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What is Your Attachment Style?

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What is attachment and why is it important?

Attachment refers the particular way in which you relate to other people. Your style of attachment was formed at the very beginning of your life, during your first two years.  Once established, it is a style that stays with you and plays out today in how you relate in intimate relationships and in how you parent your children. Understanding your style of attachment is helpful because it offers you insight into how you felt and developed in your childhood. It also clarifies ways that you are emotionally limited as an adult and what you need to change to improve your close relationships and your relationship with your own children.

Early Attachment Patterns

Young children need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order for their social and emotional development to occur normally. Without this attachment, they will suffer serious psychological and social impairment. During the first two years, how the parents or caregivers respond to their infants establishes the types of patterns of attachment their children form.  These patterns will go on to guide the child’s feelings, thoughts and expectations as an adult in future relationships.

Secure Attachment:

Ideally, from the time infants are six months to two years of age, they form an emotional attachment to an adult who is attuned to them, that is, who is sensitive and responsive in their interactions with them. It is vital that this attachment figure remain a consistent caregiver throughout this period in a child’s life. During the second year, children begin to use the adult as a secure base from which to explore the world and become more independent. A child in this type of relationship is securely attached.

Avoidant Attachment:

There are adults who are emotionally unavailable and, as a result, they are insensitive to and unaware of the needs of their children. They have little or no response when a child is hurting or distressed. These parents discourage crying and encourage independence. Often their children quickly develop into “little adults” who take care of themselves. These children pull away from needing anything from anyone else and are self-contained. They have formed an avoidant attachment with a misattuned parent.

Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment:

Some adults are inconsistently attuned to their children. At times their responses are appropriate and nurturing but at other times they are intrusive and insensitive. Children with this kind of parenting are confused and insecure, not knowing what type of treatment to expect. They often feel suspicious and distrustful of their parent but at the same time they act clingy and desperate. These children have an ambivalent/anxious attachment with their unpredictable parent.

Disorganized Attachment:

When a parent or caregiver is abusive to a child, the child experiences the physical and emotional cruelty and frightening behavior as being life-threatening. This child is caught in a terrible dilemma: her survival instincts are telling her to flee to safety but safety is the very person who is terrifying her.  The attachment figure is the source of the child’s distress. In these situations, children typically disassociate from their selves. They detach from what is happening to them and what they are experiencing is blocked from their consciousness. Children in this conflicted state have disorganized attachments with their fearsome parental figures.

Read More about Identifying Your Child’s Attachment Style

Adult Attachment Styles

Secure Personality:

People who formed secure attachments in childhood have secure attachment patterns in adulthood. They have a strong sense of themselves and they desire close associations with others. They basically have a positive view of themselves, their partners and their relationships. Their lives are balanced: they are both secure in their independence and in their close relationships.

Dismissive Personality:

Those who had avoidant attachments in childhood most likely have dismissive attachment patterns as adults. These people tend to be loners; they regard relationships and emotions as being relatively unimportant. They are cerebral and suppress their feelings. Their typical response to conflict and stressful situations is to avoid them by distancing themselves. These people’s lives are not balanced: they are inward and isolated, and emotionally removed from themselves and others.

Preoccupied Personality:

Children who have an ambivalent/anxious attachment often grow up to have preoccupied attachment patterns. As adults, they are self-critical and insecure. They seek approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves their self-doubt. In their relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to act clingy and overly dependent with their partner. These people’s lives are not balanced: their insecurity leaves them turned against themselves and emotionally desperate in their relationships.

Fearful-Avoidant Personality:

People who grew up with disorganized attachments often develop fearful-avoidant patterns of attachment. Since, as children, they detached from their feelings during times of trauma, as adults, they continue to be somewhat detached from themselves. They desire relationships and are comfortable in them until they develop emotionally close. At this point, the feelings that were repressed in childhood begin to resurface and, with no awareness of them being from the past, they are experienced in the present. The person is no longer in life today but rather, is suddenly re-living an old trauma. These people’s lives are not balanced: they do not have a coherent sense of themselves nor do they have a clear connection with others.

