Attachment theory is a body of study that explores the way relationships with parents affect the attachment styles in relationships between adults. Early experiences influence the behaviors and thoughts that carry over into a person’s adult life, but the coping mechanisms developed during childhood aren’t always effective for dealing with adult relationships.
British psychoanalyst John Bowlby first identified an “attachment behavioral system” in infants that led to the premise of four attachment styles. This theory suggests that parental influences during infancy and early childhood tend to determine the way individuals interact with the people around them.
Every person develops a distinct way of dealing with the world that might include feelings and behaviors from any of the categories below, and our daily lives are impacted by these learned reactions. For example, vital connections with others are influenced by our verbal and physical affection styles. You may be able to recognize yourself most strongly in one of these attachment styles, but it’s common for there to be some overlap among them since each person is unique.
Attachment Styles in Relationships
An adult who received enough love and comfort from their parents in childhood is secure enough to interact with the world successfully. This type of individual has learned that it’s safe to take risks, because they always had a parental safety net when they needed it.
Children who can rely on their parents to protect them gain these skills:
- Fitting well into a social network
- Dealing with difficult situations constructively
- Learning new things easily
- Regulating their own behavior
About half of all people fit, more or less, into the secure attachment style.
A person who wasn’t able to rely on parental support and didn’t have their emotional needs met as a child may have trouble trusting others and have a fear of intimacy.
Children who are ashamed or have their emotional needs neglected develop these coping behaviors:
- Being overly self-reliant
- Trying to control others
- Having anxiety about failure
- Being reserved emotionally
Around a quarter of the population tends to fall into the avoidant attachment style.
People who grow up with inconsistent love and support from their parents often develop a lack of trust in others and themselves. The unpredictable environment can lead to self-doubt, low self-esteem and a fear of abandonment.
Children raised in an unloving or inconsistent environment may have these issues:
- Being emotionally clingy
- Having a high need for attention
- Being insensitive to the effects of their behaviors
- Having difficulty concentrating
Roughly 20% of the population falls into the anxious attachment category.
This attachment style develops in a childhood family environment that may include abuse, trauma, neglect or all three. An individual who grows up in this kind of home develops a fear of their parents and a feeling of never being safe.
Children raised in an unloving and abusive family may end up with these issues:
- Being controlling in relationships
- Experiencing a limited range of emotions
- Having trouble concentrating
- Being unable to accept praise or compliments
- Living with a great deal of anxiety
Less than 3% of the population falls into the fearful-avoidant category, and people who show this attachment style in relationships can often deal with their issues effectively with the help of therapy.
Dealing with Attachment Stress
Learned attitudes and behaviors can cause mental discomfort and stress, especially those stemming from a fearful-avoidant attachment style. Before you can change the way you think and how you act toward others, you first have to identify these feelings and coping mechanisms. Our professional therapists can help guide you through this process.
Positive relationships are essential to good mental health, and discovering your attachment style in relationships helps you build and maintain secure emotional bonds with others. If you’re struggling with this, you may hear the term “attachment disorder” used to describe what you’re going through. A disorder is merely an interruption of a regular function. In this case, that function is the ability to create positive, affirming relationships devoid of anxiety and stress.
Relationships and Mental Health
At FHE Health, our trained therapists will help you focus on the effect your attachment style has on the major relationships in your life. Your romantic attachment style and the coping behaviors you rely on when dealing with friends and family have an impact on your happiness and well-being. We can help you separate positive, useful relationship strategies from any negative behaviors you have learned and develop new strategies for maintaining strong and fulfilling relationships.
Identifying Your Needs
The feelings of insecurity, anxiety, avoidance and fear experienced early in life are carried forward into adult relationships to a certain degree. For example, a husband who feels uncomfortable showing physical affection to his spouse may have been raised in a family that rarely hugged or touched each other. Getting to the bottom of why you feel and behave the way you do is the first step toward building secure and healthy connections with other people.
In romantic relationships, it would be ideal if each partner had a safe and happy upbringing that gave them strong interpersonal skills. But every person brings a different history and set of expectations to a relationship. Exploring your attachment styles will help you and your partner understand how to meet each other’s needs, and it will give you a chance to understand yourself and the motivations behind your feelings.
Your FHE Health therapist may suggest taking a written test that will help you gain insight into your attachment style and how it has influenced your relationships. An individualized treatment plan at FHE Health may also include cognitive behavioral therapy. This treatment helps you identify ideas and behaviors that make your life less rewarding and replace them with affirming, helpful thoughts and actions that improve your relationships with others.
Before you can change your life for the better, it’s important to understand your own motivations. Once you have pinpointed your needs and expectations and what causes them, you can find healthy ways to avoid anxiety and achieve happiness and contentment. Make a confidential call to a compassionate FHE counselor at (833) 596-3502, and let us help you start improving your life today.