of us if we’re willing to do the work.
Over time and with a lot of work and growth and patience and compassion, Jeff and I have gotten here. But we have to be careful, because in moments of stress or if we’re in a disagreement or kind of a rut, or more importantly, if I’m not taking care of myself and doing the things I know I need to be doing to stay regulated and feeling healthy physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally – then I’ll notice I slip back into an avoidant attachment style, which is one of the insecure attachment styles.
You’ll find you have a secure attachment style if in your relationship you find that you don’t sweat the small stuff. For me, this has been a huge area of growth. When Jeff and I were first married, there were so many little things that would trigger me or drive me crazy. But my triggers are mine, right? They’re for me to explore and work through. So he still does a lot of these things. For example, he loves to have our sliding doors open in the house and the A/C blasting at the same time – mind you we live in Miami and it’s usually 90 degrees and humid. But I’m at a point now where I’ve grown and dealt with my stuff and it doesn’t bother me anymore. So it’s developing this balance of caring enough and about the right things, while not overly worrying, nagging or nitpicking.
Another characteristic of being in the secure attachment style is that you really like to collaborate and work with others. You’re a team player. You can trust and delegate. You appreciate others’ input. You don’t take things personally or get easily offended.
Someone with a secure attachment style usually also is great at reading others. So they have a good awareness of others’ emotions, reading faces and voices. And they tend to deal with difficult people really well. And they can also read between the lines. Everything is always speaking, right? People’s energy, how they dress, how they do their hair, what they drive – it’s all speaking. It’s all telling a story. So people in a secure attachment style can pick up on what’s making people tick, what motivates them, the mood they’re in, and can accurately judge all of these things in their partners too.
And then finally, people with secure attachment style are comfortable with their feelings. And they’re comfortable with intimacy and sharing their feelings without overthinking or overcomplicating them. Because they feel secure, they don’t need to manipulate or having perfect timing, but they can be more authentic in their expression while respecting healthy boundaries in communication.
This all sounds great, but where does this come from? Having a secure attachment style results from having had reliable and consistent parents. It comes from having a family that had a focus and emphasis on relationship. They allowed you to be yourself, to express yourself. They didn’t stifle you, but they also allowed you to safely test boundaries. They were kinda like those guardrails on the highway. They let you ride but if you got off course, they were there to re-direct you and guide you and protect you.
Now, no one’s perfect. There’s no perfect parent. No perfect parenting. And we all release a big collective sigh of relief! So what this does mean is that your parents repaired if they misstepped and they were consistent in moving forward. So they apologized. They took responsibility. They promised they’d do better or that it wouldn’t happen again, and then they followed through on that. So we can mess up, but when we mess up, we repair! This is how we perform a repair with ourselves. If we notice we’re being hard on ourselves. If we notice we’re being critical and our self-talk is harsh and our inner critic is brutal – we notice and we repair. This is how we perform a secure attachment style within ourselves. So the bottom line with a secure attachment style is that you knew where you stood with your parents.
Insecure Attachment Styles
So that was the secure attachment style. The healthiest of the 4, and it’s what we all want. The goal we’re all working toward. But there are also insecure attachment styles – and we’ll go over three of the main ones. And again, we all probably fall into one of these when we’re not at our best. But what we want is an awareness of the style, and then that allows us to explore the reasons we fall into that style so we can start to heal and move toward a secure attachment style.
- Anxious Attachment Style
When you were a child your parents were inconsistent. You could go to them for love, security, and encouragement, but also often felt like you were walking on eggshells. You didn’t know where you stood. Sometimes they were capable of being reliable, present, engaged, loving, patient – and sometimes they weren’t. So imagine – that can be really confusing for a young child. They don’t know where they stand. They don’t know what they can expect or depend on. We all probably still have people like this in our own lives today. I’m sure if you think about it, there’s someone in your life that you don’t know what you’re going to get from them that day. Maybe they’re gonna show up cheerful and in good spirits and pleasant and encouraging. Or they’re gonna show up in a sour mood and out to ruin everything in their path. And not knowing what you’re going to get, that’s nerve wracking and anxiety inducing for our adult nervous systems, imagine the nervous system of a young child.
And the way this generally shows up is a feeling that you’re simultaneously searching for validation, for security, for acceptance, for love – searching for all these things you deeply need – all the while also just kind of waiting anxious for the other shoe to drop. You’re missing the ability to just sit securely in the relationship. There’s anxiety about what you’re going to get from your partner, when you’re going to get, how you’re going to get it. You have a hard time just being in your relationships because you’re feeling anxious. And the reason you’re feeling anxious is because your nervous system is dysregulated and it can’t really feel safe and stable with another person.
