Attachment Theory: What’s Your Attachment Style?
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 are
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 in 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% are 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 worry that their partners do not love them and find 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, 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.