Attachment Styles: How Do You Attach To Others?

Attachment Styles: How Do You Attach To Others?

We’ve explored the nature of codependency and how it can slowly ruin a relationship. You get into a relationship and things seem so amazing when the “love high” is going on.

However, at some point the relationship takes on some patterns that are not so healthy. You, or both of you, start displaying dependent behavior.

Clinginess. Neediness. Anxiety.

Just how do people end up practicing such dependent behavior? What are the roots of our codependent tendencies? Why do we give up our freedom and control in exchange for safety and submission?

To some extent, we’ve already explored this issue, but this time, we’re going to dive deeper into the topic further We want to better understand why codependency seems to characterize our relationships.

What kind of attachment do you have?

Every relationship is different, but some relationship experts have come up with three ways in which people “attach” in a relationship.  It is called the attachment theory.

It was John Bowlby who first began studying attachment theory, defining attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”  He believed that the attachments formed early in life had a significant impact throughout the rest of life.  If a secure attachment is made early, the child will have a better sense of security as he ages and if not, an insecurity will most likely develop.

It was Mary Ainsworth that took Bowlby’s research and expounded upon it in the 70’s and formed the three styles of attachment I will discuss here:

  • Secure
  • Ambivalent-insecure
  • Avoidant-insecure attachment

The stats on this according the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology assert that 20% of people fall in the anxious camp, 25% fall into the avoidant camp, and everyone else (55%) rests in the secure camp.

Journey with me to see where you stand. 

Anxious Attachment

Those with an anxious attachment style most likely did not receive adequate maternal care as children. They became distressed when the primary caregiver would leave because they did not think he or she was coming back. Many emotional needs went unmet due to absence or the caregivers own emotional, mental, or physical distress. Basically, home life was quite dysfunctional and as a result an extreme sense of insecurity formed within the child.

Even homes that may just be slightly dysfunctional can still produce anxious attachments.  Maybe Mom suffered from major depression and though she cared for her baby, she just wasn’t able to give the baby her undivided attention. She was living in a depressive state, unable to really give her baby the emotional support needed. Or perhaps Dad was not expressive of his love, so he never offered tender loving care to the child. He may have engaged with the child some, but not on a deep level, and therefore the child did not really bond with the father.  Insecurity can be formed during childhood for numerous reasons and the level of insecurity depends on many factors.

Some might call this group needier, clingy, or codependent.  If you have an anxious attachment, you are anxious a good bit of the time- especially when you are not with your partner or alone.  You crave your partner’s presence or someone’s presence, because being alone makes you feel anxious.

Thus, you might get termed “needy”. You get anxious when your partner doesn’t call or text you back immediately, you are very sensitive to your partner’s moods, and you don’t like creating or having to deal with conflict. However, you do create conflict because that tends to gain your partner’s attention. Experts state that essentially, you are recreating the same childhood trauma, trying to get your unresolved issues resolved.

I was totally in this category for far longer than I’d like to admit, and it can still creep in at times.

Avoidant Attachment

Those who have avoidant attachment probably avoided their primary caregivers much of the time as children. Perhaps their caregiver was mean or abusive or the child would get punished for “relying” on him or her.  This causes them to put a wall up and learn not to depend on anyone. Those with avoidant attachment love their independence. They want intimacy, but they are afraid that if they go after it, they will lose their freedom.  People in this camp tend to feel smothered or apprehensive when a partner wants to get close. They want deep connections, but put a wall up. They repress their desire for intimacy and keep partner at arm’s length. They get annoyed easily at little things at lack patience.

Now the degree of avoidant behavior can vary greatly. This group may include full-blown narcissists, addicts, emotional or verbal abusers, and just plain selfish or emotionally unavailable people.

Oddly enough, these are the types of people many codependents are attracted to, which is really a recipe for disaster.  Also, one can swing from one category into another at various times in life.

For example, I’ve operated from the anxious attachment in a relationship, being all codependent, and I’ve operated from the avoidant attachment, being emotionally unavailable. Ha. Opportunity to grow on all sorts of levels, right?

If you want to read an excellent book on this topic, purchase Ross Rosenberg’s The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us. This book gives incredible insight into the dysfunctional relationship between a codependent person and a narcissist/addict/emotional manipulator.  Excellent reading! Ross also has many videos on YouTube that I found extremely enlightening on the topic.

Secure Attachment

Those in the secure camp do rather well in relationships. As children, they were able to feel secure that their primary caregiver was dependable and would not abandon them. This helped them to feel more secure throughout life.

Those with secure attachments are good communicators, feeling freedom to share their wants and needs.  When conflict arises, they don’t fly off the handle or operate from a wounded place. They’re more comfortable with intimacy, having less walls erected around their heart. They view the relationship as more of a team, and invest in it regularly. They are more secure in themselves and this helps tremendously in a relationship.

It would be nice if everyone fell into the secure attachment group, but that is not the case. Good news is that you can shift your attachment style if you invest in growing, learning, and changing. It will take some work, but you can do it.  Both anxious and avoidant attachment camps ought to be trying to become more secure.  

Check out Ross Rosenberg’s video on his Continuum of Self Theory, which ties in well with this topic.

Continuum of Self Theory 

Go ahead and invest some time learning about relationship dynamics and getting some counseling if need be.

Purchase some books on relationships and educate yourself. If you fall into the Anxious Attachment group, you’ll want to read up on codependency to try to change some of your thoughts and behaviors.  This book is a great start. There are also many other valuable books out there by experts in the field.

  • All books by Pia Mellody or Melody Beattie are super.
  • A great book on the impact of unresolved trauma and grief is called Heartwounds by Tian Dayton.

If you fall into the Avoidant Attachment group, read up on relationships advice books by experts and professionals in the field. 

  • One of the best books I’ve read that helps relationships is The Five Languages of Love.  It is a must read for everyone.

As you invest in personal and spiritual growth, a better relationship will be a byproduct. As you journey toward becoming more secure in  yourself and God, all of your relationships will improve.  There are so many people who have relationship problems their whole lives, but never make effort to get some good relationship advice.  When something is not working, do something different.

Change requires effort.  Relationships ought to flourish!

“Problems in relationships occur because each person is concentrating on
what is missing in the other person.” ~Wayne Dyer


·         What kind of attachment style do you think you have?

·         What characteristics of that attachment style stick out to you the most?

·         Do you think you can progress toward a secure attachment?

·         What steps are you taking to do that?

Go to this link and take a survey to learn where you fit in on the attachment theory. I took this test and the results were very accurate. 

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