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Attachment

Why Knowing Our Attachment Style Matters in the Digital Age

How attachment styles impact our social media habits and what to do about it.

Key points

  • Attachment is the bond between an infant and caregiver. Attachment characteristics in early life may affect a person's connections later on.
  • Some attachment styles are more likely to experience the negative effects of social media, according to research.
  • People with avoidant or anxious attachment styles may experience anxiety from using social media or use it to retreat from negative emotions.
  • Some tips for altering one's attachment style include practicing mindfulness and building relationships with securely attached people.

Do you seek reassurances from your virtual friends? Do you use social media for emotional escape? Are you preoccupied with how many likes you get on a post? It might be because of your attachment style.

According to attachment theory, the quality of our relationships with our early and primary caregivers sets the stage for the health and success of our future relationships and the ways in which we connect with others. It’s so impactful that studies show certain attachment styles are more prone to experiencing negative effects from something as trivial seeming as social media.

The Three Main Attachment Styles

Secure attachment: If your early caregivers were consistently available, emotionally attuned, empathetic and responsive to your needs, you most likely fall into this category. People with secure attachment styles tend to exhibit confidence, healthy self-esteem, the ability to regulate emotions and are more likely to have and enjoy healthy reciprocal relationships. The securely attached are the least likely to experience negative effects from social media.

Anxious attachment: Anxious attachments are likely to be formed if your early caregivers were inconsistent with their ability to be responsive, empathic, and/or emotionally attuned. As adults, anxiously attached individuals tend to doubt their own self-worth, show greater degrees of ambivalence, fear rejection, tend to seek reassurance and approval, and long for constant closeness. Anxiously attached social media users are the most likely to compare themselves to others online and off, seek reassurance from friends and overshare online. The anxiously attached are also the most likely to experience anxiety from social media. The use of social networking can trigger a cycle of anxiety by simultaneously acting as a trigger for relationship anxiety at the same time as being used as a coping tool for anxiety reduction. Often, the anxiously attached are preoccupied with how other people perceive them and are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem.

Avoidant attachment: This style of attachment is thought to be a consequence of an early caregiver’s general lack of availability and responsiveness. As adults, avoidant attached individuals tend to be self-reliant and mistrustful. They also avoid intimacy. People in this group tend to use attachment deactivating strategies like never showing a desire for closeness, warmth or affection. Although avoidant attached social media users are the least interactive online, research suggests avoidant attached users log on as a means for retreating from their negative emotions.

How to Change Our Attachment Style

Attachment styles can be altered, though, leading to positive changes both off and online. Here are three ways you can change your attachment style.

  1. Practice mindfulness in interactions. Do you often feel insecure with a romantic partner or feel anger and distrust with your best friend? Do you find you post more often when upset and when seeking validation? Learning to identify how you feel and behave with others is the first step in making positive changes in your attachment style.
  2. Seek out relationships with the securely attached. Having new experiences with securely attached individuals allows for healthy interactions.
  3. Make sense of your past. Journal through the process. People with anxious and avoidant attachments often have difficulty making sense of their past, but it’s crucial to the healing process and leads to emotional strength and resilience.
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