The other way an anxious attachment style can form is if the parent is too close. If they’re enmeshed and they start to kind of become one. They’re too interdependent. Their worlds revolve around one another. They can’t operate independently of each other.
An anxious attachment style shows up in one of two ways. First, it can show up in us being overly needy. So if you find yourself or your partner being overly needy – like they really really need you. They need everything from you. Or you realize you’re overly needy of your partner, you’re likely in an anxious attachment style. This is when we find ourselves in relationships that are projects. The need to fix others. Or to be there to save others. Or we’re living in this world where it’s like, I’m not ok unless and until you’re ok. We fall into a pattern of being the rescuer or caretaker. And this usually shows up when you had that enmeshed parent relationship. Your parents were overly dependent on you and the roles reversed and you became the caregiver.
More signs you’re in an anxious attachment style are if you notice you’re someone who feels really big and deep emotions in their relationships. You can be really quick to attach or to bond with others and people in this attachment style are often physically touchy with others. They might bond a little too quickly. They tend to rush into relationships without really evaluating whether it’s a good fit or the other person can meet their needs. They crave that closeness in touch. It’s this constant analysis of “does this person love me?” You might have an anxious attachment style if you find you have a hard time adjusting between being with and around others to being alone. You need constant validation. So how does this show up? Maybe it’s a first date and then you’re driving yourself crazy waiting on the next call or text and then the minute you get it you feel so much better! It’s waiting for someone else to regulate your nervous system.
So if you find you’re resonating with this attachment style, the first step in healing is not in your relationships. It doesn’t mean you can’t be in a relationship, but I would encourage you to find a good therapist or a good coach who can help you do the self work and can help you learn how to meet your own needs. Learning to identify what you need when you’re in a dysregulated state, and how to meet your own needs and soothe yourself instead of the pattern you’re likely in of looking to others to do it for you.
- Avoidant Attachment Style
The next style is the avoidant style, and this one is exactly what it sounds like. You might have this style if you find that you tend to push others away. Maybe you really prefer to be alone or have your own space. You don’t let anyone in. You value your autonomy. Your independence is so important to you. You don’t let anyone get too close or see the real you. You struggle with intimacy or vulnerability.
And this comes from a parent who was dismissive of your needs. Or maybe rather than dismissive, they were just for whatever reason they weren’t around and it was a case of unintentional neglect. Maybe you were left on your own a lot and you’ve kinda got this identity or this story in your head that you’re just self sufficient. But really you were left to figure things out on your own as a young child. And your nervous system wasn’t regulated because you had an absent parent. And the way your nervous system deals with it is that, even at a really young age, you learn to withdraw. You learn that it’s better and safer if you don’t rely on or depend on others.
So if you find yourself resonating with this pattern, the way to start to heal is to challenge yourself to be vulnerable in safe relationships. To learn to trust others to meet your needs to be seen and heard. So it’s getting some guidance on how to push past your pattern. To push out of your comfort zone and let others in. It takes practice! It takes practice to really allow yourself to feel supported by another person. And you can start to practice with a coach or a therapist or someone you feel safe with to let your walls down and practice those 1-on-1 relationship skills.
- Disorganized attachment style
The final attachment style we’re going to discuss today is the disorganized attachment style. This comes from growing up with constant chaos. So much fear. So the child wants the parent to be a source of comfort. And maybe here and there it is, but more often the parent is the source of fear so the child feels like they have nowhere to go. The people they should be going to for comfort and love, are the same people that are causing them to feel scared and unsafe. So you can see how this would be really confusing for a developing nervous system.
And how this tends to show up is people with a disorganized attachment style have a “come here, go away” energy. They want to be close, but they’re scared. They want to connect, but they don’t trust anyone so they push everyone away because all they know is chaos or trauma. I want you but I don’t. So they can feel a loneliness because they want to connect with others, but they’re so flinchy. So with any kind of threat, your nervous system will become dysregulated and they’ll check out.
To deal with this type of attachment style, you really have to deal with that underlying trauma. Again, work with a good therapist or a trauma-informed coach, and start to heal the trauma of the chaos of your childhood.
No attachment style is set in stone. We can also bounce between them. We typically all have a primary style that was formed in early childhood. But regardless of where you land in the different styles, it’s not fixed. There are ways to heal and grow into a secure attachment style so you can really have those deep and beautiful secure relationships in your life.
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