Center for Shared Insight, PC

Part 2: What is Your Attachment Style and What Does it Mean?

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The ideal way to determine your attachment style is to work with a psychologist who is well-versed in attachment theory as it relates to relationships. A professional can help you assess what your attachment style is, understand how it developed, and how it affects your current and future relationships.

In addition, there are questionnaires and books (Tatkin, 2016) that can also be helpful in determining your attachment style. For our purposes, you can quickly learn more about your attachment style in this brief quiz from Psych Central, created by John Grohol (2016).

In part 1, we outlined the way attachment styles are formed. Here in part 2, we’ll dive deeper into the four attachment styles and explore the ways in which these styles interplay and create relationship dynamics.

Based on taking the quiz above, you probably have more insight into which one of the four major attachment styles (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), you most naturally fall into. Those categories include:

  • Secure/Autonomous
  • Insecure - Anxious/Preoccupied
  • Insecure - Dismissive/Avoidant
  • Insecure - Fearful/Unresolved

Defined, these styles can be explained as the following:

Secure/Autonomous Attachment Style

With the majority of the population (approximately 59%) exhibiting secure attachment, this style of connection tends to result in satisfactory relationships (Mickelson, Kessler & Shaver, 1997). When discussing their early relationships with family members and experiences as children, they display an “open and unbiased reflection on their attachment experiences” (van IJzendoorn & Bakersmans-Kranenburg, 1997, p.150).

Secure relationships provide just that -- a sense of security and connection that allows each partner freedom to be his/herself. Personal space is valued just as much as closeness. Relationships like these feel fully supported, especially in times of distress. There is a sense of equality and honesty in secure relationships (Firestone, 2013).

Insecure - Anxious/Preoccupied Attachment Style

Adults with insecure-anxious/preoccupied attachment (approximately 11%) are often concerned about their partner leaving and exhibit anxiety around rejection (Mickelson, Kessler & Shaver, 1997). With an attachment stance of, “I can’t do it without you” (Tatkin, p. 127, 2016), they often have trust issues and are preoccupied by their beloved, showing behavior including consistently, actively seeking reassurance.

The core feeling here is one of insecurity, yet manifests as clingy and overbearing. This unbalanced approach to relationships lends itself to codependency, and in some cases, manifest as love addiction. Partners of the anxious-preoccupied style are often asked to validate their self-worth (Catlett). Not surprisingly, when asked about their childhood experiences and present relationships with family members, they remain preoccupied with their current and past experiences (van IJzendoorn & Bakersmans-Kranenburg, 1997, p.150).

Anxious/preoccupied individuals display a pattern of hyperactivating their attachment system by creating reasons to be seen and heard (appears as “drama”) by their partner to the extent they require (Wallen, 2007). They can be possessive, dependent, and are preoccupied with a fear of rejection. It’s hard for them to fully express themselves or share grievances about the relationship because they fear losing their partner.                                               

Insecure - Dismissive/Avoidant Attachment Style

When a relationship gets heated, in contrast to the anxious-preoccupied style, dismissive-avoidant adults (approximately 25% of adults) want to escape or withdraw (Mickelson, Kessler & Shaver, 1997).  Dismissive individuals minimize the importance or influence of their early attachment experiences on their adult personalities or relationships (van IJzendoorn & Bakersmans-Kranenburg, 1997, p.150).  For example, when asking them about their childhood, they might say, “I had great childhood,” but be unable to provide any follow-up details (e.g., “My Mom and Dad were involved, believed in me, and always knew how to make me feel better when I was upset.”) that would substantiate their claim of having a “great childhood.”

With an attachment stance of, “I can do it by myself” (Tatkin, p. 127, 2016), they have a strong sense of independence. This type of person suppresses their need for intimacy and chooses to be self-sufficient when a relationship requires too much effort. They learned early in life that depending on others results in disappointment so they become their own city, functioning on their own. This defense is possible because adults with dismissive-avoidant attachment systems can suppress their feelings in response to a partner becoming too close -- which is often a trigger for their escape. The coping strategy they employ when they become overwhelmed is called “deactivating” and usually results in withdrawal from a romantic partner (Djossa, 2014).

Fearful/Unresolved Attachment

The fearful/unresolved attachment status is an additional classification to the two above insecure attachment styles. It is used when individuals provide inconsistent and unresolved narratives about their attachment experiences. Oftentimes, this presentation can be traced back to trauma or stress related to past intimacy (abuse, abandonment, etc). For example, approximately 15% of infants (or 82% of mistreated infants) display features of unresolved/disorganized attachment (Carlson et al., 1989).

When this person gets close to others they display inconsistent strategies in relationships, varying from hyperactivating (seeking to gain emotional and physical closeness) to deactivating (attempting to shut down closeness). They also harbor feelings of low self-esteem and are often conflicted about loving relationships because they feel unworthy.

While this person desires intimacy in the healthiest of ways, their own defenses try and keep them safe when triggered by romantic situations. Instead of choosing to be close to someone consistently, this adult attachment system flees due to a fear of pain, and chooses sadness over emotional injury (Shorey, 2015).

Next Steps...

Which attachment style most sounds like you? Which one reminds you most of your partner? In part 3 of this series, we’ll explore the interplay of dating, relationships, and attachment styles to understand how your adult attachment patterns contribute to your relationship dynamics.

Want to learn more about your attachment style and how it influences your relationships? Contact Dr. Hick, Psy.D. to learn how you can use this information to develop healthier partnerships moving forward.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter below and get your free copy of our ebook to discover how fearlessness can transform your life, love, and relationships.

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References: 

Brogaard, B. (2015) How to Change Your Attachment Style. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mysteries-love/201503/how-change-your-attachment-style.

Carlson, V., Cicchetti, D., Barnett, D., & Braunwald, K. (1989). Disorganized/disoriented attachment relationships in maltreated infants. Developmental Psychology, 25, 525-531.

Catlett, J. Understanding Anxious Attachment — Part 1: Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment. Retrieved from http://www.psychalive.org/understanding-ambivalent-anxious-attachment/

Firestone, F. 2013, 20 7. How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship

Levine, A., Heller, R. (2010). Attached. New York: The Penguin Group.

Shorey, H. 2015, 26 5. Come Here-Go Away; the Dynamics of Fearful Attachment retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-freedom-change/201505/come-here-go-away-the-dynamics-fearful-attachment

Tatkin, S, (2016). Wired for dating: How understanding neurobiology and attachment style can help you find your ideal mate. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

van IJzendoorn, M.H., & Bakersmans-Kranenburg, M.J. (1997). Intergenerational transmission of attachment: A move to the contextual level.  In L. Atkinson & K.J. Zucker (Eds.),  Attachment and psychopathology (pp. 135-170).  New York, NY: Guilford Press.