What are attachment styles? How do they form?

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Attachment styles are the different ways individuals develop and navigate interpersonal relationships and emotional bonds to others, primarily romantic partners, based on each individual’s early childhood experiences with their caregivers. As a means of survival to better fit into their family system, children begin to adapt to their caregiver’s way of attuning to or meeting/not meeting their biological, physical, and emotional needs. However in adulthood, these adaptations can become maladaptive in how they show up when attempting to get needs met within the romantic relationship. Other life experiences and traumas also have an impact on attachment styles and how individuals show up in their romantic relationships. 

The most commonly discussed attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized. 

Secure attachment is a style of relating to people that involves feeling secure in one’s connection with them, including when physically apart, and being comfortable expressing one’s thoughts and feelings. 

Anxious attachment is characterized by feeling insecure and worried about one’s relationships and often leads to more “clingy” behavior or feeling like one’s needs are unable to be met. 

Avoidant attachment is characterized by a discomfort with emotional expression and a more emotionally distant personality, including difficulty opening up to others and forming more intimate relationships.

Disorganized attachment results when children experience trauma or lack of physical and emotional safety, so as they grow they struggle both with giving and receiving love as a result of trust issues. This can look like a combo of both extremely avoidant and extremely anxious styles and an overall unstable relational experience with loved ones.

Why do some of us have disordered or “dysfunctional” attachment styles?

People may have disordered attachment styles due to many different reasons such as difficult early experiences with caregivers or trauma, instability in the home, mental health issues in the family, and other forms of interpersonal stress. 

Disordered attachment can occur when a person’s primary caregivers are unable to consistently provide supportive and nurturing care, when emotional attunement is unavailable or dismissed by the caregiver(s) as being important for the child, or when they experience trauma, neglect, or abuse. 

What are the most compatible attachment styles?

The most compatible attachment styles tend to be securely attached individuals, who feel safe and secure in their relationships, as well as individuals with an avoidant attachment style, who seek independence and autonomy in their relationships. 

This being said, oftentimes, opposites attract and anxiously attached individuals attract more avoidant individuals and vice versa. Anxiously attached individuals tend to be more charismatic and outwardly expressive while avoidantly attached individuals tend to be more grounded and concrete thinkers, as well as slower processors. It is possible for these two styles to coexist in a healthy and balanced relationship, with each person respecting and understanding the other’s needs for autonomy and connection.

How can you form a secure attachment style?

Forming a secure attachment style starts with opening yourself up to connection with the people around you and building a secure base through open communication, mutual trust, and support. This of course takes practice and a commitment to working on creating an environment of safe acceptance and understanding with loved ones. 

Specifically, be available, provide comfort, and demonstrate a consistent nurturing style. Understanding your partner’s style can help you better attune to him/her and vice versa, thereby helping you to both move toward secure attachment.

Establishing clear boundaries and limits is also important for forming secure attachment. Through this, you can communicate your needs and expectations while also being accommodating and open to compromise. 

Couples and individual counseling/therapy can really help teach individuals about their own attachment style as well as that of their partner and the origins of these due to childhood history and life experiences. Counseling can also help manage emotional triggers that may result during conflict between partners and help each individual better emotionally regulate him/herself, thus fostering more conscious connection, trust, and more secure attachment.

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About Bozhena Evans | BE Therapy

Hi, I’m Bozhena Evans, LCSW and couples counselor/sex therapist based in Colorado who works with individuals and couples to gain insight into how to be happier and more fulfilled together.

There are many ways to reconnect with your partner, and learning about attachment styles and how to compliment each other’s – can go a long way.

If you’ve been yearning for a better relationship with your partner, please do not hesitate to reach out for a complimentary initial consultation by phone to see if we are indeed a good fit for individual or couples relationship counseling. I look forward to hearing from you!

Bozhena Evans, psychologist counselor therapist in Arvada, Colorado near Denver.