I hope you found the first video of the Kitchen Table Series about the basic concepts of attachment helpful! I’m back this week with lots of information about each of the styles/adaptations and a link to a quiz so you can identify yours if you don’t know it already. And I encourage you to find out, because knowing it can change everything about how you relate to others—partners, parents, kiddos, and friends.
As we explored last week, attachment is the relational pattern we develop beginning in infancy that continues to change and shift throughout our lifespan. The types of interactions we have in early childhood inform our nervous systems about our environment. If we are responded to consistently, we tend to learn that we are safe and our needs will be met. If we are responded to inconsistently, feel afraid of our caregivers, or notice they are distracted when they meet our needs, we tend to develop concerns that our needs may not be met. This activates our nervous system to be on high alert and pay a lot of attention to our environment, just in case something threatening appears. Over time, our nervous system starts to respond this way without us even knowing it, even if we are safe. We bring this pattern into new relationships, which can feel pretty frustrating for both people.
The good news? We can change the way we relate to others. With intention, support, and guidance, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the early experiences that have shaped how we show up in relationships and begin to shift our interactions. It’s a beautiful thing to witness and even more incredible to experience.
The other thing that is important to know: we all have a dominant attachment style, but we also have pieces of the others, too, so having a general knowledge of all of them is helpful. So with that in mind, let’s talk about the styles:
Secure: Secure relationships are a result of consistency, stability, and reliability in interactions. This means that generally when we've had a need, the other person in the relationship worked to meet it most of the time (it’s impossible to do it all of the time!). Even if they couldn't meet the need, they responded in a way that let you know they care. This style is characterized by open communication, good boundaries, eye contact, and appropriate affection. People who have a secure attachment style feel safe exploring new opportunities and feel comfortable giving and receiving love and attention.
Anxious/Ambivalent: Folks who have an anxious style may present in relationships with a strong desire to connect with their partner and may lose their sense of self in the relationship. This happens because, in their early interactions, they may have experienced inconsistency in responses from their caregivers--the caregiver may have been regularly distracted or emotionally overwhelmed to the point that the child began to look for cues outside of the relationship to determine whether their needs would be met. The child realizes that they need to pay more attention to the caregiver's needs than their own. In adult relationships, people with this style have a deep desire to be cared for and loved (and aren't used to receiving the kind of love they want), and if they don't receive those messages from the other, they can begin to feel resentful and angry. Folks with this style find themselves wanting deep love and connection but not having it.
Avoidant: The avoidant style is a result of early interactions with caregivers characterized by flat responses, little concern or care for the person's needs, and a "get over it" mentality. Children who develop this style may learn that their emotional needs are not important or even welcomed in their family system. This lack of emotional safety cues the child to put their emotional needs away and move forward as if they don't have any. In adult relationships, folks with this style may seem distant at times, lack vocabulary for their feelings, and have little observable interest in engaging in intimate relationships. People with this style often pull away when relationships start to feel more intense and can even appear cold or flat because they have learned their needs are not important, welcomed, or safe to express.
Disorganized: People with this style have likely experienced a push/pull dynamic in their early relationships. Their relationship with caregivers or other important people may be characterized by something like "I love you, but you scare me sometimes." Diane Poole Heller describes this pattern as "un-solvable and un-winnable." The mixed communication and fear can feel paralyzing for the child, resulting in a deep desire for love and connection and an intense concern that intimacy is unsafe.
Knowing the styles (yours and others) supports all of us in having more compassion for each other. It's important to remember that we develop these styles because of the experiences we have had, not because we choose them in our childhood. The bottom line is this: we are all wired for connection. We are designed to love each other and be in relationship together. For many of us, this requires that we create a level of safety (and therefore vulnerability) that allows us to relax into the relationship so we can be who we really are.
Are you ready to learn your attachment style? Here is a link to a short quiz.
Next week, we will be talking about the needs of each style and ways we can support ourselves and each other in creating relationships that allow us to do some deep healing work. I'm so excited to share more with you!
Thanks so much for being here with me,