Your attachment style explains why you act the way you do in relationships. Identifying your attachment style can help guide you toward healthier communication and stronger future relationships. Whether you’re wondering what your attachment style is or how it may impact your relationships, this post can help.
What are the Different Attachment Styles?
There are four attachment styles that people can have:
- Secure attachment
- Anxious attachment
- Avoidant attachment
- Disorganized attachment
Each of these attachment styles describes a pattern of behaviors in relationships. The framework is useful for helping you understand and change problematic behavior.
Attachment styles aren’t set in stone. Instead, they occur on a spectrum and don’t define who you are. Learning your attachment style can help you improve your relationships and your well-being.
The secure attachment style is when you have a healthy approach to relationships. A person with a secure attachment style generally has high self-esteem. They know they are worthy of love and don’t fear rejection or intimacy. They are generally great communicators and willingly trust others.
Adults with a secure attachment style can easily build social networks, bond with others, and are competent in intimate relationships. They understand their own emotional needs and can express them without difficulty.
Anxious or preoccupied attachment is when people feel like they need almost constant reassurance.
People with an anxious attachment style may show behaviors such as:
- Craving intimacy
- Heightened sensitivity to other people’s moods or behavior
- A negative self-view
- Seeking out constant contact or support
- Feeling uncomfortable when alone
- Difficulty setting boundaries
Generally, people with an anxious attachment style can come across as clingy, sensitive, or overbearing. They need confirmation that they are loved.
A person with an anxious attachment style fears losing the intimacy they crave. As such, they constantly take action to try to solidify and secure their connections. This style may look like frequently calling their partner, keeping constant text contact, or making dramatic displays of emotion to pull them in.
At the root of these behaviors is a deeply held insecurity. If you have an anxious attachment style, you may feel you aren’t good enough or worthy of being loved. The fear of abandonment or being alone colors behaviors in this style.
An avoidant attachment style, sometimes called dismissive attachment, is the opposite of an anxious one. People with an avoidant attachment style often crave independence and don’t fear being alone. Intimacy is often difficult for people with this attachment style, and most of their relationships are shallow.
Behaviors characteristic of an avoidant attachment style include:
- Not being willing to discuss emotional topics
- Pushing themselves away when people get too close for comfort
- Leaving relationships when things get too serious
- Difficulty trusting others
- Having trouble communicating emotions
While people with an avoidant attachment style often have high self-esteem, but they struggle to build lasting and meaningful relationships. They may not trust others with their emotions and will often remove themselves from a relationship before things get too serious.
Disorganized attachment, or fearful-avoidant attachment style, is the rarest form of insecure attachment. People with this attachment style show behaviors from anxious and avoidant styles. They may swing from one set of behaviors to another.
People with disorganized attachment have the most difficulty in relationships. Often, disorganized attachment is the result of abuse or trauma in childhood. Their experiences may make them unsure whether anyone can be trusted while simultaneously craving intimacy and security.
How Your Attachment Style Can Impact Your Relationships
An insecure attachment style (anxious, avoidant, or disorganized) can lead to behaviors that push people away. If you find your relationships ending sooner than you’d prefer or lacking true intimacy, the behaviors associated with your attachment style may be the cause.
This issue is complicated further if the person you’re in a relationship with also has an insecure attachment style. A relationship between a person with an anxious attachment style and an avoidant attachment style, for instance, often leads to fights and arguments about the level of intimacy that each person desires in a relationship.
How to Determine Your Attachment Style
Now that you better understand the four attachment types, you may wonder, “What is my attachment style?” Honestly answering some questions can help you answer this question.
Anxious Attachment Questions
These questions can help you determine whether you have an anxious attachment style:
- Do you constantly worry about your relationship?
- Do you feel unloved or unworthy of love?
- Do you crave intimacy and seek it out from romantic partners?
- Do you feel nervous when you haven’t heard from your partner?
- Are you afraid of being alone?
If this sounds like you, you may have an anxious attachment style.
Avoidant Attachment Questions
On the opposite side, these questions gauge an avoidant attachment style:
- Does emotional intimacy make you feel uncomfortable?
- Do you feel like you’re better off alone?
- Do you push people away when things get too serious?
- Do you struggle to put your emotions into words?
- Have your relationships tended to be short or surface-level?
You may have an avoidant attachment style if you answered “yes” to several of these questions.
Secure and Disorganized
Gauging secure or disorganized attachment style relies on the same questions outlined above. If just one, two, or none of the questions above describe you, it’s likely a sign of secure attachment.
But if you agree with several of the questions on both the avoidant and anxious attachment scales, you may be in the disorganized attachment group.
Understanding the Origins of Anxious Attachment
While attachment styles can change over time, for the most part, they begin to form as early as infancy. How your parents treated you as a child lays the foundation for what you expect from others as an adult. In fact, attachment theory was first used to describe infant behavior and was only later found to apply to adults as well.
Anxious attachment stems from parents or caregivers who are inconsistent in their parenting styles. Children depend upon their parents to meet their needs. When those needs sometimes go unmet, it can lead to a feeling of insecurity whenever a need arises.
