What your attachment style says about you


We are wired to connect with others.  We thrive when we have secure relationships, people we can depend on, trust, and turn to in times of trouble.  Ironically, though we are wired to connect with others, it is not always easy for us to do so.  Relationships are hard.  We get triggered by others.  We may feel overly sensitive to another’s moods and shut down.  We may close ourselves off because we fear rejection and this may ultimately cause us to be rejected.  We may exaggerate our needs to get another’s attention and worry that if we don’t put in 110%, a relationship will fail, but even with that effort, the relationship fails anyway.  Attachment theory offers us an understanding of why we often struggle in friendships and relationships. 


How can our attachment style explain the difficulties we often encounter?  John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, defined an attachment bond as a relationship that provides a safe haven in times of distress and a secure base from which to explore the environment.  The first attachment bond we have is usually with a caregiver.  If that caregiver is responsive to our needs and available in times of trouble, we learn that we can trust our caregiver to be there in the future.  We feel secure in our attachment bond.  But, if that caregiver misinterprets our needs or is often unavailable to us, we learn that we can’t trust that our caregiver will be there if we need them.  We come to feel insecure in our attachment bond.  According to Bowlby, with repeated interactions of the same kind, we develop paradigms, or ways of understanding relationships overall. 

 Attachment security and insecurity are on a continuum.  We may sometimes feel secure in our relationships and we can sometimes feel insecure.  Some people bring out the best in us and others may bring out our worst insecurities. 

What can attachment security look like in an adult?

 If we are in a secure state of mind, we feel free to grow and learn.  It is easier for us to regulate our emotions.  For instance, we are more comfortable with feeling angry or feeling sad or even feeling happy or proud.  We’ve been allowed to feel all of our emotions and we've been helped with their management.  Emotional regulation is not innate; it is learned and if we are securely attached, we’ve been taught how to do so.  In addition, it is easier for us to be objective when we interact with others and to forgive and move through conflict.  We also tend to have higher self-esteem. 


What can attachment insecurity look like in an adult?

 Attachment insecurity can take two forms:  dismissing or preoccupied. 

Dismissing:  If we are in a dismissing state of mind, we are reminded of our previous rejections. We try to shut down what we’re feeling because we may find our feelings overwhelming.  We often have trouble remembering things in our past because it is painful to do so and we may become overwhelmed when we think of those times.  We can have trouble regulating our emotions.  Sometimes, we've had to function on our own from a very young age.  We are very used to being independent, but have a dilemma because of this.  It is lonely to always go it alone, but it is also scary to let others in.  We’ve learned that we can’t rely on anyone but ourselves.  We may push people away even though what we want most in life is to connect. 

Preoccupied:  If we are in a preoccupied state of mind, we often feel overwhelmed and confused by our emotions.  We may have had a caregiver who was more like a friend or even who acted like a child and failed to set boundaries for us and because of this, we struggle to set our own boundaries.  We may have felt received conflicting messages and come to recognize that relationships are uncertain and therefore, we need to put all our effort in to make sure to hold on to any relationship.  We can find it scary to function on our own and believe wholeheartedly that we can’t survive without others.  We feel dependent and sometimes drive people away with our overly dependent behavior.  Again, what we crave more than anything is to be close to someone, but others may find us overwhelming because we can come on very strong. 



Though our attachment patterns are formed through our early experiences, attachment styles are not fixed.  They can and do change.  Adaptive regulating of emotions is a learned skill.  It is not innate for anyone.  Therefore, we can unlearn old ways of being and learn newer and healthier ways of feeling.  Many times, all it takes is having just one positive relational experience which can alter how we are in relationships in general.  We may go from expecting the worst to expecting and getting the best.  In sum, we are all capable of having what we deserve: deep, meaningful, and fulfilling relationships. 


1.     Be open to the idea that change can happen.  Allow yourself to experience something different to what you’ve had in the past.  Put yourself in new situations.  Force yourself out of your comfort zone.  Just shifting your expectations and opening your mind to other possibilities can enable you to have a different experience altogether. 

2.     Invest in relationships.  Loneliness can be devastating and relationships are often an antidote to this loneliness.  However, healthy relationships take work.  They aren’t a given.  A commitment to working on our own attachment patterns involves effort on our part, an effort to invest in worthwhile relationships.

3.     Invest in yourself.  Creating change in how we relate to others involves investing in our selves.  We must treat ourselves with compassion.  Only when we are compassionate with ourselves can we be compassionate to others.