Recognizing Our Attachment Styles

By Erica Cramer, LMSW

Do you ever wonder why some relationships succeed while others fail? Contrary to popular belief, it's not solely based on fate, luck, or trial-and-error. A child’s relationship with their caretaker(s) can affect their relationships throughout their entire life. In the 1950s, child psychologist John Bowlby studied the manner in which infants respond when separated from their parents. Through his studies, he was able to establish a link between early infant reactions to separations from caretaker(s) and ability to connect with others. These attachment styles fall into three distinctive categories: secure, anxious, and avoidant. If you are able to identify your attachment styles as well as your partner's it can help you build a sustainable and fulfilling relationship.

Secure

If you have a secure attachment style, you are a warm and loving individual who feels comfortable with intimacy and closeness in a relationship. You are able to effectively communicate your feelings/needs to your partner and properly respond to theirs. You do not play games with other people’s emotions, and approach relationships in a genuine manner. As an infant, you most likely had caretaker(s) who were emotionally and physically available to you. As you grow older, you are able to go out into the world with a secure foundation and can form solid relationships with others. If a relationship is unsuccessful, you do not blame yourself, and have the self-confidence to realize that the relationship probably was not a good fit for you.

Anxious

When you have an anxious attachment style, you often live in a state of fear and uncertainty. Relationships tend to occupy most of your emotional energy and you become consumed with thinking about your relationship. You are particularly sensitive to fluctuations in your partner’s mood and believe that a small thing will ruin your relationship. You have difficulty articulating your feelings and often play games in relationships to sustain your partner’s attention. During your upbringing, chances are your caretakers were inconsistently available to you. If a relationship is unsuccessful, you often blame yourself and take personal responsibility for its failure.

Avoidant

If you have an avoidant attachment style, you are highly independent and self-sufficient. You are often afraid of losing your autonomy in a relationship and have difficulty getting too close to your partner. You often need to keep a physical or emotional barrier between you and your partner. You do not spend much time worrying about your relationship and tend to be physically/emotionally distant throughout the relationship. Chances are that your parents were distant, rigid and unaccommodating to your needs as a child. If a relationship fails, you often attribute it to not being meant to be rather than a personal character deficit.

Do you identify with any of these attachment styles? Therapy can support you in working to repair and build healthy and sustainable relationships. 

Source: Levine, A. & Heller, R. S. F. (2010). Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Erica Cramer is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy.  If you are looking for support in working on building healty relationships, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to see how therapy can help.