Our attachment style determines much in our adult relationships from who we choose as our friends and partners and how these relationships will sometimes end. Attached patterns in adult platonic and romantic relationships are largely guided by the emotional bonds developed with our primary caregivers in the early phases of childhood. However, it is important to recognize that these patterns may also be influenced by environmental and genetic factors as well. For now, let’s just focus our attention on attachment and on how this plays out in adult relationships.
So, how do we define attachment? The definition of attachment is varied depending on the theorists being referenced. Work by Bowlby, Ainsworth, Bartholomew and Horowitz slightly differ but most theorists break attachment down into two broad categories: secure and insecure. Much of the research on attachment has been done with mothers and their relationships with the child. Attachment can be briefly explained as this. When a child shares strong emotional bonds with their parent (i.e. their mother), they ultimately develop a secure attachment style. While those who had weak emotional relationships with their parents during childhood, will develop an insecure attachment style. The three categories of insecure attachment often referenced are anxious preoccupied, dismissive avoidant, and fearful avoidant. It is important to recognize that attachment is on a continuum. Some people can present along the spectrum of secure and insecure attachment, showing features of being securely attached, anxious, and even avoidant. While others will clearly demonstrate signs of being securely or insecurely attached. Some of the insecure attachment styles will be discussed in more details in upcoming blogs.
There are many aspects and factors to consider in relationships whether platonic or romantic. An understanding of our own attachment style really speaks to our blueprint for building relationships with others. Even as we develop into adulthood, we will time and time again return to our blueprint or “schema” for building relationships with other people. How we connect with someone and how we emotionally respond when a loved one is separated from us has already been determined by early childhood experiences with our caregivers. Someone’s attachment style can influence how emotionally loving, warm, and forgiving they are within a relationship. Attachment style will even influence how emotionally dependent (needy) and independent someone is within an intimate relationship. Someone’s ability to be open and honest about feelings and resolve conflicts in healthy ways can be guided by their attachment style. The amount of attention and reassurance needed within relationships can be derived from attachment style as well.
So why is all of this important? The core relationship to self is what we learn in our early years from our interactions with our caregivers. Things like losses, traumas, divorces, and illnesses can affect our ability to develop a secure attachment during our childhood years. However, understanding our attachment style fosters a better understanding and awareness of self, the choices that we make, and some of our eventual relationship outcomes. This deeper understanding of self will aid in making better decisions that foster a sense of growth, development, and enhanced mental wellness.