Attachment styles, what they are and how they affect your love life
Have you had some rough relationships? Feel like your mood and emotions are a roller coaster when you’re dating? Do serious relationships make you feel suffocated? Do you feel unnecessary anxiety about your relationship? Does the thought of getting close to someone scare the shit out of you?
If you answered yes to any of these, perhaps you have an insecure attachment style. Have no idea what that is? You’ve come to the right place to find out. Over the past five years, I learned everything I could about attachment styles and now I’m going to relay that juicy information to you. Having this knowledge will help you understand your behaviour in dating and relationships. It’ll also help you understand your current partner’s behaviour (or future people you date) so you can have healthier and more fulfilling relationships. How good is that?
Let’s get stuck in. This is a longer blog, so grab a coffee or a martini, whatever works for you.
WTF is attachment theory anyway?
Attachment theory is an area of psychology dating back to the 1950s, characterising how you behave in relationships and has been studied by psychologists and psychiatrists for 100’s of years. Your attachment style is formed in early childhood with your parents or guardians and is the basis for how you approach social situations and relationships through your life.
There are four main attachment styles. Secure, anxious, avoidant (or dismissive) and anxious-avoidant. Apart from the secure attachment style, the other three attachment styles are insecure. They just present in different ways, with different behaviours and fears. Ultimately, insecure attachment styles struggle with trusting love and managing their emotions in relationships in a healthy way.
Figuring out your attachment style
If you don’t know your attachment style, here is an awesome test. It might be best to do the test, then come back here and continue reading. The test will give you percentages of each attachment style you have.
I’ve taken this test at different points in my life and received different results, so before you continue, please know your attachment style can change with different partners. You can also exhibit behaviours from different attachment styles at different times. A securely attached person may become anxious with an avoidant partner, or an avoidant could become secure with a secure partner, and so on.
The four attachment styles
Secure attachment style
People with secure attachments are comfortable with intimacy, being vulnerable and setting boundaries. They are able to function in relationships in a healthy way and walk away if their needs are not being met or if they are being treated poorly. They are comfortable with a natural progression of a relationship and don’t fear their partners playing a large role in their life.
Securely attached folk probably grew up in a safe household where they were shown emotional availability and love from their parents consistently. Their parents likely acted as good role models for them to understand healthy relationships. Securely attached people can still have relationship issues, like anyone, but how they relate to their partners is more secure and safe compared to the insecure styles.
Behaviours of securely attached people:
- Able to openly discuss their emotions, show and give love and aren’t afraid of intimacy
- They depend on their partner and their partner can depend on them
- Aren’t afraid of being vulnerable with people in their lives
- They generally trust their partner and feel safe in relationships
Avoidant (or dismissive) attachment style
Avoidants are fiercely independent, can be uncomfortable with intimacy and can feel smothered by ‘normal’ relationship steps. Deep down, they fear losing their independence, being misunderstood or getting hurt if they let down their walls, so they build their life in a way that makes it hard for people to get close to them. They’re often single for long periods and may only get into surface level relationships with people whom they don’t really love. As this blog put it so well, “Avoidants will let you be around them, but they won’t let you in”.
An avoidant attachment style is formed by having parents who were emotionally unavailable or not around much in infancy, causing a child to distance themselves emotionally and be forced to learn how to do life alone. They then carry these characteristics into their adult relationships.
People with an avoidant attachment style can struggle with vulnerability and their partners can feel like they don’t really know them on a deeper level, often craving more intimacy than they might be able to give. If they do meet someone who they truly love, they may still leave, sabotage the relationship or not let their partner in. Their behaviours and fears mean they can miss out on the love and connection they truly crave, like any normal human. Men are more likely to be avoidant than women.
Behaviours of avoidant attached people:
- Moments of intimacy followed by silence or ghosting
- Not talking about their feelings with their partner
- Preference to long distance relationships or short term flings
- Not relying or depending on their partners (or people in general)
- Being very private and withholding intimacy or affection
Anxious attachment style
People with an anxious attachment style generally need a lot of reassurance in a relationship. They struggle with vagueness and need to know how their partners feel about them with direct actions and words to help them feel safe. If they don’t know where they stand with someone, they can become anxious, desperately looking for reassurance and often pushing people away.
An anxious attachment style is formed by having parents who were inconsistent. Sometimes they may have been supportive and responsive to the child and other times, they were absent or misattuned. This parenting pattern made it difficult for them to understand what the parents’ behaviour means, which they then carry into their adult relationships.
Anxiously attached people are very attuned to changes in moods and situations, often believing there is a problem in a relationship when there might not be. This can cause them to lash out or have a large (often unnecessary) emotional reaction, making a problem bigger than it needed to be. Anxious folk crave intimacy and closeness. Deep down, they fear being abandoned, have low self esteem and often don’t trust relationships to work out. Women are more likely to have an anxious style.
