It seems like attachment styles have become all the rage, and may now be something that is relatively normal to discuss on a first or second date. If you haven’t yet been asked, “what is your attachment style?” by someone in your life or someone you are dating, just wait! The three attachment styles seem to be making their way into our culture’s lexicon as their popularity increases.
The theory of attachment styles has been made popular by books such as Attached by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A, and Instagram and TikTok accounts that share advice on dating and love. If you haven’t heard of attachment styles, don’t worry, this article is here to catch you up to speed.
The theory of attachment
The theory of attachment was developed by John Bowlby in his attempt to understand what was happening when babies were separated from their caregivers. Bowlby observed three attachment patterns through his studies: secure (60%), anxious-resistant (20% of less), and avoidant (about 20%). Later research showed that the bond we develop with adult romantic partners works on the same motivational system — the attachment behavioural system — meaning it looks a lot like the attachment styles Bowlby observed with infants and their caregivers.
The human attachment system can help us make connections between our current romantic situation and our patterns when it comes to love and dating. When you are reading about the three types, however, it is important to consider that it’s early experiences that lay the wiring for our attachment behavioural system. For some, looking into our childhoods can be painful and uncomfortable, so be gentle with this exploration and know it is okay to not go there if it doesn’t feel right for you.
What are the attachment styles? I will lean on what I learned from Diane Poole Heller’s incredible book called The Power of Attachment to help me explain the three most common styles.
The secure baby and child most likely grew up with lots of love and had caregivers that were consistent and responsive to their needs. As adults, they are able to connect with others interdependently. They are comfortable being in connection and on their own, can move through conflict relatively easily, can give and receive love with ease, and are able to forgive without difficulty.
If this is your style, you probably enjoy closeness and do not spend a lot of time worrying about your relationships. You are likely to have had trusting and long-lasting relationships and a good sense of self-esteem. If a problem comes up in your relationship, you feel comfortable expressing your feelings and thoughts about the problem and if you need it, you have no problem seeking out support from others.
A lover doesn’t text you back when they are out with a group of friends for the night? A securely attached adult may not notice or if they do, would assume their lover is being faithful to whatever the decided relationship agreements are.
The avoidant baby and child was most likely neglected or rejected by their caregivers or grew up in a home where caregivers were not present enough. As adults, these individuals avoid intimacy and are disconnected from their attachment system. There seems to be a limit to how deep they are comfortably able to go before it becomes too much and they retreat emotionally or completely from the relationship.
If this is you, you most will most likely notice that problems arise in your relationships when intimacy is on the rise. Which means, the first couple of months may be easy for you but when things start to get real, you may feel yourself “turn off” and walk away. You may have a difficult time sharing your thoughts and feelings with others and have an easier time investing in your own endeavours than you do investing emotionally in your relationships.
A lover doesn’t text you back on a night out? An avoidant partner may or may not notice but if they do, they may ignore any texts from their lover that evening and certainly would not be the first to text and check-in.
Anxious-Resistant or Ambivalent Attachment
The ambivalent baby and child received inconsistent love from their caregiver and there was a lot of unpredictability for them growing up. These individuals may experience a lot of anxiety about their needs being met and may fear that they are not lovable. They have a deep fear of abandonment and any hint of abandonment can create a lot of big and uncomfortable emotions and relationship turmoil.
If you, like me, have this style you may find that although you want love more than anything that there is something about it that scares you. A lot of your time in relationship may be spent worrying that your partner is going to leave you or that maybe they do not love you as much as you love them. Fighting and the end of relationships can be incredibly distressing to you.
A lover doesn’t text you back? Oh, I know this well. Lover — you can expect anywhere from one (on a good night) to thirty-five missed text messages and perhaps a voicemail, increasing in urgency, concern, and anger and potentially oscillating between the three with little or no predictability.
What is your attachment style?
If you are still not sure what your attachment style is, you can try taking this attachment test. For a very small percentage of people, they fit under a fourth category called “disorganized” and although I do not cover it in this article — if both the anxious and avoidant styles resonate with you — it could be worth exploring the disorganized style in more depth.
It took me awhile to accept I had an anxious attachment style. It meant looking back on my childhood in an honest way when for years I just wanted to look back through rose-coloured glass. It also meant I had to take responsibility for the fact that my behaviours were playing into the cycle of painful and unhealthy relationships I’d been in for over a decade. For some of us, it’s obvious, but for others, it can take awhile to put all of the pieces together and find that clarity.
Even though our attachment styles evolved to help keep us safe, according to Diane Pool Heller, our attachment styles are not set in stone. Understanding our attachment style can be a step in a journey to a deeper exploration of how to develop safer and more fulfilling relationships. I have since found the topic both empowering and fascinating and for anyone who would like to learn more I recommend the book The Power of Attachment by Diane Poole Heller as a starting place.