Attachment is a special emotional relationship that involves an exchange of comfort, care and pleasure. John Bowlby devoted extensive research to the concept of childhood attachment, describing it as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
Attachment patterns established in childhood have an important impact on and can even help predict patterns of behaviour in later relationships. Bartholomew and Horowitz devised four adult attachment styles: secure, anxious–preoccupied, dismissive–avoidant, and fearful–avoidant.
Securely attached adults tend to believe: “It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.” This style of attachment usually results from a history of warm and responsive infant-caregiver relations.
Securely attached people tend to have positive and satisfying views of themselves, partners and relationships. They feel comfortable with a balance of both intimacy and independence in a relationship.
People with anxious-preoccupied attachment tend to believe: “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.” They seek high levels of intimacy, approval and responsiveness from others, often becoming clingy and dependent.
An anxious-preoccupied style brings doubt about their worth in a relationship and creates self-blame for others’ lack of responsiveness. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry and impulsiveness in their relationships.
People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment believe: “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.” The desire for independence often appears as an attempt to avoid attachment altogether.
With dismissive-avoidant attachment, there may be a denial of needing close relationships. Some may even view close relationships as relatively unimportant. Not surprisingly, they seek less intimacy within relationships. People with a dismissive–avoidant attachment style tend to suppress and hide their feelings.
People with fearful-avoidant attachment style have mixed feelings about close relationships. Although they desire having emotionally close relationships, they tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness from their partners, and do not trust others’ intentions.
They seek less intimacy from people and frequently suppress and deny their feelings. Often they feel compelled to leave the person who they deep down love because something inside them “doesn’t feel right.” Childhood losses and abuse may contribute to this attachment style.
Becoming aware of our attachment style gives us insights into how we relate in relationships. Clearly, mismatched attachment styles can lead to relationship problems. Knowing key concepts in attachment theory, such as sharing of feelings, trust, security, independence, and partner responsiveness can open the dialogue for deepening our relationships.