Here you will find articles that help you understand the importance of attachment and how it impacts your connections with others. Whether it’s your family, partner, friends or even co-workers, an attachment is an integral part of how you relate to others.
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
Attachment styles differ depending on what sort of person you are and the way that your parents or guardians cared for you as a child. There are three primary types of attachment; secure, anxious, or avoidant. In these articles, you will learn about how the different kinds of attachment can impact your relationships.
When people are securely attached, they have confidence in their interpersonal relationships. Secure attachment is empowering because you are not afraid of being abandoned. Infants and children that are securely attached might be upset when their parent or guardian initially leaves, but they are confident that the parent or guardian will come back. Adults that are securely attached are generally trusting unless there is a tangible reason not to.
People with an anxious attachment style often worry about their partner or loved ones leaving them. Having these sorts of abandonment issues can be exhausting for people and their partners. People with this attachment style never “relax” in their relationships. Instead, they constantly work to prevent something bad from happening to them. Their partner may wonder why they feel this way and try to provide reassurance but to no avail. Anxious attachment may be due to circumstances in your childhood, but it could also be connected to a genetic predisposition, anxiety disorder, or traumatic adult relationship.
People who have an avoidant attachment style have trouble connecting with others. Someone with an avoidant attachment style may appear cold. In reality, they are afraid of being left if they share their true feelings. It is scary for someone with an avoidant attachment style to be vulnerable with another person. A person with an avoidant attachment style can be either dismissive or fearful. The dismissive-avoidant attachment style and the fearful-avoidant style attachment differ, but are both avoidant.
Attachment theory has been documented in many different psychology books and publications. Knowing your attachment style can be extremely helpful in bettering your relationships. Your attachment style influences your emotional bond with others. When you understand your attachment style, you’ll be able to navigate romantic partnerships better. Attachment theory emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, but many people became aware of attachment styles when the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller emerged in the year 2010. “Attached” remains an accessible read and is often the first piece of media that people refer to when learning about attachment.
How do I identify my attachment style?
You can identify your attachment style by taking quizzes online or by reading more about attachment styles and seeing which one (or which ones) you resonate with the most. Talking to a therapist can also help you identify your attachment style. Likely, you will be able to identify clues about your attachment style based on previous or current relationships. Certain circumstances in relationships might trigger attachment issues. For example, if one partner is avoidant and the other is anxious, both people may struggle in that partnership more than they would if one or both partners were securely attached.
Develop secure attachment
Attachment is a critical part of all relationships. You might be wondering if it’s possible to develop a secure attachment if you are not already securely attached. While attachment is incredibly deep-rooted, it is possible to develop a secure or more secure attachment style. You can seek the help of a licensed counselor at ReGain to talk about attachment or any other issues that you may have.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the 4 types of attachment?
The four types of attachment are secure attachment, avoidant attachment, anxious attachment, and disorganized attachment. Secure attachment is the goal, though only about 50% of people have a secure attachment style. Although attachment styles can vary regardless, early attachment is defined during infancy and childhood, and nurture certainly has an impact. Attachment theory suggests that the way our needs were or weren't met as children impacts the way adults feel in relationships. It creates a mental representation of whether or not our needs will be met. It's not that we consciously learn attachment security or lack thereof as a child; the development of our attachment style is generally unconscious and is related to if we have stable relationships with caregivers where they give us the social experience and response to our needs that we require. If our emotional and physical needs were met as children, we are more likely to have a secure attachment style.
What is attachment in a relationship?
Attachment is the sense of closeness and trust you feel with other people. It relates to your sense of security in relationships. Someone who's not securely attached may fear that people will leave, fail to stay close, or push others away, whereas someone who has a secure attachment style will attach to others healthily. People who are securely attached typically experience trust, healthy self-esteem, and the ability to be vulnerable or share their feelings with others. Attachment is important in relationships because it relates to the way we establish bonds with others.
How is attachment formed?
Attachment is recognized and built early in life, but it affects adult relationships when a person gets older. Psychologist Mary Ainsworth found that the attachment between a child and primary child caregiver (their parents, parent, or guardian/guardians) influenced which attachment style an individual would develop. The first year of life plays an important role in a baby or child's attachment. That said, if an attachment pattern changes, it can impact or shift the outcome of that early attachment. You want to make sure that your children feel secure and have an intrinsic and fundamental understanding that their needs will be met. To do this, you'll want to be sensitive responsive and provide them with social engagement. People who engage in attachment parenting focus on meeting their child's emotional and physical needs. The parent responds when a baby cries, validates a child's feelings, makes sure that the child's physical needs are well attended to, provides affection, makes sure to stay close, and returns when expected to build trust with the child over time. In addition to impacting someone's experience with romantic partners, attachment has been researched alongside cognitive development. Studies show that attachment in infancy influences both behavioral and cognitive development, with secure attachment having a positive impact.
