Updated: Jun 29
From the very first hours after birth into childhood, humans seek security and form attachments with people they trust and depend on. Attachment theory suggests that these early experiences shape our attachment styles and influence how we interact with others throughout our lives. Understanding our attachment style can increase self-awareness and lead to more authentic and fulfilling lives. It can also foster stronger connections and healthier, long-lasting relationships.
The groundbreaking research conducted by Ainsworth and Bowlby in the 1960s and 1970s led to the development of Attachment Theory. They concluded that attachment is a deep emotional bond that connects individuals across time and space. As children, we naturally form attachments to our parents or caregivers. By relying on them for survival, we develop stronger attachments over time. Caregivers' responses to our needs shape our interactions with others as we grow. Attachment theory posits that children typically attach to one person during early infancy and childhood (ages 0-5), usually the mother or mother substitute. This primary relationship serves as a model for future relationships. A disrupted, ended, or unhealthy parent-child relationship can have negative effects on future connections. The following are the four attachment styles that can develop as a result of these interactions:
Secure Attachment: Secure attachment ensures that each person in the relationship feels safe, cared for, and understood. It is not determined by a specific type of parenting, but rather by the ability of a caregiver to make a child feel safe and protected through nonverbal communication. Factors such as mistreatment or abuse, attention given only when acting out, inconsistent fulfillment of needs, and prolonged separation from parents or caregivers (e.g., hospitalization or removal from home) can hinder the development of secure attachment. Securely attached children tend to prefer being with their parents or caregivers, can separate from them without excessive distress, seek comfort from them when afraid, and are happy when they return. Adults who had secure attachments as children typically have trusting, long-term relationships, healthy self-esteem, and the ability to seek and provide support in their partnerships.
Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: Approximately 15 to 20 percent of individuals have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style, and many seek counseling due to difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. This attachment style does not stem from childhood abandonment but rather from inconsistent feelings of security, even when parents expressed care and concern. Parents who were distant, overly anxious, or had a parenting style that hindered reliance may contribute to this attachment style. Individuals with an anxious-preoccupied attachment desire love and intimacy but often struggle with low self-esteem. They may engage in attention-seeking behaviors and exhibit clinginess, neediness, jealousy, and nagging, which can strain their relationships.
Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: The dismissive-avoidant attachment style is the opposite of the anxious-preoccupied style. Both are insecure attachment styles, but they differ significantly in their approach. Dismissive-avoidant individuals tend to be emotionally distant and avoidant, actively avoiding love and connection. Many anxious-preoccupied individuals find themselves in relationships with dismissive-avoidant partners. As the anxious partner seeks love and approval, the avoidant partner distances themselves further. This lack of intimacy may cause frustration in the non-avoidant partner, who may threaten to end the relationship, which typically has little effect on the dismissive partner. Dismissive-avoidant individuals can detach themselves, shut down emotionally, and live with a sense of independence that suggests they do not need connection, although this is often not the case. Dismissive-avoidant attachment styles often stem from childhood experiences where a caregiver was unable or unwilling to foster a secure attachment, leading to avoidance of intimate relationships and the repression of intense emotions.
Disorganized Attachment: Children with a disorganized attachment style usually have parents who have experienced trauma. Unresolved trauma, pain, or loss prevents the parent from forming a secure attachment with the child. Approximately 80 percent of individuals who experienced childhood abuse have this attachment style. Adults with a disorganized attachment style may struggle with self-soothing and view the world as unsafe, making it difficult for them to relate to others. Signs of disorganized attachment include a hot/cold attitude in relationships, antisocial behavior without remorse, selfishness, control, and lack of personal responsibility. Unfortunately, individuals with this attachment style may perpetuate abusive patterns from their childhood in adult relationships, perpetuating the cycle of trauma.
While reading about secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment styles, it's natural to desire a secure attachment style. Securely attached individuals tend to feel emotional safety in their close relationships and show resilience during conflicts. It's important to recognize that regardless of the tendencies and attachment style developed over one's life, individuals are not locked into these behaviors, and the past doesn't have to dictate the future. It is possible to build stronger relationships, and therapy can play a crucial role in developing skills to recognize attachment patterns and behaviors, and develop tools to foster healthier and more secure relationships.
Finding Your Attachment Style: Before taking this quiz to discover your personal attachment style, it is essential to understand that it is a tool to explore yourself and your relationships. It will not produce an official diagnosis or provide definitive information about yourself or others, because human beings are more complex than can be captured by a single assessment. The quiz is based on psychological research, the study of attachment theory, and years of clinical experience observing individuals in their most vulnerable relationships.