If you are one of the many out there who finds yourself in repetitive patterns of unhealthy relationships, perhaps you might benefit from identifying your attachment style – which not only could answer some fundamental questions for you around your relationship “triggers” but also provide clues as to why you attract certain types of people.
There is great deal of research out there on infant attachment (John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth to name a few) about how early interactions with caregivers set up “internal working models” of expectations of how others will behave towards them in the future. Infants that do not feel physically or emotionally safe (responding to cries, mirroring appropriate facial expressions) with their primary caregivers may ultimately become adults who struggle in a variety of ways relationally.
In recent years there have been newer models developed to describe the way adults in intimate relationships relate to each other. Their attachment styles can usually be tied to their own earlier experiences and whether they had their needs met or not. There are four types of adult attachment styles but keep in mind that many people could be classified as an overlap of several.
Take a look at the list below and see if you can identify with any of them:
- Secure-Autonomous: You believe relationships are generally safe. You are comfortable with emotions and intimacy. You are optimistic about relationships lasting and bringing you satisfaction.
- Avoidant: You devalue relationships and may feel as if you don’t need them. You are uncomfortable with intimacy and vulnerability. You struggle with trusting people.
- Ambivalent: You fear and often worry about being abandoned. You are anxious and have a hard time coping when you’re emotionally triggered. You feel like a victim.
- Unresolved/Disorganized: You struggle to function, control your emotions and may dissociate or “space out.”
Does one or a combination of these categories fit for you?” The notion of a need for a “secure base” fits for the parent-child dynamic as well as in intimate partnerships. Don’t we all want to feel emotionally safe at any age with the primary people in our life?
The reality is that many of us have attachment wounds that run the gamut from serious abuse by parents to inadvertent mistakes by parents making inadvertent mistakes. They can show up later in your intimate relationships as understandable defensive positioning motivated by fear of the other not being there in the way you need (though this isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance).
Keep in mind that if secure attachments weren’t available early on, it doesn’t mean they can’t be developed. It requires developing an understanding of what kind of attachment style we have, making sense of why that fits for us and having new and positive experiences that counter our expectations.
The research around the neuroplasticity of the brain (Daniel Siegel, etc) suggests that there can actually be “new learnings” that cover up “old learnings.” If you can break your unhealthy relationship pattern long enough and experience something healthy, your internal working models can actually shift as your brain forges new neural pathways of experience.
You CAN change. This is exciting and hopeful news for many who have believed change is not possible.1