Navigating relationship habits and the root of their origins
We've all heard of Freud and likely of his theories on love. Today, we're digging even deeper to discuss the Attachment Theory.
"Father" of the Attachment Theory, John Bowlby, describes attachment as "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." And it turns out that each of our formed habits in relationships are largely influenced and developed early in our childhood years; witnessing the expressions of connectedness by those around us.
"Many of the fears, beliefs, and behavioral patterns you emulate as an adult are derived from how you felt in the first few years of life."
Sure, it makes sense that we each acquire some of the relationship habits displayed by our childhood caretakers, and this study dives deep to help us understand just how subconscious those habits dug.
Bowlby's research breaks his theory into four core attachment styles; the hope being that once you're able to recognize yourself and your habits within the distinct styles, you'll use the associated insight to move toward strengthening your relationships.
The four styles offer significant insight into some key points of response and reactivity:
Proximity maintenance: The desire to be near the people we are attached to
Safe haven: Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat
Secure base: The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which they can explore the surrounding environment
Separation distress: Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure
Here's an little overview of each attachment style...
Low on avoidance, low on anxiety. Comfortable with intimacy; not worried about rejection or preoccupied with the relationship.
“It is easy for me to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”
Comfortable in a warm, loving, and emotionally close relationship
Depends on partner and allows partner to depend on them; is available for partner in times of need
Accepts partner’s need for separateness without feeling rejected or threatened; can be close and also independent
Trusting, empathic, tolerant of differences, and forgiving
Communicates emotions and needs honestly and openly; attuned to partner’s needs and responds appropriately; does not avoid conflict
Manages emotions well; not overly upset about relationship issues
Insight, resolution and forgiveness about past relationship issues and hurts
High on avoidance, low on anxiety. Uncomfortable with closeness and primarily values independence and freedom; not worried about partner’s availability.
“I am uncomfortable being close to others. I find it difficult to trust and depend on others and prefer that others do not depend on me. It is very important that I feel independent and self-sufficient. My partner wants me to be more intimate than I am comfortable being.”
Keeps partner at arm’s length; “deactivates” attachment needs, feelings and behaviors
Equates intimacy with loss of independence
Not able to depend on partner or allow partner to “lean on” them; independence is a priority
Communication is intellectual; less comfortable talking about emotions; avoids conflict, then explodes
Cool, controlled, stoic; compulsively self-sufficient; narrow emotional range; prefers to be alone
Good in a crisis; non-emotional, takes charge
Low on avoidance, high on anxiety. Crave closeness and intimacy, usually insecure about the relationship.
“I want to be extremely emotionally close with others, but others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t love or value me and will abandon me. My inordinate need for closeness scares people away.
Insecure in intimate relationships; regularly worried about rejection and abandonment; preoccupied with relationship; “hyperactivates” attachment needs and behavior
Needy; requires ongoing reassurance; want to “merge” with partner, which can scare partner away
Ruminates about unresolved past issues from family-of-origin, which intrudes into present perceptions and relationships (fear, hurt, anger, rejection)
Overly sensitive to partner’s actions and moods; takes partner’s behavior too personally
Highly emotional; can be argumentative, combative, angry and controlling; poor personal boundaries
Communication is not collaborative; unaware of own responsibility in relationship issues; blames others
Unpredictable and moody; connects through conflict, “stirs the pot"
High on avoidance, high on anxiety. Uncomfortable with intimacy, and worried about partner’s commitment and love.
“I am uncomfortable getting close to others, and find it difficult to trust and depend on them. I worry I will be hurt if I get close to my partner.”
Unresolved mindset and emotions; frightened by memories of prior traumas; losses from the past have not been not mourned or resolved
Cannot tolerate emotional closeness in a relationship; argumentative, rages, unable to regulate emotions; abusive and dysfunctional relationships recreate past patterns
Intrusive and frightening traumatic memories and triggers; dissociates to avoid pain; severe depression, PTSD
Antisocial; lack of empathy and remorse; aggressive and punitive; narcissistic, no regard for rules; substance abuse and criminality
*Most people typically have a predominant attachment style they'll tend to showcase in their close(r) relationships.
Feeling mixed on where your habits fit in? That's understandable! And there's a test for that. Actually, there are at least a few. Here is one (it'll take a mere ten-ish minutes of your time).
Attachment patterns are passed down through generations. By better understanding the role of attachment, you can gain greater appreciation of how the earliest attachments in your life may impact your adult relationships. And in that process, there's opportune healing and growth to be achieved, both individually and collectively.
By Sam Jump