The Theory of Attachment Styles was developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby after they took an interest in how relationships with early caregivers impact relationships with others in adulthood.The ‘attachment style’ depicts how a person’s relationship with parents/ primary caregivers in childhood impacts the way they view their relationships in adulthood. There are four types of attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious, and disorganized (fearful-avoidant). Anxious, avoidant, and disorganized are all forms of insecure attachments that stem from unstable relationships with primary caregivers, whereas secure attachments are more solid due to needs being met by parents. The theory does not only apply to romantic relationships, but to intimate friendships as well.
A secure attachment is formed when an individual is raised by parents who are “open,
predictable, and have consistent responses”, according to psychologist Nicola LaPera. A sense of
security is also given to the child when they feel safe and comfortable to be themselves and to
express their feelings without shame. When clear communication and good boundaries are
modeled at home, this makes room for the development of a secure attachment.
Signs of Secure Attachment
● Confronts others + expresses themselves freely
● Trusts those around them
● Able to regulate and manage emotions
● Has clear boundaries
● Finds it easy to be alone
● Gives others space and honors their boundaries
An anxious attachment is an insecure attachment due to the inconsistency that is present in
childhood. The emotional unavailability that individuals experience as adults stems from the
parents’ own emotional unavailability. An anxious attachment forms when a child feels unseen
by parents because they neglected their needs and did not respond to their feelings. Parents also
lacked personal boundaries, and for that reason they tended to violate their children’s boundaries
rather than honor them. This leads to feelings of unworthiness, and a desire to be seen by others.
Signs of Anxious Attachment:
● Fear of abandonment and rejection
● Highly sensitive to criticism
● Overthinking how partner feels/ constantly worried they might leave
● Lack of boundaries/ people pleasing
● Tends to prioritize needs and feelings of others in relationships
● Low self-esteem
An avoidant attachment forms when a child grows up with a critical and emotionally dismissive
parent. They are emotionally distant and at points even absent. They were shamed for being
dependent on their parents, and taught to do things on their own. This leads to a desire to not
depend on others, but to fend for oneself.
Signs of Avoidant Attachment:
● Hyper independence as a result of trauma
● Wanting to be alone which leads to sabotaging healthy relationships out of fear (ex:
● Avoiding getting attached to others
● Being highly critical of others
Disorganized Attachment (Fearful-Avoidant)
The disorganized attachment is an incorporation of both anxious and avoidant attachments,
making it harder to treat. What makes it different from both attachments, is that this attachment
style is likely to include unresolved trauma from a parent’s side. The child could have been
abused by the parent (physically, emotionally, and sexually) or witnessed the parent being
abusive towards someone else. This makes the child feel unsafe and programs them to fear their
parents. If a child’s circumstances include poverty or situations that create an unsafe environment
for the child, then a disorganized attachment will most likely be developed.
Signs of Disorganized Attachment:
● Finding healthy relationships “boring”
● Craving intimacy but also sabotaging relationships due to fear
● Starting fights as a way to feel “stable” in a relationship, because instability is familiar
● Expecting people to eventually leave
Can Attachment Styles Change?
It’s important to note that the way we relate to others and view our relationships can change
overtime through corrective thinking. Even if you have lived in an environment that didn’t
encourage the development of a secure attachment, you can develop it as an adult.
There are several ways to move to a secure attachment:
- Learn how to regulate your emotions through self-talk
- Work on understanding your behavior and how your past might play a role (ex: observing
behavior and reflecting on triggers).
- Set specific standards for your relationships
- Healthily communicate your needs with others and build boundaries
- Analyze your relationships and let go of the ones that don’t serve you
- Find ways to build your self-esteem and assure yourself that you are deserving of love
● Do I have a hard time opening up to others?
● Do I find it easy to communicate my needs to others, or do I expect them to know how I feel?
● Do I see myself as an independent or a dependent person?
● Do I honor other people’s boundaries?