Updated: Jan 16, 2020
Attachment theory is a way of describing long-term and short-term relationship dynamics. As children we develop a style of attachment with our caregivers and often this influences our relationships as adults. Sometimes we are influenced positively by our attachments, and other times we can recognize that our attachment style is causing problems or holding us back. Once we become aware of our attachments we can start working on becoming more secure in our relationships. Therapy can help us learn more about ourselves and to become more securely attached with others.
Ah, the holy grail of attachment styles. People who are securely attached most often had parents who were "in sync" with their child's needs, were responsive, and repaired any injuries in the relationship. As adults these people tend to be confident and caring in their relationships, responsive and empathetic to their partners, and are able to communicate and rebuild bonds after a disagreement or fight. They often tend to have decreased fears of failure and tend to be high achievers.
As children, anxiously attached kids most often had caregivers who were inconsistency attentive, sometimes meeting their needs but not always. This left the child unsure of their place in the parent's life and creating insecurity in the relationship. As adults anxious-preoccupied people tend to need high levels of approval, intimacy, and empathy, and will become overly dependent on partners. Often these adults feel insecure, are less trusting, and worry more than their securely attached peers. Building self-confidence and choosing people who are consistent and trustworthy can help an anxious-preoccupied attachment style become more secure in that attachment.
While some caregivers were primarily attentive, and others inconsistently attentive, caregivers of dismissive-avoidant children tend to be inattentive. This child learns that their needs will not be met and that expressing their emotional needs has had no impact on the parent. As a result, the child withdraws and learns to soothe their own emotions. Dismissive-avoidant adult tend to pride their independence and avoid most emotional attachments. They often suppress their feelings, maintain distance with others, and have poor communication and conflict resolution skills. While these adults typically have high self esteem, they minimize or reject the importance of close emotional connection. Working through the defensive rejection of attachment will be a vital part of therapy to start working toward forming secure attachments.
Like dismissive-avoidant kids, fearful-avoidant children grew up without accessible and attentive caregivers. Their needs were met with indifference, causing an ambivalent response in the child. It was most likely hard to know how their parent would respond when asking for their needs to be met. In adulthood these individuals seem to want close relationships but be uncomfortable with emotional closeness when achieved. They often mistrust and pull away from their partners and are more likely to engage in low-risk emotional activities such as one night stands. Individual therapy can be a productive place to work through some of the mistrust ingrained in them as children.