“If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to all others, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.” — Erich Fromm
I write regularly about attachment styles because they are critical for how we view ourselves and others, whether we become emotionally invested, and how our attachment style affects us throughout our lives.
How we relate to others plays out subliminally in how we feel about ourselves, how present we remain in our relationships and in our relationship history.
If you are among the lucky ones, you were handed a Secure attachment in childhood — this is the Gold Standard that offers security, trust, autonomy, self-direction, self-love, boundaries and self-respect. Your self-identity is solid. Those who develop a Secure attachment in childhood, usually carry it with them through adulthood.
They are taught their value, to value others and the importance of having emotionally available relationships.
Then, there’s the rest of us…
When a Secure attachment is not in the cards, it’s often because early experiences were marred with pain, shame or traumatic events that left their mark in the form of an Insecure attachment.
Insecure attachment styles are the flip-side of a Secure attachment, and include the inverse of what a Secure attachment represents.
If a Secure attachment teaches trust, Insecure attachments teach distrust.
If a Secure attachment honors loyalty, Insecure attachments honor betrayal.
If a Secure attachment embraces love, Insecure attachments embrace indifference.
Because Secure attachments are just that, Secure, I’m not going to spend much time explaining what they need, because for the most part, their emotional needs have been consistently met in their lives.
As such, their greatest need from a partner is to respect their individuality, and to walk with them in life.
They don’t need to be led; and they don’t do the leading. They value a healthy balance of independence and interdependence, and they value the same in their partner.
. . .
What Insecure Attachments Need
Understand, that in order for partners to meet each other’s needs, both partners should be all-in, or nothing improves.
We should have enough self-awareness to recognize our own unique attachment style so that we can focus on meeting our own needs. This in itself represents a huge challenge because in order to meet our own needs, we have to reach a place of acceptance that our basic needs weren’t met early or consistently.
Our partner should be there to complement us, not complete us. And vice versa.
Recognizing where our unmet needs are, and how our attachment style is enmeshed with our unmet needs can shed light on where our inner child needs attention and love.
It helps by explaining what each type of Insecure attachment style needs from themselves and their partner because these are often stressful, push-pull relationships that can wreak havoc on a couple, and keeps a toxic push-pull in effect.
Anxious Attachment. An Anxious attachment is identified by the “pull”. The “pull” is usually pretty obvious — demands to spend more time together, complaints that they feel neglected or unheard, or tears and arguments are common.
If the “pull” is happening more subtlety, it can get mixed with manipulation tactics , such as having a flat tire and needing a ride, or attempts at making their partner jealous (hanging out with friends without their partner, etc ).
Dramatic behavior that can alienate or upset their partner is usually the furthest thing from their awareness. This type of anxious behavior is a (dysfunctional) attempt to get their needs met. They may have learned in childhood that the only way to be heard is by getting angry, crying or otherwise misbehaving.
They may not be aware that arguing may be an attempt at feeling heard or that trying to make their partner jealous may be an attempt at getting their affiliation, belonging or intimacy needs met. Or, they may have awareness but trying to talk to their partner went in one ear, out the other.
However, when manipulative tactics are used, it can ruin it for everyone (Secure attachments, too) because it plants the seeds of suspicion, doubt and distrust. It’s always our best bet to work on our own needs (trust issues, safety/security, self-esteem) first — before taking on a relationship and the needs of others.
The two things an Anxious attachment style needs from their partner are: to feel heard, and to trust them.
Feeling Heard. Many, if not not most with an Anxious attachment style, suffered some form of neglect, where they may have gone uncared for or silenced for having needs. Many have gone ‘silenced’ into their adult lives where they don’t have a voice or are scared to use it and stand up for themselves. So, their voice is only “used” in times of stess, or when fears of rejection or abandonment kick in.
Feeling heard to someone with an Anxious attachment means to validate their reality and their narrative. You don’t have to agree with them. But to actually listen, to allow them time to reflect — without judgment — and without conditions, can go a long way in caring for someone who’s insecure.
Trust is a big one for all Insecure attachment styles because trust either wasn’t taught or it was taught as hypocrisy. Thus, Insecure attachment styles don’t trust.
Getting an Insecurely attached partner to trust starts with both partners being transparent with each other that trust isn’t there. For anyone who battles an Insecure attachment, you know how damn near impossible it can be tearing your emotional wall down.
