Relationships

What’s Your Attachment Style? All About the 4 Types

If you are wondering, “What is my attachment style,” you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll take a deep dive into attachment theory, the different attachment styles, and how to identify your attachment style.

isbell oliva garcia grow therapy By Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Updated on May 13, 2024

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Do you find it difficult to trust others in relationships? Is your instinct to distance yourself when relationships become more intimate? These are the kinds of questions on the minds of people who are looking to learn more about attachment styles and how they impact mental health and relationships.

If you are wondering, “What is my attachment style,” you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll take a deep dive into attachment theory, the different attachment styles, and how to identify your attachment style. We’ll also take a look at how to foster a more secure attachment style for healthy relationships, better self-esteem, greater self-sufficiency, and more balanced emotional well-being.

What is Attachment Style?

The idea of attachment styles comes from the concept of attachment theory. The crux of attachment theory is that when we are infants, we are programmed with an in-born desire for security and closeness from our caregivers.

Attachment theory was originally developed by a British psychoanalyst named John Bowlby. Canadian psychologist Mary Ainsworth, a colleague of Bowlby’s, came up with the idea of the existence of different attachment styles that we develop in early childhood and carry into adult relationships.

The three types of attachment patterns Ainsworth named were secure attachment, anxious attachment, and avoidant attachment. Researchers Mary Main and Judith Solomon later came up with a fourth type of attachment style: disorganized attachment style.

The Influence of Early Relationships and Caregivers

According to attachment theory, we are biologically primed to expect that our caregivers will do things like respond to our cries and comfort us when we are distressed. When caregivers respond with comfort and support, we are more likely to foster secure attachment styles. When we are securely attached, we develop a belief that our needs are worth being responded to, which builds self-confidence and positive self-worth.

However, when our caregivers are less responsive, or less consistently responsive, we develop insecure attachment styles, which cause us to develop unhealthy behavioral responses in relationships. For example, we may develop relationship anxiety or distrust in relationships. Insecurely attached adults are also more likely to develop psychiatric disorders.

The way that attachment developed when we were young has strong effects on our adult relationships and adult attachments, says Deborah Harland, MSW, LCSW, clinical social worker and therapist with Grow Therapy. “Early relationships set the expectation primarily on a subconscious level of how we interpret and make sense of the relationships we build as we grow,” she says.

Children who grow up with a foundation of secure attachment become adults who can trust the world. They usually feel that the people in it are safe to connect with, Harland explains. On the other hand, the insecure attachment styles (anxious, avoidant, disorganized) often “distort in different ways how newly forming relationships are perceived and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy based more on the underlying expectation than the facts in the communication,” Harland describes.

The Four Attachment Styles

Each of the four attachment styles have effects on our adult mental health, communication style, relationships, and self-confidence. Let’s take a look at the four attachment styles and the impacts they have.

Secure Attachment Style

Secure attachment style is the default style that infants develop if their needs are responded to consistently with warmth and support. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a securely attached infant will show confidence when near their parent, mild distress when separated from their parent, but then is able to calmly connect back with their parent when reunited.

Adults who have a secure attachment style usually exhibit feelings of trust in relationships and high levels of self-esteem. They are more likely to have traits that people look for in long-term partners, like warmth and reliability. They are also more likely to find relationships satisfying and can more successfully form long-lasting relationships. Finally, securely attached adults are less likely to experience depression or anxiety.

Anxious Attachment Style

An anxious attachment style is one of three types of insecure attachments. In the type of attachment style, infants react to unsupportive or unresponsive parenting by showing heightened levels of distress. They tend to focus on their caregiver and become preoccupied with the possibility of the caregiver leaving again or becoming unavailable. These children may be described as overdependent, and they often fear rejection.

Adults with anxious attachment styles often look for or perceive conflicts in all types of relationships. In general, they may have low levels of emotional well being and may find it challenging to feel grateful. They may be more prone to anxiety than depression, and aren’t usually easy to get along with in relationships.

Avoidant Attachment Style

Avoidant attachment style is developed when an infant’s caretaker is absent or non-responsive and the baby becomes less responsive, too. These babies are also less likely to feel comfortable exploring their environment. In essence, these babies are shutting down emotionally from their caregivers, because of a fear that they will be continually rejected.

People who have avoidant attachment styles will continue this emotionally shut down behavior into adulthood. While they may have a positive self-image themselves, they have negative views of others. They have trust issues and don’t feel comfortable relying on others. They may exhibit low warmth in relationships, and may be antisocial at times.

