I didn't have the best relationships with my parents as a child, and the lack of a secure attachment style in childhood is still effecting me today.
If you didn't have the perfect childhood, as I did, you may be carrying attachment issues into adulthood. Throughout my life, people I loved told me that they would always be there for me, but when the going got rough, they always ended up leaving. This created the belief that relationships aren't trustworthy, so I have to prepare for the people I love to leave.
The way I feel in my relationships isn't a healthy relationship style. I alternate between feeling needy and pushing people away. This results in tumultuous relationships.
If you grew up in a household with healthy, loving parents, it is more likely that you have a happy and healthy relationship with your partner and friends.
How we are raised in childhood, and our relationships with our parents, serves for the template for our other relationships later in life.
What are attachment styles?
There are four different attachment styles, which are brought about different types of relationships with our parents and other caregivers later in life.
According to The Attachment Project, the four attachment styles are:
Anxious (also referred to as Preoccupied)
Avoidant (also referred to as Dismissive)
Disorganized (also referred to as Fearful-Avoidant)
The goal of our parenting is to help our children to form a Secure Attachment with us, which will in turn improve their relationships later in life. This can be done through using an Attachment or Authoritative Parenting approach. A secure attachment makes people well adjusted and generally prepared with the skills to have happy relationships.
According to The Attachment Project,
"Adults with a secure attachment style can depend on their partners and in turn, let their partners rely on them.
Relationships are based on honesty, tolerance, and emotional closeness.
The secure attachment type thrive in their relationships, but also don’t fear being on their own. They do not depend on the responsiveness or approval of their partners, and tend to have a positive view of themselves and others."
Personally, I am at the other end of the spectrum with a Disorganized Attachment. This can be a result of parenting that is either abusive, neglectful, or both. When children aren't parented in a loving way, then they haven't learned the skills necessary to have healthy relationships later in life.
As I described early, relationships have not always been easy for me. According to the Personal Development School,
Relationships "can feel chaotic, confusing and overwhelming because you swing between being avoidant and anxious.
This can be incredibly painful for both you and your romantic partners – as depending on the relationship, your mental state can shift from: “I want you… come closer!” to “Slow down, not THAT close!”
If you’re dating someone more avoidant, you may become “needy,” insecure or anxious because you fear abandonment.
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, if you’re dating someone who is more anxiously attached, you might become more avoidant and even feel turned off when they get too close."
A disorganized attachment style makes it difficult for me to maintain close relationships, because I am constantly afraid that love is not going to last. When I perceive someone as threatening, or not meeting my needs in some way, I push them away.
In between the Secure and Disorganized Attachment Styles are Anxious / Preoccupied and Avoidant / Dismissive.
According to The Attachment Project, people with an Avoidant/ Dismissive Attachment style typically will not need to be in a relationship, and have a tendency to avoid closeness.
"The dismissing / avoidant type tend to believe that they don’t have to be in a relationship to feel complete.
They do not want to depend on others, have others depend on them, or seek support and approval in social bonds.
Adults with this attachment style generally avoid emotional closeness. They also tend to hide or suppress their feelings when faced with a potentially emotion-dense situation."
On the other hand, people with an Anxious / Preoccupied Attachment style are obsessed with their relationships. They are always thinking about their partner, their partner's needs, and what their partner thinks of them. According to The Attachment Project, "
"The anxious adult often seeks approval, support, and responsiveness from their partner.
People with this attachment style value their relationships highly, but are often anxious and worried that their loved one is not as invested in the relationship as they are.
A strong fear of abandonment is present, and safety is a priority. The attention, care, and responsiveness of the partner appears to be the ‘remedy’ for anxiety.
On the other hand, the absence of support and intimacy can lead the anxious / preoccupied type to become more clinging and demanding, preoccupied with the relationship, and desperate for love."
After reading through these styles, it is easy to see how any of the insecure attachment styles would potentially alienate a partner in relationships. This is especially true if both partners have any style other than secure attachment.
To determine your attachment style, you can take an attachment styles quiz.
What you can do.
When you have an attachment style other than secure attachment, it can be helpful to go to individual or couples therapy. This allows you to have a safe space to discuss your personal attachment issues, and the resulting relationship issues that may ensue.
My attachment issues came up in therapy since I am coping with PTSD from childhood trauma. When I asked my therapist what I could do about my attachment style, he recommended that both my partner and I read Wired for Love.
In the book, it discusses how your adult relationships can help you change your attachment style for the better. This was helpful for me because my partner has a secure attachment style. He is the calm to my storm. His consistency has helped me learn how to trust, open up, and to talk things through in a conflict instead of running away.
If you and your partner both have insecure attachment styles, you can still work together to learn to have a secure attachment style through open communication and trust. Forming a basis of trust is key as the basis of a secure attachment.
Learning to communicate about feelings without blame or judgement is an important first step in creating a healthy relationship. Trust is important because it allows us to feel safe in opening up. When we talk about feelings, we make ourselves vulnerable, and in our relationship with our partners we should be able to do that.
For those of us that didn't grow up with healthy relationship templates, we don't always have the level of trust needed for good communication. So, we have to learn to trust gradually as we come to feel more safe with our partners. If we are single, communication skills can also be practiced with a therapist or close friends.
All in all, good communication can help us in every relationship not just romantic relationships. As we learn to have better communication skills, we can relate better to friends, coworkers, and our children as well.
Our childhood relationships with our parents form a template for other relationships later in life.
When we have healthy relationships with our parents, then we have a good relationship template for our adult relationships. The same is also true for unhealthy relationships.
As adults, we can change our relationship styles through trusting relationships with our partner, through therapy, and by learning and practicing better communication skills.
By becoming aware of our own attachment styles, it can also help us to be better parents as well. This way, our children will be able to form a secure attachment style and live happier lives.
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