It is widely accepted that the quality of early attachment shapes our capacity to create and maintain meaningful connections in adulthood. If you struggle in adult relationships, the underlying causes of your problems can be traced back to attachment styles in your early relationships with parents or caregivers.

Attachment Styles: Bowlby’s Attachment Theory

The attachment style is something a person learns and carries into adulthood, affecting how they interact with others.

Bowlby’s attachment theory, one of the first theories of social development, holds that a child’s early relationships with parents or caregivers are crucial to their development.

Based on Bowlby’s attachment theory, the following four attachment types may be recognized:

  • Anxious-preoccupied attachment
  • Avoidant-dismissive attachment
  • Disorganized attachment
  • Secure attachment

When a child has a warm and responsive relationship with their caregivers, it helps them feel safe and protected, setting the stage for a secure attachment. People from families with secure attachments can nurture closeness, manage conflicts, and be self-reliant in adult relationships.

On the other hand, if someone grew up in a family with confusing, inconsistent, or frightening dynamics and had a caregiver who didn’t respond to their needs, they’re more likely to develop an anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment

If your early relationships were marked by anxious attachment, you might believe deep down that you don’t deserve love. Deep-seated shame and self-limiting beliefs you adopted as a child might manifest in your adult relationships.

For instance, you may fear getting emotionally close to others and being intimate so you don’t end up abandoned again.

Also, if you grew up with anxious attachment, you may have difficulty setting and respecting boundaries, needing constant reassurance and validation from others, and always looking for anything that could harm your relationships.

Avoidant-Dismissive Attachment

People with an avoidant-dismissive attachment style often grew up in a non-caring or non-supportive household with strict parents who discouraged emotional expression.

As an adult, you may struggle to trust others and avoid getting too emotionally close to people to avoid becoming too dependent on them. Because of that, you may mainly engage in short, casual relationships.

Disorganized Attachment

If you were abused as a child or never knew how your caregivers would treat you since they were both a source of comfort and anxiety, your attachment style may be disorganized.

Not knowing what to expect usually results in confusion, insecurity, and anxiety. As a grown-up, you may behave similarly to your parents or caregivers, lacking stable and healthy strategies to seek comfort and deal with stress. You may alternate between being attentive and acting emotionally distant, thoughtless, or aggressive.

Secure Attachment

A secure attachment is a healthy connection in which a child feels safe and reassured by a parent or caregiver.

Secure attachment in adult relationships means that you can nurture closeness while maintaining your independence.

You set healthy boundaries, respect others’ limits, embrace vulnerability, accept responsibility for your actions, and know when to say “no” to protect your well-being.

Secure attachment in adult relationships promotes self-esteem, trust, and personal growth. Relationship counseling can provide a safe environment for you to understand your attachment style and how it affects your adult relationships. A qualified relationship counselor may also assist you in breaking away from insecure attachment styles and learning how to develop meaningful long-term relationships.

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