By: YOUnique Counselor, Misty Vogel, MA, NCC
Early attachment experiences form self-identity, wire the limbic brain, create core beliefs, and lead to our ability to be trusting, caring, empathic, and genuine. Attachment styles developed in childhood are repeated in adult romantic relationships, affecting our capacity to create and maintain closeness, trust, stability, and love. People often recreate abusive, neglectful and chaotic childhood relationships with their adult partners.
Understanding attachment sheds light on the nature of close relationships, and on how to enhance healthy adjustment throughout life. Children and adults with secure and loving relationships are healthier and happier in all ways – mental, emotional, social, physical and spiritual.
What is an attachment style?
Attachment styles are developed as a result of repetitive interpersonal interactions with primary caregivers as children. These early connections with significant others result in the formation of trust, or distrust. A caregiver who meets our needs provides the emotional blueprint for what to expect going forward in life. Over time, we develop what is called an internal working model – our sense of self and core belief system. As adults, we interact from this perspective, creating a “dance” of emotions, motivations and expectations.
Four main attachment styles have been identified in adults:
Those of us with a secure attachment style tend to value relationships and are capable to interact in non-defensive ways. These individuals tend to have little to no anxiety or fear when intimate partners are not readily available, as they trust they will be there when needed.
The predominant theme of this attachment style is a fear of losing the relationship. It appears quite desperate, or preoccupied. This style tends to develop in children whose caregivers were inconsistently available or unpredictable – often seen in abusive or neglectful environments. The result is an adult who is unable to regulate his or her emotions and exhibits high levels of worry about the relationship and extreme dependence on the intimate partner.
This style is often marked by an adult’s inability to connect to an intimate partner. It is expressed as detachment or avoidance of emotional closeness. There may be great value placed on appearing self-sufficient since, as a child, these individuals learned that expressing vulnerability was not tolerated by the caregiver. Typically, the caregiver is unavailable emotionally.
Fearfully attached adults will typically exhibit a wide variety of behaviors, with some combination of both avoidant and anxious emotion. People with major losses or sexual abuse in childhood often develop this type of attachment given they are afraid of emotional closeness AND distance.
The handful of studies measuring attachment styles in the national population all seem to agree that approximately 60% of the U.S. population are securely attached. Hence, the other 40% fall in to one of the three insecure attachment styles.
The GOOD news!
Attachment is not fixed! Instead, it is fluid and can be healed at any time in a person’s life. To heal, first you must identify your attachment style. Next, seek out a professional counselor or psychologist familiar with attachment and who is skilled at assisting in the development of secure attachment. This work can be done on an individual basis or as a couple. (Entering the therapeutic relationship as a couple can be intimidating and overwhelming, yet quite powerful.) Finally, break free from the old belief system and become open to the happiness, love and connection you deserve.