Don’t leave me this way! Discover your ‘attachment style’ and solve relationship problems

Is Having a Girlfriend or Boyfriend Good or Bad For Success? | by Kory  Kahley | Medium
image edited by F. Kaskais

by Amy Dawson

What is attachment theory? It’s one of those psychological terms you’ve probable heard bandied around, but never really understood. 

But identifying and understanding your attachment style can drastically change the way you form all kinds of relationships, and as a result, your entire life. 

Attachment theory works on the premise that we all display one of three major attachment styles – secure, anxious and avoidant. The type we have as an adult is (broadly speaking) dictated by the kind of care we received in our childhoods. 

We often talk about attachment theory with regards to romantic relationships, but it can apply just as readily to friendships and beyond.

This isn’t just psychobabble, or a trend – it’s a long-established and well-recognised theory developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the late 1960s, building on the original research of psychologist Mary Ainsworth. 

Understanding attachment theory might just revolutionise the way you form relationships (Getty Images)
Understanding attachment theory might just revolutionise the way you form relationships (Getty Images)

Bowlby was interested in studying why some children behaved frantically to avoid separation from their parents – later, studies went on to look at adult romantic relationships in terms of attachment style.

To put it simply, a person with a secure attachment style will tend to form stable, solid relationships – because they have grown up knowing that their care givers were always there, and could fulfil their every need. 

The other two insecure attachment styles are polar opposites, but both triggered by the same kind of upbringing. 

Both commitment-phobic avoiders and needy, anxious attachers are likely to have felt they couldn’t rely fully on their care-givers. Unsurprisingly, it’s these two attachment styles that tend to create the most problems. 

Those with an avoidant style tend to withdraw the moment they feel that someone is getting close, while anxious bonders can be clingy and addicted to intimacy. 

“If you spend a great deal of time worrying about your relationship and wondering whether your partner will leave you, then you have an an anxious attachment style, also known as anxious preoccupied,” Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist and director at The Private Therapy Clinic, told Yahoo. 

“This is thought to originate from an inconsistent parenting approach as a child, where it was uncertain whether or not you could go to your parents to have your emotional needs met. 

“Alternatively, if you try to avoid conflict by keeping people at arm’s length, this is typical of dismissive- avoidance attachment style, which is usually caused by being raised by an overbearing parent.”

You can identify your own attachment style by taking a long look at your past and present relationships – romantic, friendships and familial – and thinking about them objectively. It can be a lot easier to do this with the help of a therapist. 

Unfortunately, if you’re one of the non-secure attachment types, you tend to be drawn to your opposite – and not in the fun ‘opposites attract’ kind of way. 

“We often see avoidant attachment and anxious attachment in relationships together, with the anxious person constantly chasing the avoidant person, who turns out to be quite neglectful,” said Dr Spelman.

“Because these two types of people have probably experienced emotional wounds as children, with their parents inadequately attending to their emotional needs, they often find that they will be attracted to each other as they partially fulfil each other’s needs – which is what keeps them in this cycle of continuing to go back to each other.” 

Unfortunately, we tend to become somewhat addicted to the pain caused by toxic relationships – and attachment theory explains why. 

“It is usually the case that the avoidant partner does want closeness, but fears intimacy,” explained Dr Spelman. 

“The only type of person that would put up with their behaviour is an individual with an anxious attachment style, who will keep seeking reassurance…


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