What Is Your Attachment Style?

By Dr. Perry, PhD


“What’s love got to do with it?” ~Tina Turner

Humans are born helpless. Unlike other life forms such as insects that are born with fully developed brains and must immediately fend for themselves, we are born totally defenseless. We are unable to walk, talk or feed ourselves. Our cognitive functions are limited and some studies suggest that full brain development does not occur until we are 25 years of age. Further studies suggest some development continues into our thirties. For the very first years of our lives, our survival depends on the bond we create with our primary caretakers.

John Bowlby (1907-1990) was a British psychoanalyst regarded as the father of Attachment theory. Bowlby, an English psychiatrist, became interested in children’s responses to loss and began studying the realms of attachment and bonding between children and their caretakers. Attachment theory is considered one of the most influential theories of the 20th century. Bowlby theorized that we are hardwired to form attachments in order to secure our survival. Childhood behaviors such as crying, smiling and crawling promote contact and evoke attachment behaviors in the parents. By exhibiting these behaviors the child keeps the caregiver nearby and promotes their survival rate.

Psychologist Mary Ainsworth further expanded Bowlby’s attachment theory by conducting some of the most extensive field research into mother-infant interaction. Ainsworth formulated an observational study known as the Strange Situation Technique (SSC). Children were observed and assessed to see how they would respond to the temporary absence of their mothers in order to investigate the nature and different styles of attachment behaviors. A child and caregiver were placed in a playroom with numerous toys and a stranger. At a certain point, the caregiver would leave and the child would be left in the room with the toys and the stranger. As a result of this experiment, Ainsworth defined the following four types of childhood attachment, one secure and three insecure.

Securely attached
Securely attached children explored the playroom environment from the secure base of the mother. If the mother left the room the child would object but once she returned they would re-establish a positive interaction with her. Upon her return, the child would acknowledge their mother by smiling or climbing onto her lap. The child would then resume their play in the presence of their mother who provided the secure base.

Insecurely attached/avoidant
Children who were insecurely attached/avoidant would not be upset when their caregiver left the room and would not make contact upon her return. They usually looked or leaned away when the mother tried to make contact.

Insecurely attached/resistant
Insecurely attached/resistant children would cling to their caregivers and then fight contact. In the strange situation, they anxiously clung to the caregiver, would not explore the playroom and cried loudly when the mother left the room. They would then push the caregiver away upon their return.

Insecurely attached, disorganized
A 4th classification, insecurely attached, disorganized was later identified by Mary Main. These children displayed extreme fear and or confusion, avoidance or resistance in the strange situation.

In the 1980s, the theory was extended to attachment in adults. Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver noticed the similarities between the way children behave with caregivers and the way adults in romantic relationships interact. By comparing how couples interact when in each other’s presence to when separated, they were able to identify behaviors exhibited by children when separated from caregivers.

It appears that our childhood attachment styles have a major impact on the dynamics of our adult romantic relationships. Three main styles of attachment were identified in adults. It is important to note that one may self-identify with one attachment style but this should not be seen as set in stone. We may exhibit more than one attachment style throughout our lives and whatever attachment style we identify with should be viewed without negative implications or stigma.

Adults will feel comforted and happy when the focus of their attachment is present and anxious or lonely when they are absent. How we respond to our anxious feelings when the subject of our attachment is away will dictate the type of attachment style we exhibit in our adult relationships.

The romantic attachment styles are:

1. Secure
An adult with a secure attachment style is like the child who sees the presence of their caregiver as a secure base from which to explore a new playroom. You believe in your romantic partner and with this belief, fully engage in life. You enjoy the intimacy of a relationship without being overly preoccupied with your relationship. Your relationship offers a secure base from which to conquer the world. You truly believe that your partner is dependable and a place of safety. You do not get easily upset about relationship matters and are able to effectively communicate your needs and feelings to your partner. Having this security allows one to have the courage to explore life’s playground knowing that they have someone securely behind them. Research shows that when individuals feel their goals are supported by their significant other they have an increase in self-esteem and report a higher likelihood of achieving their goals.

2. Anxious-preoccupied
You crave intimacy and your romantic relationship consumes most of your emotional energy. You want to be as close as possible to your loved one and are often worried that the feeling is not reciprocated. You are very sensitive to your partner’s moods and take any changes in behavior personally. You are easily upset and tend to act out when you feel disconnected from your romantic partner. You require a lot of security and reassurance in order to feel secure in the relationship.

3. Dismissive-avoidant
You feel a relationship will make you lose your independence and you prefer autonomy in a relationship. You need to maintain your independence in a relationship and too much closeness makes you uncomfortable. You prefer to keep your romantic partner at a distance and are not very open to them. They would describe you as being emotionally distant. You are vigilant and respond assertively when you feel someone is getting too close.

By identifying our attachment style and learning what traits we exhibit in a close relationship we can learn to cope with triggering events in a healthier manner. It is important to note that being dependent on a loved one for emotional support should not be seen as a negative thing. This is not to be equated with pathological co-dependency which can be controlling, destructive and abusive.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful. I would love to hear your thoughts and insight on this topic in the comments below. Please note, this article is meant for educational purposes only. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation to work with me on your mental health please click here.

