I’ve been doing a lot of reading about attachment styles today. There are basically three types: anxious-preoccupied, avoidant-dismissive and secure. The names may vary, depending on where you read about it, but the definitions are the same. We can probably identify with elements of each, but will be predominantly one more than any other.
Our attachment styles are formed when we are babies, and they can define the way we approach relationships as adults. I’m going to try to summarise what I’ve read from various sources, so please forgive the overly simplistic nature of what I put down here. I know this information can be found on a million other sites, but I’m putting it here for me, so that I don’t forget.
Those who are secure attachers likely had a stable and loving childhood, where all their needs were met. When they cried as babies, their caregiver would sooth them, regulating their nervous system. The baby learns how to respond appropriately under stress and grows into an adult that is able to soothe themselves. These people are comfortable with or without a relationship, are comfortable with intimacy, and are generally secure within themselves. They have few trust issues and are able to deal with rejection in a healthy way.
The avoidant-dismissive type was probably often left alone and encouraged to be independent as a baby/child. They had their basic needs met but were often emotionally neglected. They didn’t attach to their caregiver, or anyone. These children grow into adults who fiercely value their independence, avoid commitment, hold their partners at arms length and are emotionally dismissive, find faults with partners as an excuse to push them away, are preoccupied with ex-lovers, and always have an exit strategy. They fill their lives with ways to avoid relationships, long hours working or hobbies. These people are terrified of being taken advantage of, and because of this avoid opening up to others.
The anxious-preoccupied type is the one that I most identify with. As babies, when we cried our caregiver either tended to us in an anxious, fearful way (as my mother, who was often beaten by and terrified of my father would have tended to me), or received insufficient or unpredictable care (again, my father often kept my mother from me so I was often left alone with no way to calm down). All the descriptions of this type of attachment fit me perfectly; we have trouble being alone/single, we want to get closer than our partner may be comfortable with, we are hyper-sensitive to any fluctuations in our partners mood and need constant reassurance that everything is okay, we need to be in constant contact, we threaten to leave to try to make our partner stay (I’ve done this so many times), we have difficulty trusting. We never feel safe. We are over-emotional.
It would be nice if it were a simple matter of finding a partner who is either a secure attacher, or an anxious-preoccupied so that we may cling to each other. But unfortunately, it seems that anxious-preoccupieds often end up with avoidant-dismissives. The reason for this is that when the avoidant-dismissives push people away, as is their style, the secure attacher will accept the rejection and leave, another avoidant-dismissive will just push away too, but the anxious-preoccupied will get scared and cling on to the avoidant-dismissive for dear life, and the avoidant-dismissive learns that he can have his independence and the anxious-preoccupied will accept this out of fear of losing them. The lucky secure attachers find each other and live happily ever after.
I think it’s very helpful to identify which style I am. I can see that the ways I have been acting are irrational and harmful. I know it’s necessary to try to work through this, to try to develop a more secure attachment style, but it may be equally as important to be with a partner who understands my needs and won’t exacerbate my fears. I don’t want to accept that this is just the way I am and find a partner who accepts this. I want to become a secure attacher.
There has to be a way that doesn’t require a time machine. I think I’m already on track with learning to tolerate distress and calm myself down. I think the pieces of the puzzle are gradually coming together, but this post is quite long now and I don’t have all the answers yet (and I’m very sleepy), so I’ll continue this another day.