There are four basic attachment styles in human beings: anxious, secure, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant. A person’s attachment style usually develops early in life and, without intervention, it sticks for the duration and impacts all of that individual’s important relationships – especially romantic relationships.
This style of relating is characterized by a strong desire for intimacy and closeness with one’s partner, paired with a fear that one’s partner does not want to be as close. Anxiously attached people are sensitive to even minor fluctuations in other people’s moods. As such, they can be easily and deeply upset by the words and behavior of others. For anxiously attached people, relationships consume a lot of time and effort.
Examples of anxious attachment include:
- When I tell you how I feel, I’m afraid you don’t feel the same way.
- I worry that my partner will stop loving me.
- In romantic relationships, I tend to attach very quickly.
- I am very sensitive to the mood of the people around me, especially my loved ones.
- If I’m not in a serious relationship, I feel anxious and incomplete.
This style of relating is generally considered to be ideal and healthy. Securely attached people are warm and seek intimacy without fear. They are not easily upset by relationship setbacks. Their communication style when discussing needs and wants in a relationship is clear and effective. They are happy to share both successes and failures with others, especially their romantic partner.
Examples of secure attachment include:
- I do not struggle to express my needs and wants to my partner.
- I am comfortable expressing my opinion, even when I disagree with someone.
- I find it easy to be affectionate with my partner, kids, and other loved ones.
- Some people see me as boring or uncooperative because I don’t choose to argue or participate in relationship drama.
- When my partner and I do argue, it does not cause me to question our entire relationship.
Avoidant individuals appear to value autonomy and independence more than anything else. This does not mean they do not want to experience intimate connection. They do. But too much closeness feels deeply uncomfortable to them. These individuals struggle to be honest and vulnerable with their partners, and they are often accused of being emotionally distant. They can be hypervigilant toward anything that looks or feels like an attempt to control them.
Examples of avoidant attachment include:
- When I get what I want in a relationship, I start to wonder why I wanted it.
- I get nervous when other people, even my partner, get too close.
- If I start dating someone and it’s clear that things are not going to work out, I’m OK with that. I might even be relieved.
- I miss my partner when we’re apart but feel a need to escape when we’re together.
- My partner wants me to be more vulnerable than I feel comfortable being.
Individuals with an anxious-avoidant attachment style crave intimate connection, but at the same time they fear it. Often, they are dissatisfied with their lack of attachment, but they have trouble moving past their fear of allowing others to get close. Thankfully, this style of attachment (or lack of attachment) is relatively rare.
Examples of anxious-avoidant attachment include:
- When people reach out to me, I instinctively withdraw.
- I feel persecuted and disturbed by the neediness of others.
- When my partner says that he/she loves me, I am flooded with anxiety.
- Under my silence, I resent feeling controlled or that people are attempting to control me.
- When loved ones push for closeness, I disconnect, which causes them to feel anxious and resentful.
Most of the time, people can easily categorize themselves (and perhaps their loved ones) into one of the four attachment styles. If you are struggling to do this, you can take the Experience in Close Relationships (ECR) questionnaire available at this link.
The good news about attachment styles is that whatever your attachment style, you can “earn” your way toward secure attachment by developing empathy and learning to be vulnerable with loved ones. This process is not easy, and it often requires you to examine unresolved early-life trauma and neglect. But if you are not happy with your ability (or inability) to intimately connect in meaningful ways, earning your way to secure attachment is incredibly worthwhile. This process will be discussed in future posts to this site.