Behaviours of anxiously attached people:
- Feeling overly anxious in arguments with a need to re-establish closeness quickly
- Worrying if they don’t hear from a partner after a certain amount of time
- Staying in unhealthy or toxic relationships
- Worrying their partners are not as in love with them as they are
- Fearing their partner is cheating on them and feeling suspicious
Anxious-Avoidant/Disorganised attachment style
Often called the disorganised or fearful-avoidant attachment style, they are a mix of the avoidant style and the anxious style. They crave intimacy but are equally scared when it happens.
Anxious-avoidants avoid intimacy out of fear of its potential to hurt them, whereas avoidants often prefer to be alone. Anxious-avoidants aren’t so great at sorting through their emotions. Sometimes they can have intense emotional outbursts and other times, they suppress their feelings. They don’t seek help when they need it, even though deep down they actually want it. Anxious-avoidants can also have other mental health problems such as depression, substance abuse or anxiety. They only equate to a very small percentage of the population.
Behaviours of the anxious-avoidant attached people:
- Low in confidence and don’t express emotions well
- If they feel rejected, they may cling to their partner then feel trapped once they re-establish closeness
- Staying in unhealthy relationships
- They generally don’t trust people
- Their emotions can be roller coaster like
Some important things to remember
When I first started learning about this, I felt down on myself and felt regret about some of my behaviour in my previous relationships. I just wanted to feel ‘normal’ or secure. As I’ve come to learn more about how I am, I started to see the good in some of the anxious parts. I believe my anxious attachment makes me empathetic to a fault. It’s probably half the reason I have this blog, because I want to help people who might feel a bit shit like I have. If you’re anxious like me, you might need a lot of reassurance in a relationship, but you’ll give a hell of a lot too. I’ll also bet you have outstanding emotional intelligence with not only your partner but all your friends. Not so bad, hey?
If you’re avoidant, your ability to be independent and take care of yourself is incredible and often inspiring to other people. This quote in a book I’ve recommended below is something to keep in mind when learning about attachments. You’re welcome!
“Instead of thinking how you can change yourself in order to please your partner, as so many relationship books advise, think: Can this person provide what I need in order to be happy?”Attached by Adam Levire and Rachel Heller
Can your attachment style change?
Your attachment styles can certainly change and evolve with work and awareness. Our attachment style can also change with different partners and at different times in our lives. A secure person can become anxiously attached to an avoidant person. An anxiously attached style can become more secure with a secure partner. A secure person may also display anxious or avoidant behaviours through a low or difficult time in their life.
For transparency (and maybe a little hope if you’re like me), I was anxiously attached, moving towards secure. For even more transparency, you can read about my experience with domestic violence here. This is a big part of the reason I get anxious in relationships. If other people have been through something similar, it could help you understand their attachment style too.
I worked on my attachment style and went to therapy as I knew it was hurting me and my relationships. After years of hard work, my communication skills and thought patterns are far better and I understand my needs in a relationship now. Stoked for myself. So if I can do it, you can too.
What do you do if you have an insecure style or are in a relationship with one?
Understanding your attachment style, learning about it and recognising when you’re displaying attachment behaviour is a massive step toward having healthier relationships. Learning this will help your dating life too. You’ll be able to recognise the insecure styles and notice and change your own behaviour. Secure attachment styles are also best for the insecure styles. They are not as triggered by some of our insecure behaviour (if it is communicated in a healthy way and worked on).
Therapy did so much for me. It pulled me out of a dark hole, taught me about myself and truly helped me function in a more healthy way in relationships. If I went to therapy years ago, perhaps my other relationships would have worked out a little better. If you’re not ready to chat your problems away, or can’t afford it (that shit be expensive), I’ve listed loads of free resources at the bottom of this page.
If you’re secure and in a relationship with an insecure style, firstly thanks for sticking around. Learning about their style can help you understand them and be patient. Having this knowledge might also help you feel more compassionate when they’re displaying some attachment behaviours. Again, check out the resources below.
Anxious and avoidant attachment styles in a relationship
Have you been in a roller coaster relationship or perhaps know a couple who are always breaking up and getting back together? People who can’t quite seem to figure their shit out? It could be an anxious-avoidant relationship.
These two insecure styles are often drawn to each other. They confirm each other’s beliefs and insecurities. This doesn’t mean they don’t genuinely love each other. What it means is they need very different things in a relationship and those things can be the opposite. The anxious style wants intimacy, while the avoidant needs a lot of independence. If the two can recognise this and work on it, communicating thoughtfully and taking in each others needs, they can work towards a more healthy, long lasting and secure relationship. This does take time and energy, but if this is you, all is not lost.
Awesome free resources
BOOKS AND BLOGS
Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Wired for love by Stan Tatkin
How to have a better break up – Written by yours truly if you’ve recently been through a break up
Can your attachment style change?
How different attachment styles affect relationships
How to identify attachment styles on a first date
The Secure Relationship – If you only follow one, make it this account!
The Attachment Project
The Holistic Psychologist
Journey to Wellness Psychology
Moving Parts Psychology
Just kidding, I don’t have a clue about TikTok
My gosh that was long, this even helped me, so I hope it helped you!
Yours in love and healthy relationships,