This inconsistent pattern leads to confusion, frustration, and mixed signals. In response, children develop a pattern of behavior where they constantly seek assurance that someone will meet their needs.
Compulsively seeking reassurance frequently leads to anxious attachment styles as an adult. Someone with this attachment style couldn’t consistently rely on their parents to meet their needs. As a result, they become anxious or fearful that people could remove intimacy at any moment.
In response, people with anxious attachment styles seek validation, affirmations, and assurance that everything is OK. If you have this style, you may lack a baseline of trust or faith in your relationships and feel that you must consistently watch for changes that may lead to intimacy being removed.
How Do I Heal My Anxious Attachment Style? Steps to Take
Understanding your attachment style is just the first step. If you have an anxious attachment style, the next step is learning how to move from a place of insecurity into security. You can break free from problematic behaviors and transition into secure attachment.
Building Self-Awareness and Mindfulness
If you’re asking yourself, “How do I heal my anxious attachment style?” you’ve already started on the first step to meaningful progress. Recognizing the patterns that this attachment style can create and knowing how they affect your everyday life are the first steps toward change.
Self-awareness of unwanted behavior patterns forces you to reconcile your actions with your intent. For example, if you recognize that you have a pattern of constantly checking on your romantic partner via text or phone calls, you can start to unravel why you do this rather than simply doing it automatically.
Mindfulness plays an important role here as well. Mindfulness is recognizing your thoughts and intentions without judgment or action. When you practice mindfulness, you learn to recognize your thoughts as they occur rather than immediately acting on all your impulses.
Taken together, you can recognize when you get the impulse to check up on your partner. You can then ask yourself questions like, “Why do I feel the need to reach out to them? Am I feeling insecure in this relationship? Am I seeking reassurance? Is this a problem with the relationship, or is it a challenge that I need to overcome?”
Don’t be discouraged if you continue to follow anxious patterns at first. The process of change is gradual. You may only notice an unwanted behavior after the fact at first. In time, you’ll learn to recognize these behaviors before you act on them.
Cultivating Secure Attachment
The next step in healing anxious attachment is building a secure attachment pattern. Of course, it’s easier said than done. The hallmarks of secure attachment are self-confidence, ease of emotional intimacy, and recognizing that you are worthy and capable of love.
Cultivating secure attachment means learning to communicate openly, identify your emotions and where they are coming from, and trust your relationship partners not to let you down.
It may be helpful to start by examining your beliefs about relationships and see how they fit with your attachment style. Are your beliefs counterproductive to your relationship goals? If so, you may want to work to change them.
Seeking Support: Therapy and Counseling
Breaking free from anxious attachment requires deep introspection, a willingness to change, and actively altering behaviors. It’s no small task. It’s often difficult to stay on track without the help of a mental health professional.
A therapist can help you identify whether your attachment style is the root of your troubles, provide effective strategies to help you change your behavior, and support you through challenges.
But therapists serve another essential purpose as well. They can provide a sympathetic ear and encourage you when you feel like giving up. Seeking help from a professional is a sign that you’re committed to personal growth and willing to work for it.
Strengthening Emotional Regulation and Self-Care Practices
Many people with an anxious attachment style face two common challenges:
- They struggle with emotional regulation, often overreacting to small issues in their relationships
- They experience a lot of stress in relationships
Learning to regulate your emotions and practicing self-care are two effective strategies to help mitigate these challenges.
One great strategy to help with emotional regulation is starting a mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness isn’t exclusive to meditation, but setting aside time each day or week to practice being mindful can lead to benefits throughout your daily life.
By paying careful attention to your mental state, without distractions or interruptions, you can start to identify the impulse to react before you have an outburst.
If meditation isn’t for you, you can try using attention-shifting strategies. When you feel yourself getting worked up, take a moment to turn to your other senses. What can you see? What can you smell? What do you hear? What can you feel?
By shifting your attention to what you can immediately sense, you get yourself out of your head and into your body. This strategy can result in a calming effect for emotions running out of control.
And finally, self-care is the foundation of living your life in a way conducive to stress relief. Self-care is any practice that feels good and is good for you — things like exercise, reading, spending time with friends, or getting a massage. Setting aside time to take care of yourself can drastically reduce your stress levels and allow you to focus on yourself first.
How to Get Help Healing Your Attachment Style
If you’re committed to healing your attachment style, resources are available to help. From books on attachment styles to seeking treatment with a mental health professional to online courses and support groups — there’s an option for everyone.
If you’re looking to work on your attachment style independently, consider reading the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love.
Written by psychiatrist Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel Heller, M.A., this book contains many resources to help you understand the different attachment styles and how they develop. The book provides a roadmap to working toward a more secure attachment style.
For online support groups and courses, The Attachment Project provides many helpful resources for people looking to heal from an insecure attachment style. From online courses led by therapists to support groups for people with insecure attachment, this website can be a valuable resource for people seeking a more guided approach.
Of course, the best resource likely is working one-on-one with a mental health professional who can guide you through your unique situation. If you’re looking for a therapist, All Counseling can help. Our therapist directory allows you to search the profiles of hundreds of therapists, including those who specialize in treating attachment disorders. Find the help you need at All Counseling today.