What Is Your Attachment Style?
Every good counselor comes to the counseling room with an answer to two questions: 1) what causes my client’s behavior, and 2) how can I facilitate change? There are hundreds of theories that different counselors work with to answer those two questions. Some are more effective than others. One of the most effective is the one I hold to: Attachment Theory. It has been around for a long time and has been studied and verified many times over.
What Is Attachment Theory?
Attachment Theory has its origins with British psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950’s and 60’s. and his work with infants separated from their mothers in the hospital. He observed that a loss or breakdown of maternal attachment led to serious negative consequences including affectionless psychopathy. He further found that children behave in ways to elicit contact and closeness with their caregiver in order to receive comfort, soothing, and support. When those needs are met, the child grows up to be a securely attached, resilient adult. But when those needs are not met, the child grows up to be insecurely attached throughout adulthood.
Other psychologists built and continue to build on the work of Bowlby. But study after study reinforce his assumptions, that humans are wired for connection and when connection is threatened or lost, we instantly revert to behaviors that we learned in infancy to reconnect. In studies of the brain, the scan lights up when the relationship is in danger. The brain instantly secretes chemicals that elicit primary emotions, which then trigger the attachment style we learned as children. Unfortunately, most people learned an insecure kind of attachment style.
Insecure Attachment Style #1: Anxious
The anxious attachment style holds a negative view of self, but a positive view of others. It can be summed up with, “You’re good, I’m not good.” People with an anxious attachment style feel great anxiety at the idea of being along or separated in any way from their partner. They fear abandonment and seek security constantly. They worry that their partner is not as committed to them as they are to their partner. They seek approval, support, and responsiveness at all times, or they become anxious and begin clinging, demanding, criticizing, etc. in an effort to draw their partner back in. Ironically, this behavior produces the very thing they fear: their partner pulls away even more.
Insecure Attachment Style #2: Avoidant
The avoidant attachment style holds a positive view of self, but a negative image of others. It can be summed up with, “I’m good, you’re not good.” Avoidants don’t see that they need to be in a relationship to have happiness and fulfillment. They don’t like having to depend on other people or having others depend on them. They tend to be self-sufficient, loner types who don’t care what others think about them or whether they have anyone else’s support. They are often introverted, don’t show their emotions, even deny that they are emotional, and avoid physical and emotional contact. When they encounter high emotions in others, they shut down, go silent, and withdraw. Ironically, this behavior produces the very thing they are trying to avoid: their partner gets more escalated emotionally.
Insecure Attachment Style #3: Disorganized
The disorganized, or chaotic, attachment style alternates between anxious and avoidant behaviors. It can be summed up with, “I’m good, you’re not good…I’m not good, you’re good.” They alternate between pushing people away and pulling them back. That’s why this style is called disorganized, chaotic, or ambiguous. They are afraid of getting hurt, so they avoid being in a strong emotional attachment. But they also want to be in a relationship, to be loved and close to someone, yet they struggle to trust and depend on another person. They have a hard time regulating their emotions and can have wild mood swings. Usually people with the disorganized attachment style are victims of abuse or trauma.
Secure Attachment Style
Because parents aren’t perfect and very few people escape childhood without some level of disconnection, most people have one of those three insecure attachment styles. And people with insecure attachment styles tend to have problems in their relationships. But there are a few people who do have a secure attachment style. They have a positive view of themselves and also a positive view of others. They can honestly say, “I’m good and you’re good too.” They do not fear expressing their emotions and they have no problem depending on others and letting others depend on them. They love to be close to their partner, but don’t become anxious when they’re separated.
If you are experiencing problems in your life or in your relationship because you are either too needy or too distant or too ambiguous, I can help you. We will work together to identify your attachment style and help you move into a more secure attachment style, which will drastically improve your life and your relationships. I encourage you to read more about couples therapy, and then reach out to us at Christian Counseling Associates for a free consultation.
A.J. Molina is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Christian Counseling Associates, working out of the Grapevine office. He is accepting new clients.