How Attachment Style Affects Your Personal Relationships

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In your life, you’ve met (and perhaps) retained some relationships with other people. It could be familial, platonic, intimate, or between friends.   

And these relationships need not be physical. Virtual relationships—that is, online—exist and are just as valid and real as physical ones. People you’ve played within your favorite online games or internet strangers you’ve butted heads within online forums are just two best examples. Nevertheless, you’ve found yourself in the company of others on countless occasions in your life, and some of them gone as if nothing happened and mattered.   

When you think about what happened? What triggered the fall off? Has there ever been an actual fall-off in the first place? Did you mess up, or did they? Have you said something wrong? You can spend eternity asking these questions to no avail, but perhaps it’s better to look first inside than on the outside. It might be that you have experienced these that you are not aware of.

Trauma and Attachment 

When everyone said ‘experience is the best teacher,’ they were absolutely on point. It is not only because you learn from your teachers, but also because some care for your well-being and those who terrorize and leave you scarred for life. And these ‘scars,’ when left unattended and unprocessed, can make their way up to a person’s emotional core.  

It depends on how your past interactions have gone off that you’ll either carry on with life happily or be burdened with emotional baggage such as attachment trauma. Traumas are emotional and psychological responses from extreme situations caused by personal or vicarious experiences.  

The term may not be exactly new as it often comes up in daily conversations, especially when talking about past experiences. These past experiences can make a person apprehensive about something, leading them to avoid repeating it. Or some cases, make them avoid something without even knowing why.  

As opposed to popular belief, traumatic reactions aren’t always theatrical displays of screaming and crying. The same with panic attacks, reactions can be observed directly or could be hidden behind the person’s actions, dispositions, and decisions.   

Renowned child psychologist John Bowlby introduced attachment theory to provide theoretical and empirical bases about human relationships, especially in attachment. In this theory, Bowlby emphasized how the parent-infant relationship starts with a physical touch that develops thru proximity and familiarity.  

And since infants express themselves differently than adults do, a mere touch and sight of their parents can either relieve them of their stress or leave them in a stressful situation. Symbolically, the availability and proximity of the parents’ familiarity ‘teaches’ the infant whether or not their caregivers can be trusted to stick by them in stressful situations.  

In the past decades, child psychology had exerted some efforts to gain insight into how childhood dynamics affect (or even direct) and how people navigate around their relationships (or a lack thereof). And with the help of Bowlby’s attachment theory, four major attachment styles have been developed, namely Anxious, Avoidant, Disorganized, and Secure.   

To better understand each of them, here’s how attachment style affects your relationships.

  1. Anxious Or Anxious-preoccupied Attachment 

It refers to the type of attachment where a person feels unsettled with the lack of company that they’re always on the edge that it will all of a sudden end. People under this type often extremely value relationships but are always in jitters that their partners (or others involved in it) are not as invested and committed as they are.  

People with this attachment must not be confused with lonely people. Although some qualities overlap, the primary difference between being lonely and having this kind of attachment is that loneliness is felt with or without company (aka lack of belongingness). Anxious-preoccupied people indeed feel belongingness, and they’re anxious that they’re the only ones who feel like they belong. And that they will become alone because of it.  

Anxious-preoccupied people will somehow want to gain control over their friends, partner, and generally the relationship. This sense of control provides comfort that the relationship is ‘safe’ and they’re on top of it, therefore decreasing the chances that it won’t end.  

In addition, people with this kind of style are often in constant need of validation and approval for them to know that their partner feels the same way. Among friends, this could indicate the want of doing things together, or if you think you’re this type of partner, you often find yourself upset that your significant other didn’t say ‘I love you too.’   

  1. Disorganized Or Fearful-avoidant Attachment

There’s no better way to explain this type of attachment than saying ‘Too Good at Goodbyes’ in mind. Nothing screams fearful-avoidant loudly than this phrase does.  

People with this type of attachment are often stuck in relationship limbo, where they keep each other distance, but not too far. Relationships characterized with this kind of attachment frequently experience bouts of frustration, where they feel not ‘loved’ enough despite being constantly told by their partner that they are.  

It can cause dents to the relationships, which may even lead to separation. It reinforces the internal dialogue of fearful-avoidant people that being too emotionally invested will get them hurt, thereby creating a catch-22 situation of detachment and attachment.   

Also, fearful-avoidant people may find themselves in constant regret when they feel like they’ve overdone something. Overdoing means showing too much affection, being more involved than intended, and the list goes on.

  1. Dismissive-avoidant Attachment

This kind of attachment is the counterintuitive one. Dismissive-avoidant people’s attachment patterns revolve around detachment. Simply these people perceive themselves as independent, thus the lack of need for interpersonal relationships.  

Dismissive-avoidant people often regard themselves as someone who can stand by their own and take pride in it. More aptly, dismissive-avoidant attachment is characterized by an emotional detachment and the ease of ‘shutting off’ any emotional reservations non-dismissive people have.  

It means that dismissive-avoidant people are seemingly apathetic over the consequences of being in a relationship. For instance, when altercations happen within the relationship, some would try to mend the problem to avoid a break-up, but dismissive-avoidant people would most likely say ‘have it your way’.  

In contrast, these people can still manage to make and maintain relationships. It’s just that the typical emotional investment is little to non-existent. Although, it’s believed that this independence is one of the defense mechanisms to avoid stressful situations.   

  1. Secure Attachment

Among the four attachment styles, the first three are known to be the ‘insecure’ attachment styles. People under the first three often exhibit a degree of psychological defense, shielding them from a prior negative experience or trauma. On the other hand, people with the secure attachment style lack this insecurity.  

It doesn’t mean that secured people use no defense mechanisms at all. If anything, everyone uses defense mechanisms regularly, but in the context of interpersonal relationships, secured people are more comfortable with being vulnerable—one of the primary reasons why people use defense mechanisms in the first place.   

Furthermore, relationships of secured people flourish on honesty, vulnerability, and co-existence. These people are comfortable appearing weak and letting their partners or friends help them when needed.   

Also, secured people don’t attempt to gain control over the relationship; therefore, all involved can ‘freely move’ and be themselves. The virtue of interpersonal relationships indicates the acknowledgment and genuine acceptance that humans have individual identities that should at all times be respected, especially in the context of personal relationships.   

Attachment Styles: Which One Is The Best?

It’s understandable that after reading the four attachment styles, you can ask yourself, which one should you adopt? Well, the answer to this is none.  

No attachment style is better than the other, and definitely, no rank among the styles. Generally, the attachment styles offer insight on the ‘whys’ instead of the ‘should’s’, in terms of personal relationships. It’s because having personal relationships is a universal, neutral, and natural phenomenon. In addition, many people may prefer secured attachment over the three (which is a perfectly justifiable statement); however, secured attachment isn’t perfect. Theoretically speaking, all four types are byproducts of the parent-child relationship, which doesn’t make anyone more or less preferable or desirable.  

That said, people no matter which style you, your friend, or your partner have, identifying one’s bias and mistakes and owning up to them is another extremely important thing to do to make any personal relationship work. On a side note, check out this post to know more about keeping a healthy relationship with your partner. Having a secure attachment style doesn’t guarantee this emotional and psychological maturity, and conversely having one of the three insecure attachments doesn’t equate to being toxic in a relationship.   

More importantly, irrespective of the attachment style, people must learn how to understand and acknowledge their shortcomings for them to help others and ultimately help themselves. The human psyche is not monolithic; therefore, personal relationships must not be judged solely from a person’s attachment styles.