An Overview of Attachment Styles in Relationships

Think about the first person you text when something happens – from landing that promotion at work to getting a bad review. That person is probably your primary attachment figure.

The way you relate – or attach – to them says a lot about your views on yourself, the world, and people around you. No surprise here, since we are wired for connection.

Being able to identify your attachment style can provide insights on how to improve your relationships and also areas that need a bit of work.

What is an attachment system?

When I first learned about attachment systems in adults, it helped me to visualize a lighthouse: it is there to serve as a reference point, a way to keep sailors oriented as to how to navigate, what to avoid, and gauge distance.

What is an attachment system if not our brains’ ways of keeping us safe while we set off to navigate life and explore the unknown?

In the same way that sailors have routes and set off to discover the wild seas, but keep checking in with a secure base as to not get lost, so do we need that kind of relationship – one that we know will be there and available to us.

In our romantic relationships, this “internal” lighthouse doesn’t need to be constantly lit up for daily navigation – it merely needs to be there and shine its lights in case of emergency.

Working Models & Attachment Styles

Psychologists call those “activating strategies”. The tricky bit is that sometimes that lighting circuit goes wonky, and our attachment system behaves in unhealthy ways, activating or failing to do so out of sync with the stimuli.

How our attachment systems respond to relationships depends on our internal working models. Each one of us has a working model of how to attach to people and it’s based on our views of ourselves and others.

When we have a positive view of ourselves and others, we’ll attach, behave and think more positively in our relationships. We will be securely attached, as a result of our beliefs of self-worth and lovability. Securely attached people also see people around them as worthy of trust and generally reliable.

Anxious & Preoccupied

A negative view of self added to a positive one of others results in something else entirely. The thinking goes somewhat like: ‘I am not quite worthy of being loved and cherished, but I still trust people to be there for me. So, let me cling to them for dear life.’

When that happens, we keep seeking proximity, validation and reassurance from our attachment figure, because we perceive certain things as threats, which are often imaginary.

Dismissive & Avoidant

When we see ourselves positively and worthy of love, but struggle to see others as capable of meeting our needs, we develop yet another attachment style.

I bet you know the type: the “I am too good for the world” person? They are easy to spot: distant, being reluctant to become close and commitment-phobia are frequent behaviors.

Fearful & Avoidant

It can be pretty detrimental when the struggle reaches both dimensions: poor views of self and others can wreak havoc in behavior and impact relationships negatively.

It is particularly challenging since these people are eager for connection, but don’t really know how to handle it when it happens. Therefore, they may cling and seek attention, but shut down, become aloof and struggle with intimacy in the face of it, all at once.

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In upcoming articles, we will investigate how the different attachment styles in adults translate in our behavior and decision-making when choosing a partner.

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