Relationships

What Is Attachment Theory and What Are the Different Attachment Styles?

What if we told you there’s a way to overcome the barriers of connection and discover more passion, intimacy, and fulfillment in current or future relationships? It all comes down to attachment theory. By learning to embrace attachment theory, you’ll discover how to cultivate meaningful connections, promote personal growth, and nurture fulfilling relationships that stand the test of time.

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano, LPC

Updated on May 13, 2024

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Do you find yourself struggling to connect with others on a deep and meaningful level? You’re not alone.  As social creatures, it’s natural for us to seek companionship, love, and unwavering support from our partners. Yet, many of us struggle to navigate the complexities of our relationships. 

What if we told you there’s a way to overcome the barriers of connection and discover more passion, intimacy, and fulfillment in current or future relationships? It all comes down to attachment theory.

This theory, which is the foundation of attachment styles, illuminates the profound impact that our early bonding experiences have on our adult connections, shaping our emotional landscape. As adults, the attachment theory influences the way we think about, perceive, and act toward our loved ones. 

Read on as we uncover the different attachment styles and explore how they affect our communication, trust, and intimacy with our romantic partners. By learning to embrace attachment theory, you’ll discover how to cultivate meaningful connections, promote personal growth, and nurture fulfilling relationships that stand the test of time.

What Are Attachment Styles? 

When it comes to human connection, understanding our attachment styles gives us the ability to unlock deeper self-awareness, transform relationship dynamics, and cultivate healthier emotional bonds with others. 

The attachment theory is a psychological framework coined by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, exploring the nature of emotional and behavioral responses that we develop in our intimate relationships. Early experiences with our caregivers shape our attachment styles. In turn, this influences how we form connections, build trust, embrace intimacy, navigate communication, regulate emotions, and prioritize self-worth. 

Psychologist Mary Ainsworth, who conducted The Strange Situation to observe attachment styles in children, later expanded upon this theory. 

According to Melissa Galica, a licensed professional counselor with Grow Therapy, “Attachment is a captivating phenomenon that holds immense significance in our very existence. Regarding romantic relationships, it possesses the power to either cultivate robust, healthy bonds or inflict devastating toxicity that some might describe as soul-shattering. The way we form and maintain attachments in our intimate connections can profoundly impact our emotional well-being and overall quality of life.” 

At the heart of attachment theory lies the following four attachment styles:

Secure Attachment Style

Sharing a healthy and positive emotional bond between individuals characterizes a secure attachment style. These individuals can be compared to a sturdy oak tree, firmly rooted in the earth, standing tall and resilient — one that can weather storms with stability and confidence. According to research, secure attachment styles were the most prevalent at the time it was published, with about 66% of Americans demonstrating secure attachment patterns.

An individual with secure attachment likely had a primary caregiver who was consistent, responsive, and attentive to them, providing comfort, support, and reassurance. Securely attached individuals are capable of venturing out into the world with confidence, knowing they have a secure base to return to. 

Common signs of a securely attached individual include:

Alongside these factors, it is also characterized by the willingness and inclination to engage in long-term, committed relationships. 

Anxious Attachment Style

Feelings of stress or uncertainty within a relationship characterize an anxious attachment style, also known as insecure attachment or ambivalent attachment.  

Common signs include:

During childhood, this individual’s caregivers may have been inconsistent in both their responsiveness and availability, causing heightened levels of uncertainty, worry, and anxiety

Avoidant Attachment Style

A fear of commitment defines the avoidant attachment style, also known as dismissive-avoidant attachment or fearful-avoidant attachment.

Common signs include:

The avoidant type is often brought up in a family where the caregivers are emotionally distant, inconsistent, and dismissive of their child’s needs. 

Disorganized Attachment Style

The disorganized attachment style, also known as anxious-avoidant attachment, is characterized by having a conflicted and inconsistent approach to relationships. Many features of disorganized attachment parallel the avoidant type.

Common signs include: 

A disorganized child’s caregivers tend to exhibit frightening or disoriented behavior, causing the child to grow up confused, fearful, and lacking organization. 

Learn more about your attachment style

Book a therapy session

How Attachment Styles Affect Communication, Trust, and Intimacy

Attachment styles apply to our everyday lives, influencing several key aspects of a healthy relationship including communication, trust, and intimacy. 

Attachment and Communication

In the landscape of a secure relationship dynamic, individuals are capable of engaging in open and effective communication. They express their emotional needs while also perceiving and respecting their partner’s perspectives. This type of attachment fosters mutual understanding and conflict resolution. 

Anxious attachment leads to frequent communication on the basis of reassurance or validation, while avoidant and disorganized attachment may result in emotional withdrawal, hindering connection. 

Attachment and Trust

Securely attached individuals are adept at fostering trust and security due to consistent support from caregivers.

Those with anxious attachments struggle to trust others due to fear of rejection or abandonment. On the other hand, avoidant and disorganized attachment behaviors are less likely to develop deep trust and emotional bonds due to fear or hesitation regarding emotional closeness. 

