Monday, September 15, 2014

What's Your Attachment Style?

Attachment is the way you connect with other people. We learn it from our parents and attachment figures while we are growing up. We carry our attachment style into our adult relationships, and it helps to shape who we become as a parent and partner.There are four types: preoccupied, fearful, dismissing and secure. None of the styles is bad, just part of who you are and the life experiences you've had. We may each be able to shift our style of attaching over time and through healing experiences.

If you are securely attached, you can trust others and let them close to support you. In this style, you allow yourself a full range of emotions, knowing that all feelings are okay. Securely attached people feel basically happy and capable, and they tend to view their partner as well-intentioned and trustworthy. If you have an anxious attachment style and choose a securely attached partner you are likely to find that the reliable bond with them helps you to grow more secure over time. You don't overreact to a partner's small mistakes or slights.

What if you have the preoccupied style of attachment? You may feel fearful of rejection. You might overreact to problems, and easy jump to the feeling that you can't cope. This type can drain a partner with a sense of being perpetually overwhelmed, vulnerable and needy. Your sensitivity may cause you to overreact to perceived slights by a romantic partner. It may mean that you pick fights or instigate conflict which may exhaust your partner. The attachment need feels so strong and the fear of not getting needs met is so intense that little things can have huge meaning for you. A slow response to a call or text message may create high levels of anxiety and upset, and cause you to jump to (negative) conclusions. No partner is ever going to intuit your every need perfectly. Preoccupied style of attachers "activate" their strategy to sort of scan for any possible problems in relationships in a hyper-vigilant way, which can cause stress and anxiety.

If you have the dismissing style of attachment, you move away from attachment and fight strongly for your autonomy and independence. You also predict that important people in your life will not be there for you when you need them, so you avoid your own feelings and the feelings of others. You may withhold from expressing affection to a partner and make an insecure partner feel more insecure. You probably feel conflicted about both wanting love, comfort and connection and also wanting to protect yourself from the risk of it. You want to believe you don't need love, but you do.

People with the fearful attachment style feel that they aren't loveable. Attachment figures growing up may have been unavailable, perhaps having their own problems. They deeply desire connection and closeness, but can avoid or send mixed messages to their partner. These individuals can be vulnerable to depression, anxiety and passivity, and need to express their needs directly. Individuals who have the fearful style of attachment often view their partner negatively and can't empathize much with them.

Understanding how your style of attaching creates challenges for you in building a satisfying, secure and joyful relationship gives you a good start. Close relationships give us emotional availability, safe haven and a secure base. Insight for how your early attachments with parents influenced your ability to attach will help you develop self-compassion for why you struggle with certain things. It may also help you build more compassion for your intimate partner as you discuss how your childhoods and past relationships colored your ability to get close.

Leslie Becker-Phelps has an insightful new book on this topic called, "Insecure In Love: How Anxious Attachment Can Make You Feel Jealous, Needy, and Worried and What You Can Do About It" (New Harbinger Publications, 2014). Becker-Phelps offers strategies for becoming a more securely attached person and partner.

We want to both become and look for a partner who can be securely attached, mature, non-defensive, effective at communication, appreciative, and affectionate. All intimate relationships will have some miscommunication at times. The best we can do is to choose wisely, have compassion for ourselves and the beloved, risk our own vulnerability, and try our best not to avoid, distance or act out of insecurity.

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