NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Relationships: What is Your Attachment Style in Your Relationship?

In prior articles, I provided information about attachment styles as it relates to relationships (see my articles: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).  In this article, I give a more detailed description of attachment styles and how people with various attachment styles relate in their relationships.

What is Your Attachment Style?

How Attachment Styles Develop
We are all hard wired from birth to attach to our primary caregiver, which is usually the mother.  The reason why babies are born with the ability to attach is that their survival depends on their ability to attach and bond for getting their physical and emotional needs met from their mother.

Our attachment style develops at a young age primarily based on the interactions with our mothers as well as other experiences in life (see my article: How the Early Attachment Bond Affects Relationships).

Attachment styles are usually on a continuum from secure to insecure attachment.

What is a Secure Attachment Style?
About 50% of people have a secure attachment style.  If you have a secure attachment style, you're capable of having a good relationship (assuming you're also with someone who has a secure attachment style).

You have a healthy sense of self esteem.  Generally, you're also able to meet your partner's emotional needs without too many problems.  You are usually responsive instead of reactive (see my article: Responding Instead of Reacting to Stress).  

You don't play games or manipulate your partner.  You also don't personalize your partner's criticism.  You don't become defensive during conflicts, and you're able to de-escalate conflicts by problem solving, apologizing and forgiving.

What is an Insecure-Anxious Attachment Style?
About 20% of people have an insecure-anxious attachment style (see my article: Helping Your Spouse With Anxiety: Secure and Insecure Attachment Style Responses).

If you have an insecure-anxious attachment style, you need to be very close in your relationship--so much so that you give up your needs to accommodate your partner, even when it's detrimental to you.  

When you don't get your emotional needs met, you become unhappy.  You tend to worry that your partner doesn't want to be close.  You often take things personally when they're not personal, add a negative twist to things and then project a negative outcome.  

To alleviate your anxiety about your relationship, you try to manipulate your partner.  This might mean you withdraw emotionally or you tend to break up a lot with your partner, but then quickly want to get back into the same relationship--even when you know that the relationship isn't good for you because your partner isn't able to meet your emotional needs.  

When you're in the relationship, you have a tendency to be jealous and want a lot of attention (e.g., frequent texting--even when you've been told not to do it).  

What is Insecure-Avoidant Attachment Style?
About 25% of people have an insecure-avoidant attachment style (see my article: How an Avoidant Attachment Style Affects a Relationship).

Among people who have an insecure-avoidant attachment style, there are two subtypes:  Dismissive avoidant and fearful avoidant.

    Dismissive Avoidant Attachment StyleIf you have a dismissive avoidant attachment style, you tend to cut off difficult emotions (e.g., sadness, fear, shame, and so on).

    Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style: You want closeness, but you're afraid to get close or you have problems trusting potential partners.

Overall, as someone with an avoidant attachment style, your independence is more important to you than getting close.  You might be able to enjoy limited closeness, but that's the extent of it.  You tend to delay getting into close relationships and want your independence.  

Once you're in a relationship, you tend to create emotional and mental distance by focusing on your dissatisfaction with the relationship, focusing on your partner's flaws, reminiscing about when you were unattached/single or idealizing a former relationship.

You can be hypervigilant about your partner's attempts to control you or limit your freedom.  You engage in distancing behavior by making unilateral decisions (without consulting your partner), ignoring your partner and flirting with other people.  

If the relationship ends, you bury your feelings about the loss because you have difficulty coping with your more vulnerable emotions.  

Relationships and Attachment Styles
People are often unaware that being in a relationship unconsciously stimulates their attachment needs.

Often, people with anxious attachment styles get involved with people who have avoidant attachment styles.  Based on the descriptions of these two attachment styles above, you can see how this would be problematic because each person tends to trigger the insecurities in the other due to their opposing styles.

These couples often have codependent relationships.  Often, people with an anxious attachment style aren't attracted to someone with a secure attachment style.  Unconsciously, they're attracted to someone with an avoidant style and vice versa.  This is usually because the other person's attachment style affirms their unconscious fears about relationships and they are unaware of this.

People with anxious attachment styles tend to get attached very quickly before they have had a chance to assess the other person.  They often idealize their partner and overlook potential problems.

As they're trying to make relationships with avoidant people work, they suppress their own emotional needs.  Initially, this makes them more attractive to someone with an avoidant attachment style.  

However, as their anxiety increases and they make increasing demands of their avoidant partner, the avoidant partner sees them as "needy" and defends against the demands by withdrawing emotionally.  This, in turn, creates a destructive cycle.

Anxiously attached partners, also known as pursuers, often don't recognize their partner's emotional unavailability.  Often, they hang on too long in a relationship that isn't working and where their emotional needs aren't being met.  They confuse their longing for love.

Although people who are distancers give the appearance of not needing an emotional attachment, they need their pursuing partners just as much to have their emotional needs met.  

If one or both partners have a significant history of psychological trauma, this also adds to the stress on the relationship (see my article: How Trauma Affects Relationships).

Attachment styles develop during infancy.  They are mostly based on the relationship the infant has with his or her mother.  

Attachment styles are on a continuum with secure, insecure-anxious and insecure-avoidant being the predominant styles.  

Aside from anxious and avoidant attachment styles, about 3-5% of people have a combination style as a secure-anxious or anxious-avoidant style.

One of the most common relationship combinations is a person with an anxious attachment style getting together with a person with an avoidant attachment style.  

These two styles often exacerbate each other's problems because the more the anxious/pursuer pursues, the more the avoidant/withdrawer partner distances, and the more the avoidant/withdrawer distances, the more the anxious/pursuer pursues so they're caught in an ongoing cycle.

People who have a secure attachment style tend to have the most successful relationships.

In my next article, I'll focus on how to change from an insecure attachment style to a secure style: Developing an Earned Secure Attachment Style.

Getting Help in Therapy
Although it's rare for people to change their insecure attachment style without help, there are people who learn to have a secure attachment style in therapy.

When people are able to develop a secure attachment style, this is called an earned secure attachment.

If you're struggling with an insecure attachment style, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who has expertise in this area.

When you're able to develop an earned secure attachment style, not only will you feel more emotionally secure within yourself, you'll also have a better chance of having a successful relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.