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  • Writer's pictureJessica Childs

Attachment Styles in Relationships

Do you sometimes feel needy, clingy and insecure around your partner, family or friends?

Or perhaps you feel persecuted for being independent and it might annoy you when others need, ask or demand things from you.

If either of these describes you, you are normal. These brief descriptions characterize two of the most common attachment styles. Knowing which of the four attachment styles you tend toward is tremendously helpful in cultivating delicious and nourishing relationships throughout all areas of life. And of course, more access to joy, pleasure and ease (which is kind of my thing).

What's an attachment style?

Your attachment style is your underlying way of relating to others, especially when stressed. Your attachment style developed in early childhood when you were figuring out how to relate to caregivers. Depending on how those caregivers modeled attunement, empathy and other connection behaviors, your nervous system adapted to optimize your ability to have your emotional and physical needs met. These adaptation patterns persist into our adult relationships and, if left unattended, can wreak havoc on them. A lot is written on how attachment styles develop so I won't go into much detail, just know that nobody's parents were perfect and attachment styles are not fixed states. Most of us can identify with one, some or all of these styles, but we typically inhabit one style more often than others and it can be troublesome if we are stuck there.

Here I am. A wave-type, living la vida anchor.

The four attachment styles, at a glance:

Secure Attachment a/k/a "anchors" - This style is characterized by feeling both autonomous and interdependent. Securely attached people are relaxed in their relationships, not taking them for granted while not being overly concerned with abandonment. They are present and supportive. They feel protected and they feel a healthy sense of protection for others. Trust is not something that they struggle with, either in trusting or being trustworthy. In essence, they are comfortable, confident and resilient in relationships.

Ambivalent Attachment or "waves" - Waves are characterized by heavy reliance on others to regulate their feelings. This can look like clinginess, over-sensitivity or high-maintenance behaviors. A wave may want to talk to their loved ones more often and feel hurt if that invitation is rejected. Waves may ruminate over something they said or did for fear that the connection has been irretrievably damaged. Waves need regular reassurance from their loved ones that the connection is solid and trustworthy and they may probe or test for it. Fear of rejection and abandonment is an issue that many waves suffer.

Avoidant Attachment or "islands" - Islands are characterized by the "lone wolf" vibe. Islands are often vilified in our culture as being cold, insensitive or workaholics. They might have trouble with eye contact and have a sense of self that is isolated. Avoidants prefer to do things for themselves and by themselves, relying on no one for emotional regulation. Commonly they don't understand or are annoyed by people who don't have the same desire for independence.

Disorganized Attachment - It is tricky to pin down behavioral patterns of disorganized attachment as they tend to shift suddenly and don't present reliably. Typically, this attachment style develops when a child's fear pathway is entangled with their relational development, ie. when they are being cared for by a person they feel threatened by. This may cause people with this type of attachment to move toward dangerous situations and relationships instead of away from them. They may oscillate between feeling open to connection and triggered into a threat response while in connection. Overwhelm and freeze are often associated with this style of attachment.

I think I know my attachment style, so what do I do with it?

First and foremost, I implore you to shift away from judgement about your primary attachment style, how you came to be that way or who contributed to it. If anything, cultivate a sense of reverence and honor for your internal guidance system that adapted to meet your needs. The best way to heal is not to re-hash over and over again the origin of an imbalance, that just builds skills around re-hashing your pain spots. But instead, simply endeavor to move toward security. Most people are not completely grounded in secure attachment. The vast majority of us have developed coping skills that involve being wave-like, island-like or disorganized.

Once you are able to approach your attachment style without judgement, you are ready to mend it. For me, when I discovered I was mostly a wave-type person, it was so freeing! I had a name and a whole category containing millions of people who felt like I did and they probably developed their wave form in very similar familial conditions. Cool! Normal Me! Fast forward and now I have developed the self-awareness to recognize when my behaviors are veering into wave-forms and I typically have a giggle at it. I recognize that this is a normal human adaptation and I can share it vulnerably with loved ones because awareness and normalization have dispelled the shame I once felt around it. And then I can ask for exactly what I need in order to feel secure and when you can accurately ask for it with integrity, people can easily give it to you and the problem is solved. addition to just living with your attachment style, we all have a complete and whole secure attachment system inside of us. All we have to do is encourage it to grow. I have learned so many exercises and skills for doing this. It's a huge part of the work I do with individuals : teaching secure attachment skills. When practiced and cultivated, your secure attachment system can light up and become your new normal. It's prophetic and awesome to feel that sense of balance in yourself, and in your relationships. I will write another post later about some of the skills and practices I use in my sessions to guide clients toward their own sense of security, no matter their starting point.

For now, just know - inside every one of us, secure attachment is waiting to blossom.



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