We’ve all heard the heard word “attachment” before. It’s often on the peripheral of conversations when discussing behaviour in intimate relationships. But what exactly is it?
Generally speaking, some people become more attached in relationships than others. One is either labelled independent and low maintenance, or clingy and high maintenance. If we delve deeper however, there is much more going on, all of which can be traced back to our experiences as children.
The attachment experiences you have with the key parental figures in your life can influence the attachment style that develops in adulthood, particularly in intimate relationships.
Attachment Theory In Childhood
Attachment style is defined as the emotional bond you learn with your parents or primary caregiver(s) as you are growing up. John Bowlby developed a theory based on how children react to being separated from their parents, which was further developed by Mary Ainsworth.
Children who had accessible, attentive, loving parents developed a secure attachment. They were able to play happily and be around other people in the absence of their parents. Children whose parents were the opposite, developed insecure attachment. They were either anxious-resistant and distressed during separation, or anxious-avoidant.
Attachment Theory In Adulthood
The same concepts apply with adult bonds in romantic relationships. Some people are secure. They feel validated and loved. They are able to operate on an autonomous level outside of being a couple. They trust that the bond is safe, and that their partner will come back to them.
Those who are insecure will be dependent and fearful of rejection or being replaced. An insecure person may also rebel against having attachments in order to avoid being rejected. They may have commitment issues, sabotage relationships, or refuse to allow people to get close to them.
These experiences are also reinforced by previous relationships. Someone who has been on the receiving end of infidelity might develop an insecure attachment style with future partners.
Alternatively, someone who had absentee parents, but has had positive adult relationships, may be able to prevent an insecure attachment style from developing.
3 Categories Of Adult Attachment
Hazan and Shaver conducted research on adult attachment styles and found three categories based on statements which people had to identify with.
- Avoidant. “I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.”
- Secure. “I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”
- Anxious-resistant.“I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or won’t want to stay with me. I want to get very close to my partner, and this sometimes scares people away.”
The results concluded that 20% were avoidant, 60% were secure, and 20% were anxious-resistant. These results were similar to the ones uncovered in the earlier research with children.
Whilst we can’t change the events of our childhood or our past relationships, having a better understanding of our attachment style, and that of our partner, can assist in ensuring that the issues of our past do not become the issues of our present. Who you are today and what kind of partner you are, is the product of your past relationships, but how you choose to manage that moving forward is totally within your control.