Before I describe how to improve your attachment style, I suppose you’re wondering “what is attachment theory and why the hell should I learn about it?”
Attachment theory describes the ways we think, feel, and communicate and how these behaviors form (or not form) and maintain bonds with others.
Attachment theory is important to learn because:
- it helps you understand the cause of your thoughts, feelings, and actions in intimate relationships
- it outlines a journey of healing to help find healthy love
- it increases the empathy of your needs and the needs of your partner
There are 4 attachment styles:
This style is characterized as “needy”.
They chase intimacy and crave it. They don’t feel whole, secure, or peaceful without constant approval and affection.
They often suffocate their partners which causes them to leave.
They attract narcists or the avoidant style (more on that next) because the anxious person gives and gives to parties that only care to receive.
They avoid and steer clear of intimacy because they fear rejection.
They build a false sense of pride and independence by claiming they “don’t need love.” But, when they’re alone, and they’re able to be real with themselves, they desire affection as with the anxious style.
The avoidant will often leave a relationship randomly and abruptly when they anticipate rejection.
The avoidant attracts the anxious because the avoidant’s aloof demeanor is a source of validation sought by the anxious.
This is the rarest style but is gaining in commonality.
This style is characterized as “confused”. They’re “hot and cold.” One minute they love you and are very affectionate, and the next the minute they’re standoffish and distant.
The anxious-avoidant relationship is often short and they’re often alone.
This is the optimal attachment style.
Secures are comfortable alone or in a relationship. They assume their partner loves them without the need for excessive approval. They don’t fear rejection for they know they can find someone else.
They’re able to communicate their wants and needs but also willing to compromise to meet the needs of their partner.
Their relationships last the longest with mutual agreement being the reason for breakup or divorce. In other words, “no hard feelings” are experienced between the parties.
The Cause of Attachment Style
The first relationship we experience sets the foundation for what we believe to be true about ourselves and relationships in general.
The first bond we experience is with our parents.
If your parents were dismissive, distant, or indifferent towards you, you’ll crave intimacy and approval and go by any means to get your needs met (Anxious style).
If your parents were suffocating, strict, or critical, you’ll avoid rejection and fear the feelings of shame (Avoidant).
If your parents were a mix of both — neglectful and smothering — you’ll often feel a contrast of need and independence (Anxious-avoidant).
If your parents were approving while giving you the space to be your own person, you’ll feel content and at ease in your relationships for your assumptions will be positive (Secure).
Our first love, being cheated on, or mental and physical abuse in other relationships can also alter our attachment style.
How to Become Securely Attached
When I first discovered attachment theory I immediately resonated with the anxious style.
I often felt uneasy and self-conscious in the beginning phases of a relationship.
Texting, talking on the phone, and in-person dates caused me more angst than going to the dentist, driving a car for the first time, or the night I lost my virginity.
Dating and relationships felt like the rollercoaster from hell. Compliments, gifts, a kiss, and sex felt euphoric like MDMA (Ecstacy or “Molly”). Silence and disapproving remarks and mannerisms felt like a near-death experience.
I spent years studying attachment theory, trauma, and mental health and implementing everything I’ve learned. The improvements I’ve seen thus far have inspired me to become a Marriage and Family Therapist and spend my free time writing about my journey.
Many of the suggestions I received and utilized were very helpful. To name a few: heal trauma and codependency, journal situations and how to act accordingly, learn to communicate your authentic feelings and needs without fear of rejection.
But there’s one method that’s not recommended and is probably the most helpful: get into a relationship with a securely attached partner.
If relationships were the cause of our unhealthy style of attachment, why not use a relationship to improve our perspective and assumptions about intimacy?
If your parents or previous partner(s) were disapproving or suffocating, why not find the opposite to heal and improve our attachment style?
Understanding the signs, symptoms, and behaviors of the securely attached should be the “checklist” of Mr. or Mrs. Right.
I don’t suggest searching for a partner and becoming dependent on them to help you heal.
A lot of work has to be done daily (by an individual) to properly heal and find healthy, durable love.
But two is better than one.
Helen Keller was an American educator and one of the leading humanitarians of the 20th century.
She became blind and deaf at the age of two. She had to work extremely hard to get into college, learn to communicate, and experience connection and love — the same achievements and experiences the privileged and everyday human takes for granted.
Even though Keller worked hard, she credited her relationship with her teacher— Anne Sullivan — for her success.
Thanks to her bond with Sullivan, Keller’s perspective on teamwork inspired her to found The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in 1920.
The slogan on the website of aclu.org states:
“The ACLU dares to create a more perfect union — beyond one person, party, or side.”
And Keller dropped this truth bomb that is referenced often (that began and will conclude this article):
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
This post was previously published on Medium.
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