Attachment styles are the name given to our reactions to our interactions with others. There are two broad types – Secure or Insecure attachment. Secure Attachment is the optimum as it means we have appropriate/ proportional reactions to others behaviour. Insecure Attachment breaks down into 3 categories – Avoidant Attachment (where we avoid confrontation and thus needing to face our emotions), Anxious Attachment (where we worry about our interactions whether there is an issue or not), and Disorganised Attachment (usually present in people with severe mental health complaints, or extremely traumatised childhoods). Whilst our attachment styles develop in childhood they don’t have to remain fixed. It is therefore possible to gain Secure Attachment later in life and break the cycle of negative interactions which might have been plaguing you your whole life.
Anxious Attachment can potentially cause a lot of distress. We find ourselves wanting to be close to others but not trusting them once we are. Any issue or even fear of an issue can send us spiralling into self doubt. And we might even find ourselves pushing people away before they hurt us ‘just in case’ – because it’s better to be safe than sorry right?
Securely attached people don’t have these problems – their reactions are based on reality rather than fears, and so they aren’t left preoccupied and confused. In fact, gaining secure attachment offers benefits in lots of different areas, not just relationships:
Improved self esteem and self image (If you’re no longer afraid of the next thing you’ll say or do wrong you have time to see everything you do right!)
A sense of stability and security – relationships form the basis of our lives, be that family, friends, colleagues or lovers – if we can feel secure in these then the rest of our lives will feel a lot less rocky as a result.
Trust in self and others – If you see the truth rather than an over or under exaggeration, then you learn to trust what you see (trusting yourself) as well as trusting others as you will not be clouded by fear when you see their actions.
And of course healthy, happy relationships – you won’t see problems where there aren’t any, and when there are issues, your reactions won’t be out of proportion.
If you have found yourself stuck in a pattern of Anxious Attachment then fear not, because there are some things you can do to help yourself:
1. Communicate your needs
Your attachment style gets triggered when your fears are confirmed. The problem being that you actively seek situations that confirm them (we feel most comfortable when we know where we stand regardless of if it’s a good place to be). We do this by not communicating our needs – if we believe ‘nobody cares’ then we need to set up situations in which we can gather evidence that nobody cares ie when we are upset (but don’t tell anyone) and so nobody tries to help – its easy to believe its because they don’t care. If however you can tell people that you are upset and that you need x,y,z then they will more than likely try to help, thus debunking the nobody cares rule.
2. Parent yourself
Anxious attachment develops in childhood when we are erratically cared for. This isn’t always a dramatic as it sounds – as children we are vulnerable, and so any deviance from perfect care is magnified in its effect on us. Therefore babies who cry will experience abandonment very quickly relative to an adult in the same situation. In order to gain earned secure attachment, we must therefore unlearn that care is erratic, and the most effective way to do this is to be consistently caring to ourselves – to be kind when we fuck up, to rest when we are tired, to eat and exercise well – all of the things our parents would have provided for us when we were young.
3. Talk kindly to yourself
Often we are much harsher to ourselves than we would ever dream of being to others. E.g. if we make a mistake on a test we might tell ourselves we are stupid, or were bound to fail etc where if a friend were to make the same error we would tell them not to worry about it, it was just one mark, you’ll do better next time etc. This kindness we show to others is often lacking when we talk to ourselves as if we believe we do not deserve kindness then it justifies the lack of care we received growing up (we like things to make sense, and the idea that our parents were too busy or had too many other things going on to provide perfect care to us is harder to accept).
4. Use your awareness
If you can be aware of why you might react the way you do (fear of abandonment, pushing people away before they can hurt you etc) then you can begin to change your reactions. If for instance something doesn’t go your way and so you feel hurt and like it’s no longer worth it, if you aren’t aware that this is your attachment being triggered then this would be the end of your thought process. If however you know that due to your past you have a tendency to see things as very black and white, then when you find yourself wanting to cut someone out of your life for one mistake you can use your awareness to pause and consider other options. This isn’t to say that you won’t come to the same conclusion, only that you will consider other options – If say you send a message and although it’s been read you don’t immediately receive a response you might assume your friend is ignoring you. This is an option, but it isn’t the only one – they might be in the middle of something and unable to reply straight away, they might want to check their response before replying and so be busy on google at this very second, they might not recognise a question in your message and so feel a response isn't necessary – there are a million different reasons and any one of them could be true – by being aware of these other options we aren’t forced into our attachment response. We take back control.
Secure attachment can therefore develop over time depending on both our own responses and behaviours toward ourselves, as well as our experiences of the world around us. It takes effort to change any part of ourselves, but working on your attachment style is (in my opinion) always worth the effort