How Do Attachment Styles Affect Adult Relationships?

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What Is Attachment?

Attachment, or the attachment bond, is the emotional relationship you developed with your primary caregiver as a newborn, most often your mother. According to attachment theory, which was developed by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, the quality of the bonding you had in your first relationship frequently impacts how well you relate to others and respond to intimacy throughout your lifetime.

If your primary caregiver made you feel safe and understood as a newborn, if they responded to your cries and appropriately interpreted your evolving physical and emotional requirements, then you likely built a stable connection. As an adult, this often translates to self-assurance, trust, and optimism, as well as the capacity to handle conflict, respond to intimacy, and negotiate the ups and downs of love relationships.

If you encountered confused, scary, or inconsistent emotional communication during infancy, and if your caregiver was unable to consistently soothe you or respond to your needs, it is more probable that you experienced a failed or insecure attachment. Infants with insecure attachments frequently develop into adults who struggle to comprehend their own emotions and the emotions of others, reducing their capacity to form or sustain solid relationships. They may have difficulty connecting with people, avoid intimacy, or be overly possessive, afraid, or worried in relationships.

Obviously, events that occur between childhood and maturity may also influence and form our relationships. However, because the attachment link has such a powerful effect on the newborn brain, understanding your attachment type can provide crucial insight into why you may be experiencing difficulties in your adult relationships. Perhaps you exhibit perplexing or self-destructive behavior in intimate relationships. Perhaps you make the same mistakes over and over again. Or perhaps you struggle to establish meaningful relationships in the first place.

Regardless of your individual relationship issues, it is essential to understand that the brain is capable of change throughout life. By defining your attachment type, you may learn to confront your concerns, cultivate a more securely connected way of connecting to others, and establish stronger, healthier, and more satisfying relationships.

Attachment Styles And How They Shape Adult Relationships

Attachment styles or kinds are distinguished by the conduct displayed inside a relationship, particularly when that bond is endangered. A person with a secure attachment style, for instance, may be able to express their emotions openly and seek help when relationship issues arise. Those with insecure attachment patterns, on the other hand, may become needy or possessive in their closest relationships, act selfishly or manipulatively when feeling vulnerable, or just avoid contact.

Understanding how your attachment style impacts and molds your intimate relationships may help you understand your own behavior, how you see your partner, and how you respond to intimacy. Identifying these patterns might help you determine what you need in a relationship and the most effective means of resolving issues.

Despite the fact that attachment patterns are mostly created by the infant-primary caregiver relationship, particularly during the first year, it is crucial to emphasize that the strength of an infant’s attachment is not exclusively dependent on parental affection or the quality of care. Attachment is rather based on the nonverbal emotional exchange between caregiver and newborn.

A baby expresses its emotions through nonverbal cues such as crying, cooing, and, later, pointing and smiling. In response, the caregiver reads and interprets these signs in order to meet the child’s needs for food, comfort, and affection. When this nonverbal communication is effective, a connection is formed.

Attachment success is unaffected by socioeconomic criteria like money, education, ethnicity, and culture. Having an insecure attachment style as an adult is not a cause to blame your parents for all of your relationship troubles. Your personality and experiences during your infancy, youth, and adulthood might also influence your attachment type.

Types Of Attachment

In addition to classifying attachment as secure or insecure, there are subgroups of insecure attachment that result in four primary attachment patterns.

  • Secure attachment
  • Ambivalent (or anxious-preoccupied) attachment
  • Avoidant-dismissive attachment
  • Disorganized attachment

What a Secure Attachment Style Looks Like

People with secure attachments are more likely to feel comfortable, stable, and fulfilled in their intimate relationships because they are empathetic and able to set appropriate limits. Although they have no fear of being alone, they thrive in intimate, meaningful partnerships.

How Secure Attachment Style Affects Adult Relationships

Having a stable attachment style does not imply perfection or the absence of relationship issues. However, you likely feel comfortable enough to accept responsibility for your own errors and failures and are prepared to seek assistance and support when necessary.

  • You recognize your own value and are able to be yourself in close relationships. You are at ease expressing your emotions, aspirations, and requirements.
  • You enjoy the company of others and seek your partner’s support and solace openly, but do not experience excessive anxiety while the two of you are away.
  • You are equally pleased that your spouse relies on you for help.
  • You are able to maintain emotional equilibrium and pursue healthy dispute-resolution strategies in intimate relationships.
  • You are resilient enough to recover from disappointment, disappointments, and tragedy in your relationships and other aspects of your life.

Primary Caregiver Relationship

As an individual with a secure attachment style, it is probable that your primary caregiver was able to remain involved with you as a baby, successfully manage their own stress, and comfort you when you were disturbed. Your neurological system was able to become “securely linked” because they made you feel safe and secure, communicated via emotion, and consistently reacted to your changing needs.

