Humans are social creatures, which means we not only crave company but also intimacy and emotional connection. Even though forming social bonds is our biological need, a lot of people struggle with building relationships. While the reason is often difficulty finding someone you click with, in most cases relationship problems stem from how you relate to others.
If you’ve ever wondered why some people act needy in relationships while others have a more reserved attitude, the answer most likely lies in their attachment style. Everyone has a different attachment style that shapes the way they interact with others.
In this article, you’ll find more about what attachment is, a description of four romantic attachment styles and advice on breaking patterns that don’t serve you.
What is attachment?
Attachment refers to an emotional bond you form with another person. According to the attachment theory, the early bond between a child and their caregiver translates into an attachment style that plays a key role in building relationships in the future. In other words, a high-quality relationship with a parent can guarantee positive romantic relationships in adulthood, and vice versa.
If you were raised in an environment where you had your needs met, you’re more likely to develop skills necessary to trust your partner and feel secure opening up emotionally. Similarly, if you didn’t feel loved, you might have low self-esteem and struggle to form healthy bonds with other people.
Depending on the type of connection formed with your parents, you might have one of the following attachment styles in relationships: secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized.
How your attachment style might affect your relationships
An attachment style is ultimately a guide to your relationship strengths and weaknesses. Learning what they are can give you more clarity on why things didn’t work out with your past partners and help you become more successful at dating in the future.
Secure attachment style
Children who are securely attached become distressed when faced with separation from the caregiver and respond positively to being comforted.
If you’re a securely attached adult, you had parents who were responsive to your needs, which means you learned how to navigate the world around you as well as build social bonds.
The secure attachment style is the most desired style as it translates into healthy romantic relationships. Since your needs were met during childhood, you aren’t afraid of seeking and receiving intimacy or expressing your feelings.
You might trust other people with ease and while you depend on them, you don’t become overly attached. Closeness doesn’t scare you but promotes a sense of security and fulfilment.
Your emotional intelligence is high, which means you know what you want out of the relationship and your high communication skills allow you to express it. This isn’t to say that your relationship is perfect but you know you can rely on your partner when you’re in need and that you can offer the same in return.
Anxious attachment style
While securely attached children are keen on exploring their environment, anxious children approach it with distrust and fear. Being wary of the surroundings comes from an inconsistent parenting style. When a caregiver is supportive one minute and then neglectful the next, a child learns that they can’t rely on anyone and struggles to develop social bonds as a result.
If your parents’ attitude towards you depended on their mood or on your behavior, chances are you’re anxiously attached.
Anxiously attached adults long for emotional connection because they lacked it in childhood. However, that need is difficult to satiate because they also struggle to trust people and open up enough to form significant bonds. Since they crave a sense of love and security, they might act needy and insecure in relationships.
If you’re anxiously attached, you might feel like relationships never work out for you and your social connections are marked by constant anxiety. Even though you might have noticed harmful patterns, you find it hard to break the cycle. Any conflict is a threat of abandonment and when a breakup happens, you might see it as a confirmation that you’re worthless.
Avoidant attachment style
Children with this type of attachment were raised in an environment that lacked warmth. If a parent doesn’t respond when a child needs their support, they learn to rely on themselves and stay away from emotional connection.
If you have an avoidant attachment style, your parents might have struggled to show emotions and avoided being intimate; you don’t remember being hugged or told you’re loved.
As an adult with this type of tendency, you tend to be independent and equal intimacy with restricting your freedom. You’re used to relying on yourself, which is one of the reasons you don’t feel the need to build emotional connections and reach out to others for reassurance.
Similarly, you struggle to offer mental support when in close relationships. While you might have great social skills, you prefer being alone and people who get close to you might describe you as cold and emotionally unavailable.
Your self-esteem and self-worth are high. If a breakup happens, you seem to be a resilient person who can move on without a scratch. However, even though being self-sufficient can seem like a positive thing, you might struggle to form romantic relationships.
You’re less likely to fall in love with someone and value your independence over a partnership. If you happen to get involved with a person romantically, your partner might either get tired of not being let in or you might find enough faults in their behavior or appearance, which then allows you to end the relationship without guilt.
