The quality of our relationships impacts how we all enjoy life. I think most everyone can agree on that. We were made to be social people – we need connections with one another. Yet, so often our relationships, romantic or otherwise, get complicated, cause pain and are just difficult sometimes. Maybe friendships end. Perhaps relationships scare you; you’d rather not let people get too close. Many people constantly worried others will leave them alone.
In the psychology world, we refer to “attachment style” to describe how someone approaches relationships. All of us tend to fall in one of the three attachment styles.
- Secure attachment. People with a secure attachment style are comfortable with relationships overall. They don’t worry about being abandoned. They are able to seek out the other person for comfort when needed without fear of rejection. Securely attached people feel safe in their relationships.
- Anxious attachment. People with an anxious attachment style are insecure. They worry about being left alone, about the relationship ending. They fear they are never good enough for the other person and that they will be rejected. Anxiously attached people are constantly looking for reassurance that the relationship will continue and that they are loved.
- Avoidant attachment. People with avoidant attachment styles do just that – they avoid other people. They tend to isolate themselves, or offer very little to the relationship. Avoidantly attached people seem cold, checked out, and not involved in their relationships.
Do you recognize yourself in any of the three attachment styles? How do we form an attachment style? Years of research shows us we learn about relationships as children. If our parents respond to our needs, comfort us, answer us when we call, we learn people are trustworthy and safe, we are secure in our attachments. If our parents are distant, don’t comfort us when we hurt, and don’t ever talk about loving feelings, we tend to be avoidantly attached. If our family life was chaotic, with people leaving and not being there, most often we have an anxious attachment style.
We can also be a mix of styles, depending on our experiences. But these three categories help us to conceptualize how we learned about relationships, for better or worse. Our attachment style usually transfers into adulthood. As children our attachment is meant to be with our parents, as adults, we are intended to be securely attached to our spouse. However, when we learned unhealthy patterns of attachment as children, our marriages suffer. To a lesser extent, so do our friendships, work and other family relationships.
We cannot lay the blame for our adult relationship problems at our parents’ feet. Truth is, we are responsible for our own emotional health, for how we respond to events in our lives and grow in our relationships. Looking back to how we grew up is extremely helpful to allow us to see how we got where we are; however, we are completely responsible for what changes we make going forward. You do not have to repeat the patterns of the family with whom you grew up.
If you have an anxious, avoidant or mixed attachment style, there is hope. You can absolutely learn new skills, grow in safety and emotional connection in your relationships. Here are three reasons why your attachment style matters:
- You need healthy relationships. The reality is, we all need healthy relationships. None of us are meant to live alone. We need people we know are in our corner, that we can call when needed and we know they will answer. If we are married, we need to feel safe in our marriage to share vulnerabilities without fear of rejection. Quite simply, this is how God made us to live.
- You need to take responsibility for your own areas of growth. If you have relationship hurts that you learned as a child, you need to take ownership of these areas and seek help. Since we know you need healthy, safe relationships, you need to work on these areas of insecurity or fear that keep you from allowing yourself to experience true relationship.
- You need to understand your partner’s attachment hurts and respond accordingly. Relationships go two ways. We all have experienced pains at some point in life. You need to pay attention to your spouse’s attachment hurts and acknowledge them. Help your partner to pursue growth and heal those pains. Don’t beat them up for it. That’s not an emotionally safe reaction. Comfort them and work together to create and safe, healing relationship.
Relationships are complicated and often hurtful. Even still, truly loving and knowing other people and letting them love us – well, that’s really what life is all about. If you are struggling in your relationships, please ask for help. You were made to feel safe and enjoy other people. At Lime Tree Counseling, I can help you figure out your attachment style and how it’s impacting your life today. We will work to find patterns that have occurred in your life and learn new skills to change the way you relate to others. You can have healthy, safe, fun relationships in your life!