Adult Attachment Styles: How we show up in relationships
Do you ever feel like all your relationships or friendships end the same way? Or like you always seem to play the same role in your relationships? This might be because how we relate to others is influenced by our attachment style.
Research shows that attachment styles in infancy are moderately predictive of attachment styles in adulthood (Waters, Hamilton, Weinfield, 2000). Meaning that throughout their life span, individuals generally maintain the same attachment style as they formed in childhood with their caregivers. However, attachment styles are not concrete and are shaped by a person’s life experiences and relationships throughout their life (Waters et al., 2000).
As adults, individuals with a secure attachment style are the happiest in their relationships. They are comfortable expressing their emotions and needs in their relationships. They seek comfort when they need it but are also comfortable being alone and independent. Individuals with a secure attachment orientation have few issues with trust and intimacy and are comfortable with relying on others and having others rely on them (Dallos, 2013)
Adults with secure attachment styles are most often drawn to partners who also have a secure attachment style. But, of course, this is not a hard and fast rule. There is some evidence that shows a securely attached relationship partner to be extremely supportive for individuals who have insecure (anxious or avoidant) attachment styles.
Insecure-Anxious (Also called Preoccupied)
As adults, individuals with an anxious attachment style are often worried about how committed others are to them and will seek frequent affection and reassurance of the importance of their relationship. They are often uneasy being single or alone and find it difficult to transition from being with others to being alone. They long for complete emotional intimacy but often find that others do not want to get as close as they would like (Dallos, 2013).
Insecure-Avoidant (Also called Dismissive)
As adults, individuals with an avoidant attachment style are most comfortable being independent, don’t like to rely on anyone for help or support and may prefer not to have anyone rely on them. They are often unable or unwilling to express their feelings in relationships and find it difficult to trust and be emotionally intimate with others (Dallos, 2013).
Adults with anxious and avoidant attachment styles are often drawn to each other, which usually reinforces their attachment injuries. These couples often fall into an extreme pursuer-distancer dynamic, which can exacerbate the attachment defences, causing both partners distress.
Insecure-Fearful (Also called Disorganized)
As adults, individuals with a disorganized attachment style desire emotional intimacy but simultaneously experience intimacy as threatening. Disorganized attachment typically develops when a child’s source of dependence & comfort is also a source of pain & fear. These individuals have a hard time trusting others because they often have experienced abuse and/or violence in their life. These individuals often fear that if they allow themselves to rely on and become close to another, they will inevitably be hurt (Dallos, 2013). They oscillate between reaching for connection and shutting down or lashing out, resulting from fear of abandonment.
The attachment style you identify with right now does not have to be the one you are stuck with! With a lot of awareness and some hard work, attachment styles are changeable. All our therapists are well-versed in attachment theory and can support individuals and couples in learning about and shaping the interaction patterns and attachment defences that are causing distress. We would love to support you in creating the meaningful relationship you have always wanted.
Waters, E., Hamilton, C. E., & Weinfield, N. S. (2000). The stability of attachment security from infancy to adolescence and early adulthood: General introduction. Child Development, 71(3), 678-683.
Dallos, R. (2013). Attachment narrative therapy: Integrating narrative, systemic and attachment therapies. McGraw Hill.