Disorganized Attachment Style

Disorganized attachment is a type of insecure attachment where symptoms aren’t consistent, and tend to vary. Sometimes infants with disorganized attachment will show signs of anxiety when separated from their parents; other times, they may show signs of detachment. Their behavior may look more random than anything else.

People with disorganized attachment styles tend to have challenging temperaments. This attachment style is linked to certain personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder. If you are in a relationship with someone who has a disorganized attachment style, you may find them controlling and abrasive.

Identifying Your Attachment Style

Identifying your own attachment style can be powerful, because it can help you understand your own mental health better, as well as the role you often play in your intimate relationships. After reading about the four different attachment styles, you may have a hunch about which attachment style you have. But you may need a little guidance to know for sure.

Attachment Style Questionnaires and Assessments

If you do a web search for “what is my attachment style?” you will likely see a few online quizzes and assessments. Attachment style quizzes can be a helpful place to start, and you may be able to gain some insight about your attachment style by trying one. But understanding your attachment style is a nuanced process, and receiving an assessment from a mental health professional is the best way to identify your attachment style.

Seeking Professional Guidance for a Comprehensive Evaluation

A mental health professional who is well versed in attachment styles is a great source for anyone who wants to know what their attachment style is and what it means for them. Other therapy types that can be helpful include trauma therapy, as attachment disorders are often born out of childhood traumas.

Working with a professional therapist may allow you to form a healthier attachment style in the future, says Harland, who is a trauma therapist herself. “Cultivating a more secure attachment style is possible through building self-awareness, intentional efforts to make new responses in relationships that match an assertive communication style, and potentially working through trauma history with a qualified therapist to be able to resolve stuck emotional beliefs that created the non-secure attachment,” Harland describes.

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Changing Your Attachment Style

Ultimately, the main reason that people want to know their attachment style is because they want to know if it’s possible to change their attachment style. This is especially true for people who have insecure attachment styles and feel that their attachment style may be negatively impacting their emotional well being or their relationships.

Understanding Attachment Patterns as a Starting Point

Harland says that understanding your attachment pattern and your attachment style can be a powerful stepping stone toward positive change. “Identifying possible attachment styles in or out of therapy can help a person understand the perceptions underlying emotional reactions and choices,” she explained. “Increased insight as to how attachment was shaped early in life can aid in giving meaning to irrational reactions as a starting point to grow from and adapt to more rational, assertive responses that can be learned even in adulthood.”

Building Secure Attachment

Here’s the million dollar question: Is it possible to change your attachment style and build a more secure attachment style? Harland says that yes, doing so is entirely possible.

Science is on our side here, according to Harland. “The brain’s plasticity allows for reshaping neuro pathways and changing underlying emotional beliefs,” she explains. “With learning, new experiences, and conscious effort we can relearn and change how relationships function to reprogram our attachment style.”

Some interesting research from 2020 found that people who simply have the desire to change their attachment style often end up doing so. The researchers found that people who recognized their anxious or avoidant behaviors, and who saw a need for change, experienced decreases in these traits. These people were also able to experience changes at faster rates than people who did not experience a desire to change.

Of course, this isn’t a process that happens overnight, and professional help is often needed. Usually people who seek to change their attachment style need to be in therapy to better understand what kind of attachment style they have, to recognize their attachment patterns in daily life and in relationships, and to do the challenging work of changing thought patterns and behaviors.

Seeking Therapy and Support for Personal Growth

If you are interested in exploring your attachment style further, and especially if you would like help cultivating a more healthy and secure attachment style, finding a trusted therapist is a must. Most therapists have training in more than one modality. You might consider asking any potential therapist if they have a background in attachment based psychotherapy or trauma therapy, both of which are therapy types that can help you work on attachment issues.

Don’t forget that therapy is one of several ways to feel supported as you do this work. “Support can also be found in new relationships with individuals who are secure and assertive, support groups, and continued expansion of knowledge through challenging oneself by alternating between self-reflection and learning,” Harland says.

As you work on understanding and nurturing your attachment style, make sure you take care of yourself, because this work can be emotionally challenging at times. Eating well, exercising daily, getting enough sleep, and practicing meditation can help ground you. Recording your feelings in a journal can also help you manage your feelings during this time, and may help you uncover additional insights about your attachment patterns.

Most of all, don’t forget that you aren’t alone. Countless people live with attachment issues, and becoming a healthier, more secure adult is a journey that so many of us are on, together.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
isbell oliva garcia grow therapy Isbell Oliva-Garcia, LMHC

Isbell Oliva-Garcia is a licensed mental health counselor, bilingual in English and Spanish. Isbell specializes in women's issues during difficult times of transition and also works with front-line individuals struggling with PTSD or stressors created by the job.

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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