Disorganized attachment style
In the disorganized attachment style, a caregiver can be both a source of love and fear. Children with this type of attachment often experienced trauma or abuse.
If you never knew what to expect from your parents and found them unreliable, you might have a disorganized attachment style.
People with disorganized attachment styles have contrasting approaches to relationships. While they might want to experience love, they also struggle to get close to anyone. Even though they desire to be in a relationship, they find it hard to believe anyone could care about them and expect rejection to happen.
If you constantly worry about your partner leaving you, you might try to avoid abandonment by engaging in push-and-pull behaviors. Unfortunately, this often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy and drives the partner away. Additionally, you might be quick to anger when your partner shows perceived signs of becoming distant and struggle to communicate your fears.
You might also subconsciously choose partners who don’t treat you right to confirm the belief you don’t deserve a loving relationship. While this only ends in hurt and feeling more unloved, this pattern is hard to break.
Can you break the pattern and change your attachment style?
Even though it might seem that your attachment style is set in stone, it’s possible to break the pattern and become a more securely attached adult.
Identify your attachment style
Look back on your previous relationships; try to consider how you coped with rejection and evaluate your behavior. If you struggled to open up and your partners described you as cold, you might have an avoidant attachment style. On the other hand, if relationships felt like a thirst you could never satisfy, you’re most likely anxiously attached.
Build a relationship with yourself first
One thing people with avoidant and disorganized attachment styles have in common is low self-esteem and the inability to be on their own. Before you can form a connection with other people, you should learn how to connect with your needs and fulfill them without a relationship.
The easiest way to do that is to incorporate self-care into your routine. Do something enjoyable every day that can help you appreciate your own company. This can prevent you from pursuing an unfulfilling relationship in the future.
Lastly, learn how to set boundaries. People who crave intimacy might accept it at the expense of their own needs without realizing it. For example, you might say yes to sex even though you feel tired just because you subconsciously fear that setting a boundary will equal abandonment.
To become more attuned to your needs, get into the habit of asking yourself, “Is that what I really want?” If you aren’t sure, try to imagine that your partner accepts your decision and nothing changes in the relationship, then see if it influences your decision.
Learn how to trust people
All insecure attachments are characterized by difficulty trusting others. Even a person who has a disorganized attachment style needs intimacy at some point in their lives – they just learned that they can’t expect it from others. While it’s easier said than done, every step towards improvement matters.
When we distrust people, we tend to focus on negativity. For example, if your partner ends a relationship, you might think about all the other times your relationship didn’t work out. To learn how to trust others, it’s good to start by shifting your mindset. Keep a gratitude diary where you list everything you’re grateful for, even the smallest things.
You can also identify beliefs related to your fear. For example, you might think that if you trust in other people, you’re giving them an opportunity to hurt you. Write these thoughts down and try to come up with contradicting sentences. While avoiding a relationship can save you from rejection, it will also mean you’ll never find love.
Resilience is an ability to bounce back when faced with challenges, which insecurely attached people struggle with. However, it’s impossible to know what the future holds and experiencing heartbreaks and rejection is a part of dating.
If you beat yourself up after not achieving the outcome you want, it’s a sign you have to be more understanding towards yourself. The next time you fail, focus on your thoughts and try to turn them into something more realistic.
For example, if failing makes you believe you’re worthless, turn it into: “No one is perfect and it’s impossible to succeed all the time.”
While therapy might seem intimidating, it can help you understand the reason behind your attachment style in more depth and teach you coping skills that can make your relationship with yourself and others much healthier.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking support, which is now simpler than ever as you can access therapy online. Look at it this way, even though early childhood experiences might matter the most, all of our life is one big learning process. While it’s impossible to experience only good things, there’s always room for improvement.
Joanna Cakala is a multilingual writer based in the UK. Combining a degree in Psychology and passion for writing, she writes the articles on mental health across a broad variety of subjects such as self-development, personality disorders, PTSD, mindfulness, and autism.Read more