Therapists, counselors, and mental health professionals recognize four different types of attachment styles. These styles or profiles are based on Attachment Theory, which was first introduced in the 1960s by John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst and psychologist with a focus on childhood development.
The attachment, or lack thereof, a child experiences in their early years forms a foundation for how they interact with others in the future. The attachment begins as an infant and relates to how the needs of the baby are met or not met by the caregiver. In most situations, this primary caregiver is the mother. However, it may include other individuals based on the specific family dynamics.
These early years set a mental framework for how you interpret and respond to conflict, how effectively you can communicate needs and emotions to others, and how you see your interactions in personal relationships.
The Attachment Styles
The attachment styles include the secure style, which is a person that is comfortable with who they are and in getting close to others. They are often seen as independent and confident. They are comfortable with periods of being alone or single without feeling any pressure to enter a new relationship.
The avoidant style dislikes intimacy on an emotional level and tend to want a relationship but also feel trapped and push away the partner. Anxious-avoidant people are constantly in and out of relationships, and often feel very unsettled when alone, but also dislike personal intimacy.
The anxious attachment style is always concerned about the stability or security of the relationship. People with this attachment style tend to agonize over the meaning of words or actions by a partner. They read negatives into otherwise neutral or positive interactions. They also tend to crave constant reassurance that the relationship is secure, and the affection and love are still present.
The specifics of how an attachment style develops can be linked to different factors. With the anxious attachment style, the most common factor is inconstancy in parenting. This may be related to parents that respond with excessive love and attention at some times while failing to respond at others.
For example, one day a parent may respond to an infant's cries by picking up the child, rocking the child, or singing or talking to the child. On other days, the baby may cry with no response or a very slow response by the parent or parents.
As the child gets older, this pattern may result in a child that becomes clingy and demanding of the parent or parents. When parenting styles are inconsistent between partners, or if a caregiver uses a different approach to meeting the child's needs, the child becomes confused and anxious.
Signs of an Anxious Attachment Style in Adults
Adults who experienced these types of negligent or inconsistent parenting issues display a range of different behaviors. These include:
· Overly close or demanding of a partner
· Lack of self-worth and self-esteem
· Highly reactive to criticism or perceived slight
· Constantly seeking reassurance, praise, or recognition
· Focus on any possible signs of relationship problems
· Highly impulsive and emotional
· Lack of predictability in responses
· Moody or unpredictable emotional responses
Relationships with these individuals are often very stressful, with the partner feeling crowded or smothered in the relationship, while continually needing to provide positive feedback to the individual with the anxious attachment style.
Managing the Relationship
It is very helpful for the couple to seek therapeutic support to address the anxious attachment style. The therapist or counselor can work with the couple to:
· Learn how to provide consistent assurance and support
· Create a safe emotional environment to provide attention while also reducing the need for the anxious individual to constantly seek this attention
· Develop boundaries for both partners
In many situations, a person with an anxious attachment style finds himself or herself in a toxic relationship. Their need for constant attention makes them vulnerable to the initial charisma that is often used by narcissists and addicts in the first few months of the relationship. However, once this period is over, the narcissist or the addict can use this as a source of power and control, keeping the individual in a toxic relationship through providing attention and then pulling it away.