Obviously, no parent or caregiver is flawless, nor can anybody be entirely present and attentive to a child 24 hours a day. In truth, that is not required for a youngster to develop a solid relationship. However, when your caregiver missed your nonverbal indications, it is probable that they continued to attempt to determine what you required, therefore maintaining the safe attachment process.

The solid foundation of a stable attachment connection allowed you, as a youngster, to be self-assured, trustworthy, optimistic, and at ease with conflict.

Ambivalent Or Anxious-preoccupied Attachment Style

Individuals with an ambivalent attachment style (also known as “anxious-preoccupied,” “ambivalent-anxious,” or simply “anxious attachment”) are typically highly needy. As the labels imply, individuals with this attachment type are frequently worried, unsure, and lacking self-esteem. They desire emotional contact yet fear that others are not interested in being with them.

How Ambivalent Attachment Style Affects Adult Relationships

If you have an ambivalent or anxious-preoccupied attachment style, you may feel embarrassed by your desire for continual affection and attention or your tendency to cling excessively. Or, you may feel worn down by anxiety and fear of your partner’s affection.

  • You want to be in a relationship and seek sensations of closeness and intimacy with a significant other, yet you have difficulty trusting or relying on your partner completely.
  • Being in an intimate relationship tends to consume one’s life, as one becomes excessively preoccupied with the other person.
  • You may find it difficult to follow limits, perceiving the space between you and your spouse as a danger that might induce panic, rage, or the sense that your lover no longer desires you.
  • Your sense of self-worth heavily depends on how you believe you are being treated in the relationship, and you tend to overreact to perceived threats to the partnership.
  • You may use guilt, controlling conduct, and other manipulative methods to keep your lover close.
  • You require regular reassurance and a great deal of care from your partner.
  • Others may criticize you for being overly dependent or possessive, and you may find it difficult to establish intimate connections.

Primary Caregiver Relationship

It is possible that your parent or primary caregiver had an inconsistent parenting style, sometimes being attentive and responsive to your needs as an infant and at other times being inaccessible or preoccupied. This inconsistency may have left you feeling uncomfortable and unclear about whether your needs in this “first” relationship would be addressed, and as a result, it may have influenced your conduct in subsequent relationships.

Avoidant-dismissive Attachment Style

Adults with an avoidant-dismissive insecure attachment style are the antithesis of ambivalent or anxious-preoccupied individuals. Instead of desiring closeness, they are scared of it and want to prevent emotional connection with people. They would prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on them.

How Avoidant Attachment Style Affects Adult Relationships?

As someone with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style, emotional connection is typically difficult for you to bear. You cherish independence and freedom to the point that intimacy and closeness in a romantic relationship might make you feel uncomfortable or even restricted.

  • You are an independent individual who is pleased to care for yourself and has no need for others.
  • The closer someone attempts to get to you or the needier a relationship becomes, the more you tend to pull away.
  • You are uncomfortable with your emotions, and your partners frequently accuse you of being emotionally aloof, inflexible, and intolerant. In response, you accuse them of being overly dependent.
  • To reclaim your sense of independence, you may belittle or dismiss your partner’s sentiments, conceal secrets from them, indulge in affairs, or even abandon relationships.
  • You may favor ephemeral, casual relationships over long-term, close ones, or you may seek out emotionally distant individuals who are as autonomous.
  • While you may believe you have no need for deep connections or intimacy, the reality is that we all do. Humans are designed for connection, and even someone with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style desires a close, meaningful relationship if only they could overcome their irrational fears of closeness.

Primary Caregiver Relationship

Infants with an avoidant-rejecting attachment style frequently had parents who were inaccessible or unresponsive. Since your needs were never satisfied consistently or reliably by your caretaker, you were forced to emotionally withdraw and attempt to comfort yourself. This fostered an aversion to connection and a desire for independence in later life, despite the fact that independence and lack of intimacy can create their own suffering.

Disorganized/Disoriented Attachment Style

Disorganized/disoriented attachment, also known as fearful-avoidant attachment, is typically the outcome of childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse and arises from overwhelming dread. Adults with this insecure attachment type tend to believe that they do not deserve affection or intimacy in a relationship.

How disorganized attachment style affects adult relationships?

If you have a disorganized/disoriented attachment style, it’s probable that you’ve never learned to self-soothe your emotions; thus, relationships and the world might feel terrifying and unsafe to you. If you were abused as a child, you might attempt to recreate abusive behavior patterns as an adult.

  • Probably, you find personal relationships perplexing and unpleasant since you frequently swing between extremes of love and hatred for a spouse.
  • You may be oblivious to your partner’s feelings, greedy, possessive, and untrusting, which can result in explosive or even abusive behavior. And you may be equally harsh with yourself as you are with others.
  • You may display antisocial or bad patterns of behavior, abuse alcohol or drugs, and be prone to anger or violence.
  • Others may get despondent if you do not accept responsibility for your actions.
  • While you desire the protection and safety of an intimate, meaningful relationship, you yet feel unworthy of love and scared of being harmed again.
  • Your upbringing may have been influenced by maltreatment, neglect, or trauma.

Primary Caregiver Relationship

If your main caregiver was also coping with unresolved trauma, this might result in the acute terror associated with a disorganized/disoriented attachment style. Frequently, the parent served as both a source of terror and comfort for you as a newborn, sparking the uncertainty and disorientation you now experience toward relationships. In other instances, your parental figure may have ignored or disregarded your needs as a baby, or their unpredictable, chaotic conduct may have been terrifying or traumatic for you.

Causes Of Insecure Attachment

Even a caring, attentive parent may not be effective in establishing a stable attachment relationship with a newborn for a variety of reasons. Possible causes of your attachment anxiety include:

  • Having a mother who is young or inexperienced and lacks the required parenting abilities.
  • Your caregiver suffered depression as a result of, for example, social isolation, a lack of social support, or hormone issues, causing them to withdraw from their caring position.
  • Your primary caregiver’s inability to effectively read or respond to your physical or emotional needs was hampered by their alcohol or drug dependence.
  • The disruption of the attachment process by traumatic events, such as a major sickness or accident.
  • Physical neglect, including inadequate diet, lack of exercise, and disregard for medical concerns.
  • Emotional abuse or neglect. As a youngster, your caregiver may have paid you little attention, made little attempt to comprehend your emotions, or verbally abused you.
  • Abuse of the body or genitalia, including physical damage or violation.
  • Due to sickness, death, divorce, adoption, or separation from the primary caregiver.
  • Variability in the main caregiver You have, for instance, had a series of nannies or childcare center employees.
  • Frequent movements or placements. For instance, if you spent your formative years in orphanages or foster homes, your surroundings were continuously altered.

Getting Help For Insecure Attachment

If you detect an insecure attachment style in yourself or in your love partner, it is essential to understand that you do not have to consign yourselves to enduring the same attitudes, expectations, or patterns of behavior for the rest of your lives. As an adult, it is possible to alter and create a more stable attachment type.

Whether working one-on-one with a therapist or with your existing spouse in couples therapy, therapy may be quite beneficial. Individually or as a couple, a therapist with expertise in attachment theory can help you make sense of your prior emotional experiences and become more comfortable.

There are several things you may do on your own to develop a more secure attachment style if you do not have access to suitable counseling. Start by learning as much as you can about your insecure attachment type. The more you comprehend, the better you will be able to identify and address the reflexive attitudes and actions of insecure attachment that may be contributing to your relationship difficulties.

The following suggestions might also assist you in making the shift to a more secure attachment style:

  1. Improve Your Nonverbal Communication Skills

One of the most essential conclusions from attachment theory is that adult relationships, like the initial bond you have with your main caregiver, rely on nonverbal forms of communication for their effectiveness.

Even if you are unaware of it, when you engage with others, you constantly send and receive nonverbal cues through gestures, posture, the amount of eye contact you make, etc. These nonverbal clues convey powerful messages about your true emotions.

Improving your ability to read, understand, and communicate nonverbally may strengthen and deepen your connections with others at any age. You may learn to strengthen these talents by being present in the moment, mastering stress management, and cultivating emotional awareness.

  1. Boost Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient or EQ, is the capacity to understand, utilize, and control one’s own emotions in a constructive manner in order to empathize with one’s partner, communicate more effectively, and resolve conflict in a healthier manner.

In addition to enhancing your ability to interpret and use nonverbal communication, developing emotional intelligence may boost love relationships. By knowing your emotions and how to regulate them, you will be better able to communicate your wants and sentiments to your partner, as well as comprehend how he or she is truly experiencing.

  1. Develop Relationships With People Who Are Securely Attached

Being in a relationship with someone who likewise has an insecure attachment style can result in a union that is, at best, discordant and, at worst, traumatic. You can work over your anxieties as a pair, but if you’re single, it might be helpful to find a partner with a safe attachment type who can assist shift you away from negative thoughts and behavior patterns.

A solid, supportive relationship with someone who makes you feel loved can significantly contribute to the development of your sense of security. There is a significant possibility of finding a love partner who can assist you in overcoming your concerns since research indicates that 50 to 60 percent of people have a secure attachment type. Developing deep ties with these folks can also assist you in recognizing and adopting new behavioral patterns.

  1. Resolve Any Childhood Trauma

As mentioned previously, trauma experienced as a baby or young kid can disrupt the connection and bonding process. Childhood trauma can be caused by anything that threatens a child’s feeling of safety, including an unsafe or insecure home environment, separation from the primary caregiver, significant sickness, neglect, or abuse. If childhood trauma is not handled, emotions of uncertainty, dread, and powerlessness can persist into adulthood.

Even if your trauma occurred many years ago, you might take measures to overcome the suffering, recover your emotional equilibrium, and learn to trust and connect with others once more.