To see what your attachment pattern is, take the following quiz.

Watch Dr. DanSiegel explain how attachment styles are formed.

Dr. Dan Siegel – On Ambivalent Attachment

Dr. Dan Seigel talks about ‘Ambivalent Attatchment’  and how ambivalent attachment affects infants on a neurological level.

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Dr. Dan Siegel – On Disorganized Attachment

Dr. Dan Siegel discusses how Disorganized Attachment affects children and adults.

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Dr. Dan Siegel – On Disorganized Attachment in the Making

Dr. Dan Siegel discusses how Disorganized Attachments are created.

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Dr. Dan Siegel – On Avoidant Attachment

Dr. Dan Siegel discusses the qualities of Avoidant Attachment.

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Dr. Dan Siegel – On Optimal Attachment

Dr. Dan Siegel discusses attachment styles and optimal attachment in his interview with PsychAlive.

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Dr. Donna Rockwell on Attuned Attachment and Healthy Attachment

In her PsychAlive interview, mindfulness expert Dr. Donna Rockwell discusses the difference between attuned or healthy attachment and the negative types of attachment.

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8 comments

  1. Thank you for posting this article, it was very helpful

  2. I like that you are puting information out there about understanding yourself from the perspective of attachment style. It would be even more helpful if you added a suggestion or two for each adult attachment style about what to do to improve relationships and to move more toward a secure attachment with intimate others!

  3. Thank you for this page!!!

  4. I have a boyfriend who exhibits Fearful-Avoidant Personality. His dad died at an early age and has carried this grief with him. every time he opens up to me he disappears for a few days and comes back. He avoids serious conversations, he always needs time to think before making a decision about our relationship. he puts me on an emotional roller coaster. As soon as he feels close to me he runs away and re-appears a few days later.

    • It’s possible the roller-coaster you are experiencing is due to your own attachment issues, or addictive codependent tendencies. If you were secure, or at least securely attached in relation to your relationship to him, you would not be on a roller-coaster. Securely attached, non-codependent, people don’t ride the coaster – regardless of what their partner is doing. Sometimes it’s just a particular partner that strikes these addictive and unhealthy feelings of “love” in us. My advice is to find a man with a better energy. He should feel slightly different than you are used to (maybe you’re not sure if he is even ‘your type’), and he should be an unwavering source of steady Love. Around him, with him behind you supporting you, you should feel extremely secure, safe, calm, and unconditionally loved. THAT is what you need as an independent woman who wants to develope herself; a steady support and source of love to blossom with. The love of a good man. … You are responsible for your emotions. He does not get to decide if you’re on a roller coaster. No matter what. With some perspective you would see that. Since you already understand what he is doing, if you want to stick with him, it should not be an emotional thing, but rather something you can calmly observe from a detached place. If you can’t maintain that kind of objectivity it’s likely not truly love, but an codependent addiction, which tells you the place You are in. I highly recommend InnerBonding. Also, drlwilson.com has a number of articles about man/woman relationships that are excellent. Good Luck to you.

  5. Thank you for this article and the videos – both are incredibly useful. Is Video #3 of the 6 missing? Can you please fix it.

    I’m preparing for a 6 week EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) course on reprogramming the primitive brain. As I contemplate my issues with relationships and social interactions, I found myself needing to look at attachment theory again. My past research online was disappointing, so I really appreciate finding this article today. Now I’m googling disorganized attachment and finding more and more.

  6. Does this kind of “good man” exists? Or doesn’t all/most of the Charming Prince turn out to be less charmingwith time?

  7. How interesting that I have a secure personality but my childhood was anything but. I never formed relationships with caregivers and I will never truly understand a mother daughter relationship. I think everything is a choice. We can choose to be affected by our past or we can keep going and learn how to form healthy relationships and bonds.

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