How We Learn To Love (Understanding Your Attachment Style and How To Change It)

In order to break the cycle we must understand the cycle. And understanding our attachment style, or attachment pattern, provides us with tremendous awareness on how we function in relationships, and why. With this information we can make real changes first within ourselves and then within our relationships. We can break the cycle of abusive, toxic, unstable, codependent and/or dysfunctional marriages, friendships, families and communities.

So what is the attachment theory?

This theory suggests that the manner in which our bonding needs were met during childhood by our caregiver(s) serves as a subconscious blueprint on how to love and connect with others and ourselves. This impacts our ability to be vulnerable, empathic, assertive, expressive, authentic, compassionate, confident, open, aware, trusting, emotionally responsive and intimate.

Basically, we love the same way we were loved.

As you read through each attachment style, keep in mind the following:

1. It is normal to resonate with more than one attachment style during different relationships/interactions. For an example, you may have experienced an anxious pattern in one relationship and a dismissive pattern in another.

2. Your attachment pattern is not a life sentence. You can change, you can grow - if you are willing to do the healing work.

3. Not all patterns form solely from childhood. Other life experiences can contribute to our bonding behavior.

4. Not all parents who didn't respond with secure attaching are awful people. Some parents were emotionally unavailable because they worked 2-3 jobs, were young and emotionally immature, were a single parent or just couldn't give the love they themselves never received.

These aren't excuses to inadequate parenting, just another perspective to consider. With that being said, don't make this about them. Understanding your attachment pattern is for you to heal, grow, and lead a joy-filled life.

So let's break each attachment down!

There are four patterns: secure, anxious preoccupied and two types of avoidant, dismissive and fearful.

Secure Attachment

Though a secure attachment is ideal, it doesn't mean that a child was raised without flaw, challenge or conflict nor that the parents were perfect. It does means that the child's needs were met appropriately and consistently with a nurturing and supportive response. As an adult, there is a positive expectation from self, others and life. However, being raised with this attachment doesn't make someone a perfect person. No one is perfect!

As a child:

  • needs are met with positive interaction

  • provided with consistent love, protection and safety

  • predicable environment

  • felt comfortable relying on close relationships

  • felt free to explore and trust

  • need for individuality and connection both acknowledged

As an adult:

  • tend to have a high self-esteem

  • comfortable expressing emotions and needs

  • more stable relationships

  • positive view of self and other

  • confident in abilities

  • views challenges as temporary and solvable

Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

An anxious preoccupied attachment develops when a child's needs are inconsistently met, which causes great anxiety, insecurity, and a deep longing for validation. Subconsciously, there is a longing for intimacy, but a fear of disappointment. The narrative of inadequacy typically leads one to become clingy, controlling, and/or bossy as a shield to avoid being disappointed, again.

But, while being clingy is seen as "crazy", it's actually quite logical how having your needs of love and validation met on and off creates anxiety, uncertainty, and fear.

You're not crazy or weak, you are just in a space that needs healing and help, and that's okay.

As a child:

  • needs are inconsistently met

  • become confused and insecure

  • never knowing what to expect

  • fear of speaking up

As an adult:

  • anticipate abandonment and rejection

  • desires constant reassurance

  • hyper-vigilant

  • self-critical

  • negative view of self, positive view of others

  • display controlling behaviors

  • display codependent behaviors

Dismissive Avoidant Attachment

This attachment develops when a child's needs are rejected and scolded due to emotionally unavailable parents/caregivers. Subconsciously, this child grows to believe that expressing emotions and being vulnerable makes one weak. That it's pointless and in fact a burden to do so. The narrative becomes, "In order to be close to people, I must take care of my own emotional needs". As an adult, emotions are buried in over working, emotional distance, distractions, bottling emotions up and in other functions that keep vulnerabilities at bay.

But again, it is quite understandable how someone who has never felt heard will refuse to speak. How someone who may have been constantly shut down learns to constantly shut down others, and themselves. It's understandable how having your needs neglected makes you cold...

As a child:

  • needs are neglected

  • parents/caregiver emotionally unavailable

  • learns to withdraw instead of express

  • taught emotions are a burden

As an adult:

  • fear intimacy (views emotions as weak and burdensome)

  • buries self in work or hobby to avoid and detach

  • positive view of self, negative view of others

  • emotionally unavailable - suppresses/push away

  • may sabotage relationship as an 'escape'

  • withdraws when relationships or connections get too close

Fearful Avoidant Attachment

This attachment style is a combination of the other two (anxious and dismissive). And to be honest, anyone with this attachment style knows it's exhausting. To be anxious and distant at the same time is confusing, draining, and frustrating for you and for those you are in intimate connection with you. It's an emotional push pull.

It's when you want to be connected to someone so badly (anxious) and as soon as you are, you push them away (dismissive).

It's having low self-trust and self-esteem in yourself and in those around you. Resonating with this doesn't make you crazy - it makes you in need of your own love, awareness and appreciation.