Kindly,
Dr. Perry


www.MakeItUltraPsychology.com
“We specialize in a solution-focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues and narcissistic abuse.”
Verified by Psychology Today


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58 responses to What Is Your Attachment Style?

  1. My style is definitely avoidant-dismissive in all relationships except with my kids. I know that this stems from a pattern of rejection from family and other loved ones over the years. I developed this attachment style most likely as a coping mechanism. It makes it very challenging for me to ever be vulnerable or intimate with other people.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. Ms. Jynx says:

    It makes sense that not having a good relationship with caregivers growing up leads to difficulting with relationships as an adult. There isn’t a healthy foundation to build from so we do our best to find stability or safety in whatever way we can.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Carmen K. says:

    Upbringing is the strongest factor that determines our attachment style. Unfortunately, I was raised by parents who were never around. As an adult I display all the characteristics of someone who is anxiously attached. I find it very difficult to trust anyone.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Andrew says:

    This post definitely gives me plenty to think about. I’m not sure what my attachment style is but I think I am somewhat anxious in relationships. I am sharing this with my girlfriend right away. I get jealous easy and it feels like I have some answers now. Thank you as always Dr. Perry.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Truth is... says:

    This explains a lot – how the threads of early experiences can weave patterns into our ‘grown up’ lives.
    Your post helps me to recognise infant ‘gaps’, and encourages me to be mindful and not fall into default responses… Thank you!

    Liked by 6 people

  6. That was really eye opening to compare the ways as babies attached to their caretakers and how later on as adults we tend to be in a romantic relationship. Nothing is stagnant in life. So as being with different people in a relationship varies how we attaced. Also even with time it differ, as some moments in one relation we tend to be one type but observing it later on, we can turn into an other type.

    Thanks for sharing 💛

    Liked by 6 people

  7. C M Smile says:

    This is an interesting topic. I relate closely to 3 Dismissive/Avoidant. It stems from my emotions being rejected. When I was a child, we were seen but silent. As an adult, I am still that way. At the same time, I am an empath. I feel deeply but I am unresponsive to them. When a friend cries on my shoulder I will try anything to make them happy again. I guess it’s the “fix” it gene inside me.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Singledust says:

    trust plays a major role in developing a healthy relationship, often loyalty can be confused with integrity, when trust is destroyed it’s difficult to be objective in future situations. thank you for a very enlightening post!

    Liked by 5 people

  9. lynnefisher says:

    I came across this on a bereavment course, but you’ve clarified it for me beautifully – more in depth. I can see why I was very torn between independence and wanting to ‘give in’ to my feelings when I first fell in love with my hubbie to be. There was a real tussle going on inside me which I’m thinking may have something to do with attachment patterns. Very enlightening!

    Liked by 5 people

  10. I would have to say I was most likely an Insecurely attached/avoidant child due to my mother’s mental illness and as a result, I fit the anxious preoccupied model in my adult relationships. I found this connection to be very enlightening. Thank you. ❤

    Liked by 5 people

  11. I wish new mother’s were informed of so very many things, but the importance of attachment is very high on that list. It’s very hard to watch an avoidant, who knows he avoidant, be avoidant but also crave more, but be unable to accept it. Love on those babies parents, they are only young for a short time.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. gohealthy says:

    Quite an interesting correlation between attachments in childhood and romantic relationships! Enjoyed reading this, thankyou! And mine is definitely ‘anxious-preoccupied’. I felt as if you had known me for years when I was reading that!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. EverythingM3 says:

    I’ll have to re-read this multiple times but after two reads I think as a child I was a mix of Insecurely attached/avoidant and Insecurely attached/resistant depending on my mood, which parent and where I was. I’m adopted and my parents have readily admitted I have always had attachment issues. My Mom still says to this day if they put me in a room with men and women I would have gone towards the men. Adult me… dismissive/avoidant through and through.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Jessica says:

    Fascinating read. It illuminates my past relationships and is quite helpful. Thanks Dr. Perry. I love your blog.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. LivelifeIBS says:

    lovely read. i think sometimes your childhood attachments prevent you from being the same as your mother so can be a saving grace for your child. thanks for the food for thought!

    Liked by 3 people

  16. AprilEsutton says:

    I hope this pops up whenever someone googles attachment disorder. We adopted a 14 year old, from a very difficult background. I have been yelling down the hole, telling people that a nice environment just isn’t enough. Kids need their parents, if they are good parents.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I was insecurely attached/avoidant as a child and now have no contact with my parents. I was with my abusive ex for 15 years. I crave love but never expected it. It became a series of almost scientific experiments to see if I could influence change, but I was too afraid to leave until it seemed my life would end either way. All three of the adult styles sound like fairytales to me!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. catch2223 says:

    I still wonder about my attachment style, because I was an only child and played on my own. However, this could have been from reinforcement. I was definitely securely attached to my parents and my mother’s parents. My dad’s parents showed distance and avoidance in their marriage and to their grandchildren. Thank you, Dr. Perry, for this summary, and how attachment style evolves into adult behavior. Your article gave me great insight!

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Selin T. says:

    great explanation of attachment theory. I greatly enjoy the way you right. You take very complicated subject matter and make it easy for everyone to understand. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Hey, Dr. Perry … this piece holds a great deal of significance for me. The applicability of this post to our society / our place and time illuminates some “stuff” that most do not want to look at.

    Liked by 3 people

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