If you can’t get to this place or doubt how your partner will react, there’s your red flag. If you can get this first step knocked out of the way, the next step is finding a healthy way that works for both of you to build trust, such as looking at word and deed — that what’s being said is what’s being done.
Avoidant Attachment. An Avoidant attachment is identified by the “push”. They may not be overtly pushing away; the push can be subtle such as burying themselves in work, gaming or hobbies to avoid intimacy and communication. Subtle pushing can go on for as long as they’re avoiding the needs of the relationship in order to meet their own.
To an unsuspecting partner, they may not realize the signs because they may be out of touch with their own needs, which can keep the “push” in full effect.
Avoidant attachment is easily engulfed — feels emotionally threatened or like they’re losing themselves in the relationship. Those who’ve developed an Avoidant style may have had their boundaries overstepped earlier in life, or shamed for being themselves.
Because neglect is commonly seen with Avoidant attachments, their basic needs — trust, safety, belonging — usually went unmet where they learned to push others away and rely on themselves.
Those who are Avoidantly attached may view relationships as a means-to-an-end, or with a limited shelf life. They battle themselves, their desire for intimacy and their hatred of it, all at the same time.
Pushing away is based on Self-preservation and will often start when engulfment is triggered, which usually surrounds emotional intimacy, commitment, or if they feel vulnerable emotions (fear, love, sadness).
Two things an Avoidant attachment style needs from their partner are: space and privacy.
Unfortunately, their two biggest needs are challenging to provide. Because of the “pull” partners they are attracted to, many with an Avoidant attachment can trigger distrust in their partner based on their behavior.
For example, it’s not uncommon for an Avoidant to feel emotionally overwhelmed in intimate relationships. And, it’s not uncommon for them to step outside the relationship, breaking trust, and triggering an Anxiously-attached partner’s fears; it’s a Catch-22.
Because space is needed in order for them to maintain their sense of independence, communication (and trust) are needed. An Avoidant would need to be honest and up front about space — going for a jog alone, time alone in their home office, etc.
And, they should be prepared to be questioned about their need for space until their partner feels more secure. This requires an Avoidantly attached person to be completely transparent and consistently trustworthy, not only when it’s convenient for themselves.
Their other biggest need is privacy, which usually triggers an Anxiously-attached partner’s anxiety. There’s a difference between asking for privacy and space versus being suspicious and secretive, so a level of honest communication is necessary to build trust and keep it.
In order for an Avoidantly attached partner to get their needs met, they have to be willing to compromise, meet their partner in the middle and to be trustworthy, regardless of whether their partner is Anxiously attached or not.
Disorganized Attachment. A Disorganized attachment is identified by both the “push” and the “pull”. Those who have a Disorganized style often suffered repeated early life trauma including neglect, physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse. They have deep unmet needs and are terrified of being abandoned and engulfed.
On the one hand, they want intimacy and to feel loved because many haven’t experienced it. On the other hand, their fears run deep and affect how they engage in relationships. They love deeply, and they fear deeply
They require many needs being met, in both Anxious and Avoidant styles, but have two main additional ones: stability, and patience.
Stability is probably their biggest need — to feel safe, to have structure and consistency. Many with a Disorganized attachment had a chaotic upbringing that may have included inconsistent parenting — physical abuse one day, emotional neglect the next. Most weren’t taught trust as anything more than hypocrisy, and many grew up living in fear.
Stability is about offering them emotional consistency, predictability and a safe haven where they can learn to trust themselves and others.
Patience is another critical need they have because their behavior is usually based on fight/flight/freeze depending on whether they are feeling engulfed or fearing abandonment.
With patience, their need is to be understood, to feel heard and to be given space to feel safe.
. . .
Meeting Each Other’s Needs
Meeting each other’s needs starts with wanting to and with both partners shedding their social masks and being OK with being vulnerable with one another.
No, it won’t come easy. And, yes, there is a learning curve and a lot of forgiveness and patience necessary to reach a healthy level of emotional commitment.
But, it is worth fighting for.
. . .
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Bowlby, J. (1978). Attachment theory and its therapeutic implications. Adolescent Psychiatry, 6, 5–33.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and Anger. Basic Books; New York.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. Basic Books; New York.
Fraley, C. (2018). Adult attachment theory and research. Retrieved from http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm
Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.
Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.
Waltemire, C., Bush, K.R. (2017). Safety Needs. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, 1–4.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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