Attachment and Intimacy

A secure attachment type expresses high levels of vulnerability, allowing for deep emotional intimacy to take place.

Anxious attachment tends to form close intimate bonds that may be marked by insecurity, fear, and a need for constant reassurance. Both avoidant and disorganized attachment struggle to be vulnerable, remaining distant and emotionally guarded.

Attachment Styles and Parenting

Our experiences with caregivers in early childhood strongly influence our attachment styles. These attachment styles, in turn, play a significant role in shaping our adult romantic relationships and the bonds we form with our own children.

Attachment styles shape our behavior in relationships, eventually becoming the blueprint for our parenting behaviors. Here’s an overview of how different attachment styles influence our relationships with our children:

Secure Attachment and Parenting 

Individuals who are securely attached tend to express a nurturing and responsive parenting style. Being comfortable with emotional intimacy and having a willingness to express emotions openly and vulnerably, they create a safe and stable environment for their children to do the same. 

Anxious Attachment and Parenting 

Parents with an anxious attachment style tend to become overly involved and protective of their children, constantly worrying about rejection. Oftentimes, this can lead to an over-dependent parent-child dynamic, causing the child to lack autonomy and become less willing to develop independence. 

Avoidant Attachment and Parenting 

Avoidant attachment parents might prioritize independence and self-sufficiency. This may lead to emotional distance from their children. As a result, young children of avoidant parents struggle to express emotions and discover major challenges in forming healthy relationships later in life. 

Disorganized Attachment and Parenting 

Disorganized parents tend to experience inconsistency in their parenting approach due to their own unresolved childhood trauma or fear from their upbringing. They exhibit unpredictable parenting behaviors, causing their child to experience confusion, insecurity, and difficulty understanding emotions. 

Identifying Your Attachment Style

Identifying your attachment style involves self-reflection and exploring your past and current relationship patterns. Here are two effective approaches to consider:

Adult Attachment Interview

The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) is a structured interview conducted by a therapist that explores childhood experiences and the role they play in your attachment style. This interview encompasses a series of questions aimed at understanding your memories, emotions, and narratives related to adult attachment styles. 

Attachment Style Questionnaire 

Questionnaires are another strong measure of attachment styles. These consist of a series of self-reported questions that require you to rate your ‘agreeability’ or ‘disagreeably’ to each scenario or statement. Hazan and Shaver originally proposed an attachment style quiz to measure relationship patterns. 

Changing Your Attachment Style

There’s power in change. Transform your attachment patterns through therapy, mindfulness, and self-compassion.

Begin Therapy 

According to Galica, “Attachment styles are not fixed and can be changed over time with self-awareness, effort, and appropriate interventions. Therapy can be a helpful tool in changing one’s attachment style. A skilled therapist can help you gain insight into your attachment style, identify unhealthy or maladaptive patterns, and guide you in making positive changes.”

Therapy serves as a valuable tool for exploring our attachment patterns. Working with a licensed therapist can help you: 

Through therapy, individuals will learn healthier, more secure ways of connection with others, enabling them to cultivate stronger, more fulfilling relationships. 

Embrace Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice rooted in present-moment awareness. It helps to evolve our perspective in many areas of life, including how we relate and connect with others. Mindfulness gives us permission to observe our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without judgment, creating space to self-reflect and gain insight about ourselves. 

Heightened self-awareness allows us to recognize insecurity or avoidance and empowers us to redirect our response in a healthier manner. Research suggests that cultivating mindful awareness can enhance productive behavior for both anxious and avoidant individuals. This improvement is achieved through increased awareness of our reactions, enhanced self-esteem, better emotional regulation, and heightened empathy.

Practice Self-Compassion 

Self-compassion is another fundamental element to help transform our attachment styles. This practice involves treating ourselves with kindness, acceptance, and understanding, especially in the face of relationship hardships. 

One study found that individuals who demonstrated higher levels of self-compassion tend to have more trusting and supportive relationships with others. This is because individuals who practiced self-compassion were:

Practicing self-compassion can challenge our inner critic and allow us to develop a more nurturing and supportive self-talk. It cultivates a sense of worthiness from within, reducing our need for external validation and allowing us to foster healthier attachments. 

The Importance of Understanding Your Attachment Style 

Taking initiative in your love life is important. No matter if you’re healing from a breakup or are happily married, it’s never too late to reflect on your own attachment style and how it may be impacting your relationships. By embracing attachment theory, you can cultivate meaningful connections, promote personal growth, and nurture more fulfilling relationships. 

When in doubt, reach out to a therapist, like those at Grow Therapy, who have experience with attachment styles to help you develop your attachment patterns and boundaries. They can help you embrace your confidence in a relationship setting, limit your need to seek external validation, enable you to build healthy boundaries, and help you foster secure child attachment as a parent. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano, LPC

Greg Lozano is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in working with individuals with severe mental illnesses such as depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse conditions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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