Your relationship with your parents may have influenced the way you attach to others as an adult. Look back and think about how your needs were met as a child, including your emotional needs. For example, was someone there to respond when you cried? Did they stay close and return when they said they would? Did they validate your emotions, or did they invalidate them or tell you to get over it? It's something that could have more of an effect on you than you realize until you look into attachment behavior and patterns of attachment. Attachment influences our social experience and social emotional and romantic patterns in adulthood. No matter what your attachment style is, it's likely that you have an internal desire for a strong emotional bond. Insecure attachment isn't the absence of the desire for bonds with others. Instead, it makes someone fear that a bond could be broken, even when there is no reason to believe this will happen. Insecure attachment can interfere with relationships, which is why it's so crucial to work on attachment for healthy relationships.
Social emotional concerns and attachment concerns are something that often go hand in hand. Studies on early social deprivation and attachment say that children who are impacted by early social deprivation take longer to attach. The study specifically looked at institutionalized children and found that, while it took longer, the kids were able to attach a little later on. Cultivating healthy attachment takes a pointed effort following something like adoption, institutionalization, or anything else that could impact the ability to depend on a caregiver, but that effort is worth it. Look into ways to cultivate healthy attachment in children if you recognize the signs of insecure attachment, or even an attachment disorder, in your children. Even if the process isn't perfect, it's something that can be improved, and working to build trust and security with your child on their own terms is important. It might be a lifelong process for some people, but awareness is the first step to forming healthy attachments after battles with attachment for many.
Do I have an attachment disorder?
It is possible that you could have an attachment disorder if you have the symptoms of one. Refer to the question, "What are the symptoms of attachment disorder?" below to see the signs that you might have an attachment disorder as an adult. Although they are diagnosed in children, many agree that attachment disorders also affect adults. Whether positive or negative, your attachment style and attachment security most certainly affects your relationships. It is hard when you realize that you see the symptoms in yourself, so it's important to give yourself compassion and remember that this isn't your fault. Additionally, it is something that you can work through.
If you struggle with attachment, it's beneficial to find a therapist who can help you with attachment and relationships. When you find a therapist, they will help you work through any wounding related to attachment so that your romantic relationships and other adult relationships do not suffer. Often, when a person is able to identify attachment patterns, it helps them realize their patterns or insecurities and work through them accordingly. Attachment is something that can change over time if you put the work in, and you can become more securely attached over time.
To find a therapist you can search the web, ask your doctor for a referral or call your insurance company and ask how to find a therapist that takes your insurance plan. Another way to find a therapist is to see an online counselor or therapist through a website like ReGain. To find a therapist at ReGain, start by going to https://www.regain.us/start/.
What does insecure attachment look like?
Insecure attachment might refer to avoidant or anxious attachment. Insecure attachment refers to any attachment style with the lack of attachment security.
Here are some of the potential signs of anxious preoccupied attachment:
- Reassurance seeking or the need for reassurance that someone will not leave you
- Difficulty trusting others
- Finding that your moods are controlled or easily influenced by the sense of closeness or proximity you have to another person
- Fear of abandonment
- Low confidence
Here are some of the potential signs of avoidant attachment:
- The tendency to detach or experience fear when you get begin to get close to others
- Discomfort with emotional intimacy or vulnerability
- The tendency to send mixed signals out of a combined desire for intimacy and fear of intimacy
- Difficulty trusting others
- Fear of commitment
- A tendency to leave when closeness begins to establish
- Looking for reasons to dislike a partner or potential partner out of fear of closeness
On top of anxious preoccupied attachment and avoidant attachment, another kind of insecure attachment is resistant attachment. Resistant attachment in children will look like a child who is too anxious to explore the world and is distressed without their caregiver or parent, but once they are reunited, the child is either upset at the caregiver or appears ambivalent toward the caregiver.
What are the symptoms of attachment disorder?
Here are the symptoms of an attachment disorder:
- Struggles with affection, whether it is showing or receiving affection
- Difficulty showing certain emotions
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Outburst or concerns related to anger management
- Acting out
- A strong desire for control
- Sadness or fear
Though attachment disorders are technically diagnosed in children, adults can struggle with attachment disorders and are most certainly impacted by their attachment style. To cultivate secure attachment in children, there are a variety of things that parents can and should do. A child must see that a caregiver returns when they leave, creating basic patterns of security. Additionally, to cultivate secure attachment in children, you should respond to their emotional needs and physical needs. For example, come immediately when your baby cries and comfort them, and respond to their physical needs, including hunger. Spend time with your child, make eye contact with them, and ensure that your patterns related to care, response, presence, and proximity are predictable. You should be emotionally available and there for your child to come to. If your child can depend on you to show up and meet their needs, trust will build, and your child will know that they can rely on you. The sensation of unmet needs can exist long into adulthood, and despite the fact that needs in a romantic relationship will vary from those in a parent-child relationship, knowing that your needs should be met sets you up to have stable relationships.
What are the signs of attachment disorder in adults?
Difficulties with attachment can manifest in different ways. Here are some of the signs of attachment disorders in adults that you can look out for if you think you have an attachment disorder:
- Difficulty maintaining stable relationships
- Anger or anger management issues
- A tendency to withdraw or detach from others
- Trouble giving or receiving love and affection
- Difficulty trusting others
- Feeling empty or numb
- Feeling as though you do not belong
- Control issues
Lack of secure attachment may pair with diagnoses of a mental illness that is not an attachment disorder, including borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder or BPD, in particular, is a mental illness affiliated with childhood attachment through research. Those with childhood trauma are more susceptible to attachment disorders as well as BPD and other mental health conditions. To find a therapist who works with trauma, you can search for "find a therapist near me trauma," "trauma therapist near me," or see a provider through an online therapy company like ReGain. You can also find a therapist who specializes in trauma by contacting your insurance company or looking at their website to see what they cover.
What does attachment feel like?
Attachment feels like the way that you experience security or insecurity in relationships. Do you get anxious that someone is going to leave you if they take more than 30 minutes to text back, with no other reason? Do you fear that your partner will leave you when you're in a romantic relationship, no matter how much they tell you that they love you? Are you always looking for reassurance that someone will not leave? If so, those are signs of anxious attachment. Alternatively, if you trust that your partner loves you when they say they do and understand that taking time to text back doesn't mean that they no longer love you, you likely have a secure attachment style. Of course, in relationships where trust has been broken or where your emotional needs are not fulfilled, it is different. Someone with a secure attachment style will notice it when a relationship isn't quite right, but it will not be out of proportion to the partner or spouse's general behavior. Secure attachment feels like a baseline of trust.
How do you know if you have anxious attachment?
People with anxious attachment tend to seek reassurance or experience anxiety related to if the people in their life will stick around and remain true to what they say. If you have a pervasive fear that romantic partners will leave no matter what they tell you or do to show you that they won't, or if your need for someone to show or tell you that they will not leave is constant and is impacting the relationship, it is likely that you have anxious attachment. It's important to remember that attachment can become more secure, and that it is just a matter of putting the work in. Refer to the question "What does insecure attachment look like?" to see the signs of an anxious attachment style. If you notice them in yourself, it's likely that you have an anxious preoccupied attachment style.
How do I know my attachment style?
You might wonder if you have secure anxious preoccupied, avoidant, or disorganized attachment. If you relate to the signs of anxious attachment or avoidant attachment above, it's likely that you have an anxious or avoidant attachment style. Attachment avoidance is typically born when someone believes that they can't rely on anyone to meet their own needs. Someone with an avoidant attachment style is very independent, but they fear closeness due to the belief that it isn't safe or that the bond or proximity to another person will fail. Someone with an anxious attachment style also fears that a bond isn't reliable, but it manifests differently, with a person seeking reassurance or displaying nervousness about the potential of a romantic partner leaving even when there's no marked reason that they would. If you have a secure attachment style, you will trust that others are telling the truth when they say that they love you, are here, and will return. You'll be able to let others in and will establish stable relationships without fear or suspicion.
Does daycare affect attachment?
When looking at attachment in children, it's been noted that the majority of children are not affected by daycare. At least, not negatively. It can, in fact, positively influence attachment if a child forms a healthy, trusting bond with a daycare professional. One of the main hallmarks of secure attachment styles is that a person understands that someone will come back and that small absences do not mean that someone's leaving them. So, when a parent shows up to pick their child up from daycare, it will remind them that the parent is true to their word and that they can trust the caregiver.
What is an attachment disorder?
An attachment disorder is a mental health condition that is diagnosed in children. The most commonly spoken about attachment disorder is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Attachment is something that impacts everyone. It impacts any romantic relationship, friendship, and other connection we get into. Some people even say that it affects the workplace. We all have an attachment style, and while the goal is to work toward secure attachment, it doesn't make you "less than" if you aren't securely attached or if you have an attachment disorder. The effects of an attachment disorder can last into adulthood, and many people see signs of an attachment disorders in themselves as an adult. The good news is that if you find a therapist who understands attachment, it is something that you can work on. Sometimes, issues with attachment pair mental illness diagnoses such as eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and personality disorders such as BPD. If you experience symptoms related to eating disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, or personality disorders, it is important to see a mental health professional.
What are insecure attachments?
Insecure attachments refer to any attachment style that is not secure. That means that anxious attachment and avoidant attachment are both forms of insecure attachment. People with an insecure attachment style tend to experience a greater struggle with creating bonds and building healthy, trusting relationships. If someone is securely attached, they won't worry that a person will leave without reason and will not need constant reassurance that someone will not leave them because they fundamentally believe that their needs will be met, nor will they push people away out of the fear of getting close. To learn more about the signs of insecure attachment styles, refer to the question, "what does insecure attachment look like?" A mental health professional can help you work through insecure attachment so that you can have healthy bonds moving forward. Find a counselor or therapist in your local area, or start working with a professional at ReGain today.