Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/1/2022
There are many patterns of attachment, and there are many kinds of emotional attachment. Attachment refers to the bond that develops between two individuals.
We all want healthy relationships, and the heart of any relationship is attachment.
It’s cliche, but relationships and attachments are the bedrock of any family, community or society.
But how can we better understand the style behind these relationships — what styles of attachment exist — and how they relate to our own well-being?
Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby and then expanded by Mary Ainsworth. It’s a theory that believes human beings need each other — deep, meaningful bonds and attachments — in order to survive.
Attachment theory initially focuses on the young needing the protection of their primary caregiver/s or their primary attachment figure.
It believes attachment figures are critical to understanding a person’s romantic partnerships, healthy relationships, intimate relationships, ability to experience emotional intimacy and their internal working model.
Attachment theory is rooted in the belief that someone’s psychological makeup can be better understood by the ways in which they attach (or don’t attach) to others.
One of the ways in which we understand attachment is that human beings attach to each other out of an evolutionary desire to survive at a young age.
We draw on those same evolutionary needs to survive and thrive as adults in the modern world.
But as societies and human beings have evolved from the days of spearing wooly mammoths and ransacking each others’ caves, people’s emotional and physical needs have evolved, too.
In short, peoples’ attachment behaviors have diversified.
There’s a lot to unpack here — and we’re going to — but it’s worth mentioning that the nuance involved with our attachment styles and what those styles mean for our adult relationships is pretty vast.
For instance, folks with avoidant attachment styles typically carry a negative view of their romantic partners, but positive views of themselves, and tend to avoid emotional closeness with their partners.
Those with anxious attachment styles, on the other hand, may have issues with the fear of abandonment and tend to seek out close bonds to help ease internal tension around fears of loneliness, isolation, etc.
It’s… Tricky, to say the least. But we’ll make the topic as understandable as we can!
While our specific attachments to people are nuanced and complex, the ways in which we classify those attachments do have a general outline to follow.
Typically, the way you interact with people and form relationships — whether romantic relationships or platonic ones — falls under one of four categories: anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant and secure.
Here’s a brief breakdown of those four adult attachment styles.
Anxious-avoidant attachment is a form of insecure attachment styles in which an infant tends to be avoidant of their parent or guardian.
If the infant is not avoidant, then the infant is indifferent towards their guardian.
The way anxious-avoidant attachment translates into adulthood is how it manifests in an adult’s comfort or discomfort in the presence of another human being.
Most commonly, anxious-avoidant attachment in an adult shows when an adult avoids deep, intimate and personal ties with another person. They prefer to be independent.
The avoidant person might have a rather warm, loving view of the person within their partnerships, but they tend to view others negatively.
Fearful-avoidant adults are considered to have a general discomfort with closeness.
When you have fearful attachment, you typically doubt your ability to be in efficacious relationships. Further, you have a negative view of yourself and others.
Making matters more challenging, those with fearful-avoidant attachment styles have trouble seeking out help in moments of stress or duress.
What that means, for example, is if you love someone, you fear being in love or, of course, the fear of rejection.
Those with fearful-avoidant attachment struggle to suppress the fear they experience when attached to another person.
Those with secure attachment types display constructive patterns of behavior and positive internal working models of themselves.
Further, these same individuals feel better on the inside. Because of their secure base, they relate to themselves better and, consequently, to others with a positive disposition.
As a result, secure attachment style allows individuals to relate positively to themselves, and it allows them to build constructive, healthy intimate relationships.
Those with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style deny their need for social interactions.
Typically, those who display dismissive-avoidant attachment styles have high self-esteem. However, their high self-esteem can impede their ability to pick up on their social needs.
There are many ways to seek help in identifying your attachment type.
One of the most effective ways of seeking help to identify your attachment type is through psychotherapy.
With psychotherapy, you can work individually with a trained professional who can address all your mental healthcare needs.
Further, by working one-on-one with a therapy provider, you’ll be able to do the necessary, but difficult and challenging work of identifying exactly what makes you, well, you.
By probing your psychological background and pedigree, a therapy provider can properly analyze your mental health challenges and give you the tools necessary to address whatever mental health obstacles or ailments you’ve been facing.
A therapy provider can also use a number of tools in helping identify your attachment type.
For example, cognitive behavioral therapy emphasizes a patient’s feelings, thoughts and environment. It analyzes the helpful and unhelpful ways a patient thinks and behaves, as well as the ways in which they cope with their thoughts and feelings.
CBT believes that if you properly address the interplay of a patient’s thoughts and feelings, you can learn to control the thoughts and feelings themselves.
Thoughts, feelings, behaviors — no wonder this would be a helpful tool when confronting one’s attachment tendencies.
Another form of therapy called psychodynamic therapy emphasizes the unconscious and subconscious influence on a person’s thoughts and behaviors.
Further, psychodynamic therapy puts an emphasis on the past — specifically, how it influences current behavior.
When evaluating how someone attaches to someone else, it only makes sense that psychodynamic therapy can be a helpful tool in bringing a patient better understanding of how and why they attach the way they do.
When it comes to group therapy, this is a space where you can speak openly and safely about your mental health needs.
Group therapy comes in many different forms, whether it’s for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or other forms of mental health challenges.
By being in a group, you’re in a controlled environment in which a mental health professional facilitates a comfortable environment for you to express and analyze what afflicts you.
Since psychiatry professionals are medically trained doctors, they can prescribe medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, antipsychotics, sedatives and others that can help you help yourself, along with all or most of the benefits of a regular therapy provider.
In the context of attachment, it may be that you need a mental health professional to help bring you back to normal and enable you to better engage in your relationships — whether they’re a romantic partnership or otherwise.
We’ve all heard the phrase “no man is an island.” From where we’re standing, that’s accurate.
Adult attachment styles can be tricky to understand and make sense of. People can typically be categorized as one of four main types: anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant and secure.
Figuring out which type you fall under can be critical to understanding how you behave the way you do with friends, loved ones, colleagues and even strangers — why your romantic relationships wind up the way they do, what types of friendships you gravitate toward, etc.
Fortunately, there are ways to understand your attachment style — how it impacts your life, why you have a particular attachment style and what you want to do about it.
With the proper help and support, there are networks at hand right now that can assist you in the journey of becoming more knowledgeable about who you are, understanding what makes you tick and how to live your life to the fullest.
Let’s get started.