Attachment theory is based on the idea that, as children, we are biologically wired to bond with our earliest caregivers. The original idea pioneered by John Bowlby challenged the commonly held belief that a child’s bond with their caretakers was based solely on the adult’s ability to provide sustenance. He speculated that a child’s bond with their original caregiver would be impactful, creating a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
Our attachment styles are activated during times of distress, and the ways in which our caregivers respond to this help form our concept of safety, soothing, and being understood. Attachment theory has now been expanded to include adult attachment, looking at the interpersonal dynamics in adulthood. Four styles of attachment have been identified, stemming from the earlier research on infant attachment: secure, avoidant, anxious, and disorganized. We will focus on the first three, as they have been the most commonly identified in the general population, with roughly half the population identified as securely attached, around 25% avoidant, 20% anxious, and the remaining falling into disorganized attachment style (Attached, 2010)
In relationships, our attachment style can play a part in how we communicate with others. A person with a secure attachment style feels comfortable with dependence and independence in a relationship, without feelings of rejection, tends to be open with communication, and feels comfortable being emotionally available in close relationships. A
person with an avoidant attachment style struggles with being in intimate relationships, keeps distance from those looking to connect on a deeper level, and values independence over closeness. The adaptive function of an avoidant attachment style allows the individual to remain controlled and non-emotional in times of crisis, which explains why, in certain environments, this attachment style would be beneficial. The communication style of someone with an anxious attachment style often worries that their partners do not love them and finds the endings of relationships to be particularly devastating. People with this attachment style tend to be drawn to those with an avoidant attachment style, further reinforcing the belief that their partner cannot be there for them the way they need.
Lucky for us all, attachment styles can change and evolve over time. What is referred to as earned secure attachment occurs when we have come to explore and make sense of our attachment style and find ways to connect with a trusted other, such as a close friend, partner, or therapist. In doing so, our narrative is rewritten, and new neural pathways are formed, creating a sense of safety and trust in our relationships.
Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can
help you find- and keep-love.