Attachment refers to the nonverbal way we have been conditioned to connect and interact with those around us. Theorized by British psychoanalyst, John Bowlby (1907-1990), his belief was infants would go to great lengths (i.e., crying, screaming, clinging) to reestablish proximity to a caregiver following separation and to prevent it. He proved this through many observations and experiments. Though you may not be aware, your first attachment style was formed in early childhood. During this time, your primary caregiver played a central role in how you processed and responded to care, love, and attention. These patterns and habits stay with you as you mature and spill over into adulthood. They affect how you react in intimate relationships, interact with friends and how you parent your children. This idea of a “cradle to grave” behavior system was highlighted within Bowlby’s work.
This article will break down four attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant-dismissive, and avoidant-fearful, as covered in Bowlby’s theory. The purpose of this article is not only to inform you of the behavioral patterns we all carry, but also to empower you to further research this topic comprehensively. You may be wondering why this is even important. Knowing and understanding your attachment style, as well as your partner’s, offers you insight into how you felt and developed in your childhood. It also clarifies ways that you are emotionally limited as an adult and what you need to change to improve your close relationships and overall outlook on life. There’s power in the ability to pinpoint exactly what’s going on and address it directly. But first, we have to make sure we have the language to articulate what we’re experiencing.
Secure Attachment Style
This attachment style is the most ideal of all types. Within a secure attachment bond, a child is ensured a feeling of security from acts of nonverbal support, love, and care. These acts reassure the child enough to experience the optimal development of his or her nervous system. A child’s developing brain organizes itself to provide the best foundation for life and survival, doing whatever is necessary to ensure that feeling of safety stays with them—healthy bonding results in an eagerness to learn, healthy self-awareness, trust, and empathy. As adults, their secure inner children trust more easily, exhibit more emotional intelligence, find joy in interactions without the fear of rejection, and often practice a balanced and healthy ego. Adults with a secure attachment style are also more likely to find secure partners. This makes a partnership much more comfortable to navigate as both approach the relationship in a manner of problem-solving and receptiveness.
Beliefs within a Secure Attachment Style:
-I am enough
-My relationships fulfill my emotional needs
-I believe in myself
-I do my best and that’s enough
-My relationships reflect the high value I hold with myself
“I AM LOVED FULLY FOR WHO I AM. MY RELATIONSHIPS ARE ABUNDANT & MY LOVE IS INFINITE.”
Insecure Attachment Styles
Within an insecure attachment bond, the primary caregiver cannot ensure the child a feeling of security from acts of nonverbal support, love and care. This intentional/unintentional neglect can inhibit emotional, mental, and even physical development, leading to difficulties in learning and forming relationships in adulthood. The three insecure attachment styles are defined as anxious, avoidant-dismissive, and avoidant-fearful behavioral patterns.
Anxious Attachment Style
Adults with anxious inner children find trusting others can be very difficult. They were often left to believe they were disposable, and it’s created a fear-based mentality around intimacy and connection. Adults with an anxious attachment style struggle to effectively communicate needs to others, often overthink in what should be enjoyable situations over the fear of judgment, strive for perfection, and often feel inadequate. These pessimistic opinions spill over into a cycle of rocky friendships and relationships.
Beliefs within an anxious attachment style:
- I need to protect myself
- I have to be perfect to be loved
- I need external validation, but i don’t believe it
- Everything is my fault
- My value is based on what I can provide
- My needs are not always met, and that affects me
“I AM ENOUGH SIMPLY BECAUSE I EXIST. MY AUTHENTICITY IS TRANSFORMATIVE. I ACCEPT AND HONOR KINDNESS, LOVE, TOGETHERNESS, AND EMPATHY.”
Avoidant-Dismissive Attachment Style
Adults with avoidant-dismissive inner children do not trust others and find difficulty developing it within relationships. These children were often neglected and dismissed when expressing a need for support, empathy or care, leading them to downplay the importance of their own need for connection in adulthood. These repressed emotions spill into adulthood as passive aggression and suppressed anger. Adults with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style are extremely self-reliant, despite a deep need for external validation. They often display a “savior complex” in relationships as a means to establish control and value. Though they can appear to be clingy and needy, they are desperate to be loved and supported. This often draws them to partners who are emotionally unavailable and unwilling to fulfill their needs.
Beliefs within an avoidant-dismissive attachment style:
-I have to beg for love
-My voice doesn’t matter
-I am invisible and alone
-I get what i can, not what i want
-I have to settle
-I am the exception to the rule
-My needs are not worth acknowledging
“LOVE IS OWED TO ME. MY EMOTIONAL NEEDS ARE VALUABLE. MY VOICE WILL BE HEARD. I WILL NOT TOLERATE NEGLECT.”
Avoidant-Fearful Attachment Style
Like the avoidant-dismissive attachment style, adults with avoidant-fearful inner children do not trust others and find difficulty developing it within relationships. However, in addition to being neglected and dismissed, these children were also often met with expressions of anger, judgement and shame when expressing a need for support, empathy, or care. This leads them to also downplay, or even fully ignore the importance of their own need for connection in adulthood. These repressed emotions spill into adulthood as passive aggression and suppressed anger, and generally overall neglect in one’s emotional well-being and identity. As a result of low self-esteem, adults with an avoidant-fearful attachment style are more codependent in relationships than avoidant-dismissive adults. They often behave in a way that is withdrawn, indifferent, or preoccupied due to relationship anxiety. These adults struggle with making friends, asking for support, and seeking and enjoying moments of connection for fear of future rejection. These individuals function on a survival “fight, flight or freeze” mentality regarding social interactions. Because they often find more comfort in their trauma, they often gravitate to partners who are unavailable, and even emotionally abusive.
Beliefs within an avoidant-fearful attachment style:
-I am not worthy of love
-My voice needs to be silenced to be accepted
-I am invisible and unnecessary
-I can’t get what i want in relationships
-I have to settle because i don’t create my options
-They always leave me
-No one wants me
“I REFUSE TO BE MISHANDLED. OTHERS’ CARELESSNESS does NOT define MY VALUE. MY LIGHT IS BRIGHTER THAN MY PAIN. I AM LOVE.”
The way we were bonded to our caregivers in childhood directly affects how we connect and respond to others. However, we are all able to achieve a secure attachment style. The only way to do this is to first, understand what our initial attachment style is, what beliefs we hold, which need to be changed and implement the necessary lifestyle and social boundaries to exert the power you have. You deserve to be loved, cared for and supported in the way you deserved and needed as a child - even if that means having to fill in the gaps for where our caregivers fell short.
Courtney "Coco" Thornton is from Richmond, VA. Though she is only 25, she likes to consider herself a bit of an "old soul". Nothing makes her feel quite at peace like a good book, a bundle of sage, and a cup of tea. Her writing usually reflects her experiences of trauma, love, self-growth, mental health, and healing. She hopes to speak her truth while inspiring you to be courageous and vulnerable. If you enjoy her writing, let her know on Instagram, @orangeucoco.