First developed in the 1960s by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, the Attachment Theory analyses how the environment we grew up in influences our relationships in adulthood. Fast forward to 2022, #attachmentstyles has over 500M views on TikTok, self-proclaimed dating experts offer attachment style advice on Instagram and the 2010 book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love is now a best seller under the categories of Social Work, Social Science, Love and Romance and Cognitive Psychology on Amazon.
Furthered by the end of the world doom and gloom sponsored by the pandemic, the attachment theory gathered momentum because well, the situation had us all in our feelings more than Drake, and understandably so, but the slippery slope comes in when we start treating attachment styles like zodiac signs. Categorising people into one-size-fits-all boxes, blaming external circumstances to get away with lousy behaviour and using Instagram posts to label and diagnose our partners. When approached the right way, it can be a great tool to become aware of our behavioural patterns and help us form stronger bonds.
We got in touch with two psychologists to get a deeper understanding of attachment styles and what role they play in relationships:
How Are Attachment Styles Formed?
“The Attachment Theory suggests that there are four attachment styles— Secure, Avoidant, Anxious, and Disorganised. They are basically one’s tendencies in a romantic relationship as an adult, but people fail to understand that this is something that is formed or ingrained in one’s mind as a child. As an infant, the first relationship that you have is with your caregiver, and how that relationship goes, what the parameters of it are like, or what that relationship primarily suggests, is something that then starts defining your normal. And that is something that you then start to carry forward in your life.” says Ms Aishwarya Jain, Clinical Psychologist, Glisten Healthcare. “According to the research, it is found that attachment styles usually form and strengthen in the first year between 7 to 11 months and it depends on the relationship of a person with a caretaker in the early stages,” adds Ms Sonal Chadha, Lead Clinical Psychologist, Lissun, MPhil and CBT, REBT Expert.
What Are The Characteristics Of The Four Attachment Styles?
“Let’s try to draw a comparison of how these attachment styles behave as children and how they behave as adults. While adult relationship attachments may not exactly correspond with early childhood attachments but there is no question that our earliest relationships with caregivers do play a role in development. Getting an understanding of where you fall within these 4 parameters helps in figuring out what could be going wrong in your present relationship. A person may not be able to change their inner instincts but they can definitely develop on it and not act on every anxious instinct which can help the relationships” says Aishwarya.
Secure Attachment Style
“If we look at a secure attachment, a child is willing to separate from their parents, it’s not a problem for them. There is no sense of fear because they know their parents are emotionally available. Whenever they’re frightened, or anything seems challenging, they know they can easily turn to their caregivers. They would prefer their parents over strangers because they know it’s a secure base. They receive a lot of confidence and rightful criticism, but at the same time, a sense of appreciation from them as well. In adult life, they have trusting, lasting relationships and tend to have good self-esteem. They wouldn’t be immediately frightened or scared if their partner is not around and they share their feelings with their partners easily.” explains Aishwarya.
Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment Style
“As children, they may be wary of strangers, become greatly distressed when parents leave and do not appear comforted when parents return because they are in a state of confusion— they do not know whether they can trust their parents or not. As adults, they may be reluctant to become close to others, worry that their partner does not love them and become very distraught when the relationships end. It’s a very hot and cold kind of behaviour pattern.” shares Aishwarya.
“It can form due to separation from parents and neglect. In their adult life, this translates to clinginess, being afraid of emotions, attention-seeking behaviour, trust and abandonment issues,” says Sonal.
Avoidant Attachment Style
“Growing up, they may not seek much contact or comfort from parents and show little or no preference for parents over strangers because somewhere they feel like their caregivers are emotionally unavailable. As a trauma response, there is a sense of hyper independence. As an adult, they may have problems with intimacy, invest little emotion in social and romantic relationships, and may be unwilling or unable to share thoughts or feelings with other people around which automatically makes it difficult for their partner to cope as well,” explains Aishwarya.
“They prefer to be a one-man army and may not like to take help from others or express their emotions freely” adds Sonal.
Disorganised Attachment Style
“At an early age they may show a mixture of avoidant and anxious behaviour, may seem confused, apprehensive and may take on a parental role. Some children may act as a caregiver toward their parents because they feel like they are the ones who want to dictate things because they can understand things better. That usually happens in dysfunctional homes, wherein the parent is not able to provide or play the role of a caregiver. And that’s why the child is the one who has to set in and start taking charge of things, which again disturbs their relationships in their adult life because they may start acting as the caregiver for their partner as well which is definitely not okay in a romantic relationship.” shares Aishwarya.
Sonal says “The people with a disorganised attachment style do not feel like they are important or deserve love. Although they want and like building attachments, they avoid them as soon as the other person starts getting close.”
Can Attachment Styles Change With Time?
“Yes, attachment style can change, but it is a time taking and slow process. For example, according to research, it is found that when a person with an anxious attachment gets into a relationship with a secure attachment style person, the changes occur. In the presence of a secure attachment, that person adapts to the new patterns over time which may result in the formation of new behaviours.” says Sonal.
How To Identify Your Attachment Style?
“You can identify your attachment style by questioning yourself about how your relationship was with your parents. Not your perception of what it is now, but as a child, how did you feel being around them? Ask yourself what are the similarities that could be present in your romantic relationships. Either trying to do self-analysis or trying to reach out to a professional who will definitely give you more informed details than online quizzes,” says Aishwarya.
“Inspect your self-esteem and ask questions such as how you feel and value yourself? Are you happy in life? A person with high self-esteem has a good attachment style as compared to people with lower self-esteem. Since the early years of your life play a major role in your attachment style, the people who were around you at that time can help you gauge what kind of interactions you used to have, your needs and wants, etc.” concludes Sonal.