Do you remember feeling a certain way as a child and have found yourself feeling the same way as an adult?
Well, I know that I feel this way a lot of times. It just feels like a certain situation that I’m dealing with in my adult life is somewhat familiar. The emotions that I experience while in the situation seem familiar too.
Ever wondered why this happens? Well, the answer to this question lies in the AttachmentTheory.
John Bowlby, who was the first attachment theorist, defined attachment as “A lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” As human beings, we are wired for attachment. Our first form of attachment is the relationship that we share with our primary caregivers. The Attachment theory states that infants who were in consistently in close proximity to their caregivers, develop a secure base. Basically, they receive the comfort, nourishment and love that they need and their caregivers are finely attuned to their needs.
More often than not, we don’t realise the fact that the bond we form with our primary caregiver impacts all the other relationships that we form throughout our lifespan. Romantic relationships are an important part of one’s adult life and the peculiar way in which an individual behaves in their romantic relationship, is very strongly influenced by the kind of attachment they form with their primary caregiver. The kind of attachment style that a particular individual develops, depends on the availability of their caregiver and the quality of caregiving that is provided to them. If a particular child has a caregiver who is consistently available, nurturing, affectionate and attuned to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs, the child is likely to develop a‘secure’ attachment style. However, if a caregiver is inconsistent and not attuned enough to be able to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs, he is more likely to develop an ‘insecure’ attachment style. Individuals with an insecure attachment style usually have a low self-esteem, lack self-control and can even become aggressive. They also find it very hard to confide in others and their intentions.
What is popularly referred to as having ‘Mommy issues’ or ‘Daddy issues’ actually means having an insecure attachment style. Attachment styles lie on a spectrum. No one is 100% anxious or 100% avoidant. Every individual normally has some characteristics from each of the 4 attachment styles, but they have only one attachment style which is dominant.
An individual’s attachment style determines –
- How comfortable they are with communicating their feelings and needs to others.
- The way in which they handle conflict.
- How they perceive and respond to physical and emotional closeness.
- Their expectations about how their partner should behave in a relationship.
Anxious- Preoccupied Attachment
Anxious attachment develops mainly as a result of parents who are inconsistent. The parents tend to be very attuned to their child’s needs at one moment and completely ignorant of them in the next. This kind of parenting leaves the child confused about what to expect from his/her parents. Anxiously attached individuals tend to cling onto their caregivers and constantly try to please them in order to gain their validation and love. As a result of inconsistent parenting, anxiously attached individuals start to believe that something is wrong with them and that they are not good enough. They learn to hold themselves responsible for their parents’ unpredictable behaviour. They behave in a similar manner in their romantic relationships as well. About 20%of the population has an anxious attachment style.
Individuals with an anxious attachment style experience a high level of relationship anxiety and a low level of relationship avoidance. These individuals crave intimacy and connection in relationships. Being separated from their partner for even a short span of time, can make them really anxious. If their partner decides to hang out with friends or is busy with work and cannot spend time with them for a while, they tend to assume that their partner doesn’t love them and that they may have done something to offend their partner.
They live with the constant fear that their partner will leave them. They can go to any extent to make sure that their fear doesn’t turn into reality. These individuals are very sensitive and empathetic people who can go great lengths to make their partner happy. They tend to put their partner’s happiness before their own and also tend to dismiss their own needs, in order to fulfil those of their partner. These individuals struggle while communicating their needs or dissatisfaction with a relationship, because they feel like their feelings are invalid. Anxiously attached individuals often doubt their partner’s feelings. Their fear and doubt drives them to cling to their partner and seek validation from them. This can scare their partner away. These individuals also purposefully withdraw from relationships in order to show their dissatisfaction with their partner.
They may screen their partners calls and threaten to break-up without actually wanting to do so. This kind of behaviour is known as ‘protest behaviour’. The main motive behind such behaviour is to gain validation, security and reassurance from their partners. Anxiously attached individuals tend to attract Dismissive-Avoidant individuals. Anxious-Avoidant relationships rarely end well and tend to become toxic and unpleasant for both the partners.
Dismissive- Avoidant attachment develops when a parent or caregiver isn’t responsive to a child’s emotional needs. The parent may feel overwhelmed by the child’s emotional needs and ignore them. Parents of Dismissive-Avoidant individuals tend to discourage display of any kind of emotion. They might shame the child for crying, wanting to hug them or even laughing loudly. These caregivers tend to reject the child for feeling scared of something and expect the child to be an unrealistic and impractical level of independent for his/her age. About 23% of the population has a dismissive-avoidant attachment style.
Like Anxious individuals, Dismissive Avoidant people too tend to hold themselves responsible for the fact that their parents are rejecting of them. They too believe that something is wrong with them.
As a result of this kind of parenting, Dismissive-Avoidant individuals start to believe that relying on others is unsafe and unacceptable. They do have the innate need to connect with others on a physical and emotional level just like all the attachment styles. However, they tend to dismiss this need because it seems unsafe and threatening to them. Dismissive-Avoidant individuals are extremely charming, intellectual and self-reliant individuals who are often out-of-touch with their emotional state.
As a result of their parenting, they tend to dismiss anything or anyone that makes them feel unsafe and can go to any extent to avoid getting too close to others and relying on them emotionally or physically.
Dismissive-Avoidant individuals are often misunderstood and labelled as selfish, heartless and inconsiderate. They seek romantic relationships as a result of their innate need for attachment and love. In the beginning of the relationship, they enjoy the love and attention that they receive from their partner. They also tend to reciprocate it very well. However, the minute they realise that they are starting to get emotionally involved with their partner and starting to become dependent on them, they start to feel trapped and insecure. As a result of this, they tend to withdraw from the relationship and become less responsive and available to their partner.Dismissive- Avoidant people struggle with expressing their emotions and fear commitment,
are extremely sensitive to criticism and respond to conflict by shutting down or withdrawing.They have a constant need for space in relationships and tend to feel overwhelmed when their partner expresses his or her emotions.
They were often criticised by their caregivers in childhood and were expected to be nothing less than perfect. As a result of this, they have an image of a ‘perfect spouse’ in their head and tend to be very picky while choosing a partner. When a relationship starts to feel threatening to them, they tend to become overly critical of their partner and find small or big reasons to dismiss them and to avoid the relationship. They also have a deep fear of rejection and therefore, tend to push their partner away before the partner rejects them. The anxious preoccupied and dismissive-avoidant attachment styles are polar opposites of each other and tend to attract one another, mainly because they are shadows of each other. The anxious individual meets the dismissive’s need for affection and connection, when the dismissive withdraws, the anxious individual pursues. When the dismissive doesn’t respond, the anxious individual threatens to leave. The dismissive individuals need for connection becomes activated and he or she prevents the anxious individual from leaving. This provides the anxious individual with the validation and security that they need. This cycle tends to go on and on.Anxious-Avoidant relationships are no less than a roller-coaster ride.
Fearful- Avoidant Attachment
The Fearful- Avoidant Attachment has characteristics of the other two insecure attachment styles i.e. the anxious preoccupied and the dismissive avoidant. The fearful avoidant attachment style develops when the child is a victim of physical or sexual abuse and emotional neglect from their primary caregivers. Children of alcoholic or terminally ill parents are also likely to develop this attachment style. Individuals with the fearful-avoidant attachment are often forced to grow up or mature sooner than they’d like and take responsibility of the house and play the role of their parents’ caregivers. Only 1% of the population has the fearful-avoidant attachment style.
Fearful-Avoidant individuals are more aware of and accepting towards their need for connection and intimacy and can be comfortable having emotional conversations in the beginning of the relationship, however, when they start to feel like their partner has some kind of emotional power over them, they can cut their partner off completely and disappear. Like the dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant too tend to abandon their partner before their partner decides to abandon them. However, like the anxious individuals, fearful-avoidant people too tend to feel anxious when their partner pulls away. At the same time, they too fear commitment, like dismissive avoidant individuals and tend to be very confusing partners. Fearful-Avoidant people are very empathetic individuals who often feel the need to want to ‘fix’ their partner because that is what they were expected to do for their parents in their childhood. If Fearful-Avoidants are dating a Dismissive- Avoidant partner, their anxious side is more likely to get activated and if they are dating an Anxious partner, their avoidant side gets activated.
Secure Attachment Style
Secure attachment develops when a child’s primary caregivers are consistently available for him/her, both physically and emotionally. As infants, when secure individuals are separated from their primary caregivers, they respond by crying. When they are reunited with their caregivers, they stop crying and respond positively to the fact that their caregivers are back.About 56% of the population has a secure attachment style.
Secure individuals grow up to become confident, empathetic and assertive individuals who are comfortable with creating intimate bonds with their partners. They don’t feel threatened by intimacy and aren’t likely to pull away like avoidant people. Secure partners are also very comfortable with communicating their needs to their partners and don’t feel like their needs are unimportant or invalid like anxious individuals do. Secure individuals form relationships that are likely to thrive. They don’t find it difficult to trust their partners, like the insecure attachment styles.Secure individuals are also very effective at recognising if a particular relationship isn’t working for them. They will discuss this with their partner at the earliest and if things don’t change even after discussing, they don’t find it very difficult to walk out. Sure, they feel bad for breaking up, but they will move on eventually and find a partner who is more suited to them.
When individuals with insecure attachment styles find a secure partner, they are more likely to find the relationship more fulfilling and peaceful. Secure individuals are able to provide anxious individuals with the affection and reassurance that they need. They can also provide avoidant people with the space and sense of independence that they crave in relationships. Therefore ,insecure individuals are more likely to become secure if they stay in a secure relationship for a reasonable period of time.
Concluding, I’d like to say that our attachment style determines our behaviour in romantic relationships more than we realise. Being aware of your own attachment style along with that of your partners, will help you understand your relationship dynamic better and also educate
you about your core wounds. It will also help you recognise toxic behaviour and help you feel more equipped to be able to deal with it and engage in fulfilling and thriving relationships!