Understanding Attachment Styles
To gain awareness into your personal attachment style.
What is Attachment Style? (Narang, pp. xii, xv)
Attachment style refers to a pattern of relating to others during social interactions; a pattern that is built in infancy and commonly follows a person into adulthood. It includes how easy or challenging it is for us to trust and be open with others, how willing we are to offer and receive emotional support, how able we are to soothe ourselves vs. unleashing our emotions on others, how confident we are of other’s good intentions, how skillful we are at identifying and closing off from those who would hurt us, and how much we are able to bond with others at a meaningful, non-superficial level.
Types of Attachment (Narang, pp. xii-xv)
We’ll discuss three types of attachment: secure attachment, attachment avoidance, and attachment anxiety. In future lessons, you’ll learn about how to move toward secure attachment and in turn, decrease your experience of loneliness. Characteristics of secure attachment include:
- Trusting that others will be there in one’s time of need and actively participating in helping oneself
- Being able to ask for emotional help when in high distress and being ready to provide emotional help to others
- Operating from a foundation of curiosity about others and willing to show others one’s own thoughts and feelings while refraining from over-disclosing to those one doesn’t know well
- Having a balanced view of childhood relationships-remembering both positive and painful events
- Refraining from overreacting when angry
- Terminating toxic relationships when needed
- Developing and ending relationships gradually
Characteristics of attachment anxiety include:
- Being preoccupied with whether or not others truly care and if they’ll be there for you
- Checking if others remain available
- Relying excessively on others for emotional support
- Responding sensitively to possible and actual rejections
- Experiencing frequent strong, painful emotions
- Being blinded from seeing one’s strengths and what one has to offer the world
- Having trouble remembering the good parts of one’s childhood, but remembering everything that hurt
- Going from being explosively emotional to highly submissive and apologetic during conflict
- Developing and ending relationships quickly and intensely
- Pulling people close when feeling lonely and pushing people away when feeling vulnerable
- Staying too long in toxic relationships
- Focusing on finding the solution to one’s problems in others instead of looking within oneself
- Feeling lonely due to preoccupying thoughts that question the quality and worthiness of both oneself and one’s relationships
Characteristics of attachment avoidance include:
- Struggling with the small talk needed to start new relationships, but being able to relate when there is a clear task or topic of discussion
- Difficulty asking for and receiving help from others, particularly emotional help to calm down when upset
- Feeling excessive pride when competent and unwarranted shame following failure
- Wanting to share oneself with others but not knowing how
- Rushing to problem-solve and give solutions before accurately understanding what the other person’s experience and problem is
- Thinking of relationships with parents as generally good, but being unable to remember sufficient details to accurately reflect the complexity of one’s history
- Withdrawing from others in times of need due to feeling it burdensome or irritating if others want to help-inadvertently hurting those who want to help
- Focusing excessively on proving that one is correct in times of conflict
- Ending relationships too quickly
- Trying to solve loneliness by focusing excessively upon work, tasks, goals, and material success
- Feeling lonely due to one’s difficulty being vulnerable with others
Earned Secure Attachment (Narang, pp. xii-xv)
View attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance as dimensions since nearly everyone has a little of one or the other or both, including people who are securely attached. Those with more attachment anxiety or avoidance often find themselves lonely. If you find yourself in that category, you may find it encouraging to hear that people routinely build earned secure attachment. Earned secure attachment is the same as secure attachment, except that one works to build it in adulthood.
Attachment Style Exercise (Narang, pp. 3-4)
Instructions: Reflect on the following questions to better understand your attachment style:
- What good habits did you develop from past relationship patterns (i.e., with parents/caregivers) that you continue using in present relationships?
- What bad habits did you develop from past relationship patterns (i.e., with parents/caregivers) that continue in present relationships? For example, if you received little support, you may now feel as if you don’t need any and find yourself unskilled in knowing how to ask for or receive help from others.
- Choose a relational bad habit from number two that you would most like to break. How would you like to work at breaking it?
Value of Mindfulness (Narang, p. xviii)
Mindfulness is simply being aware, moment by moment, of what you are experiencing, including your thoughts, emotions, physiological experiences, and related needs. You will learn how to practice mindfulness in this guide because of how it can help to overcome attachment difficulties. In the case of attachment avoidance, mindfulness helps one to become aware of internal and external experiences. With regard to attachment anxiety, mindfulness helps to unpack and dissolve overwhelming, painful emotions.
Here’s a video that more fully discusses attachment styles: