You’ve probably heard the term “attachment style” before – but do you know what yours is? We asked a relationships expert to explain exactly what the different attachment styles mean – and how yours could affect your relationship.
Our ability to connect to and build attachments with the people around us is one of the main things all humans have in common. Our friendships and relationships with other people are some of the most important things we develop through our lives. As humans, we’re designed to create attachments and seek the companionship of others – a fact which has been made clearer than ever during the recent coronavirus pandemic.
However, just because we share this instinct to connect with other people and build relationships, doesn’t mean we approach things in exactly the same way. And that’s where attachment styles come in to play.
As a result of our early relationships and experiences, we all develop different attachment styles that shape the bonds we make with people during our adult lives, both in terms of our friendships and relationships with long-term partners.
Although we all have different experiences with relationships as we grow up, and therefore our approaches to attachment exist on a spectrum, psychologists tend to describe people as having one of three different styles: secure, avoidant or anxious.
We asked psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist Silva Neves to explain exactly what our attachment styles say about us – and, perhaps most importantly, what they mean for our relationships.
What are the three attachment styles, and what do they mean?
As we’ve already mentioned, there are three attachment styles that can generally describe the ways we relate to and build relationships with other people. So how do we tell which one we are?
“It is best to base yourself on a pattern rather than a single relationship,” Neves explains. “For example, if you felt very anxious in one relationship but not others, it doesn’t mean you have an anxious attachment style – it probably means that there were good reasons for you to feel anxious. Perhaps you knew that relationship wasn’t good for you.
“However, if you have noticed that you felt really anxious in all your relationships, being preoccupied about your partner cheating or frequently wondering if your partner still fancies you, you might consider thinking that you have an anxious attachment style.”
We asked Neves to explain what each attachment style looks like in practise.
“People with a secure attachment style trust each other easily and don’t second-guess people,” Neves says. “They are also confident in themselves and others, and are resilient to adversities.”
“People with an anxious attachment style don’t trust people so easily. They wonder why people like them and think that that is perhaps a lie,” he says. “They often believe their partner may be cheating on them.
“Anxiously-attached people don’t believe in themselves very much. They have an acute fear of rejection. They want someone close to them, but they are also anxious that these people will leave them because they don’t think they’re good enough.
“They tend to be preoccupied by their mistakes and are sensitive to people criticising them, but they will also dismiss their achievements or when people praise them.”
“People who have an avoidant attachment style tend to like being on their own,” Neves explains. “They don’t like the idea of a relationship or to be relied upon by one person or people.
“They usually manage their lives by themselves and don’t ask for help from others. They may be critical of romantic people or think that finding a partner is boring.”
How do our attachment styles impact our relationships?
When it comes to our relationships, it’s important to understand how your attachment style interacts with the style of your partner.
According to Neves, it isn’t a problem if you have a different attachment style to your partner – one of the best matches is that between an anxious attachment and a secure attachment – it matters that we take the time to sit down and understand what that attachment styles means for the other person’s needs.
“Everybody is different and will have particular sensitivities to things,” Neves explains. “For example, a securely attached person may like hugs a lot, an anxious person may be at their peak anxiety when their partner’s attractive ex puts a like on a Facebook post, and an avoidant person may become more distant if they are being asked to go to lots of social events.
“If you know the particular sensitivities of your partner, you can navigate those sensitivities with love and care.”