A fully experienced and mature love speaks of connection and bonding with others. How we react to our need for those connections and how we go about getting them met is called our “attachment style”.
It influences how we regulate our emotions and anxieties and how we seek support and intimacy. According to social science researchers John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, our blueprint for attachment as adults was shaped by how we bonded with our mother or primary caregiver.
Three out of four attachment styles in adult relationships have grown out of childhoods where the mother was absent, neglectful, intrusive, inconsistent, demanding, needy, anxious, depressed, impaired, addicted, or unpredictable.
Out of these conditions, children develop insecure attachment styles, which then affect their ability to have intimacy with others as adults.
Here are the four attachment styles in adult relationships:
(The first is the only secure one, and the last three are insecure styles of attachment.)
1. Secure Attachment: Intimate
You grew up feeling confident that home, family, and love were a safe haven. You could reliably and regularly find comfort, security, protection, nurture, and validation. You have a good sense of your own identity and feel confident that your needs will be met within your relationships.
You’re able to commit and adapt easily to the needs of the present. You’re comfortable with disclosing your inner thoughts, feelings, wishes, and fears, but also able to rely on a partner for care and emotional support, and allow your partner to depend on you. You’re comfortable with both physical and emotional intimacy and also with independence.
2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: Enmeshed
Although you have the capacity for close relationships, you place the needs of your partner and friends above your own, losing your sense of identity.
Like ocean waves, which don’t provide a sense of steadiness or security, you tend to go up and down emotionally, causing a disturbance in the relationship. You seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from your partner and become overly dependent.
You can be perceived as clingy, needy, or high maintenance. You may doubt your sense of worth and blame yourself for your partner’s unresponsiveness.
3. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: Pseudo-Intimate
You value long-term committed relationships but tend to suppress and hide your feelings. Independence and self-reliance have become confused with adaptation, due to your early childhood neglect.
At times, you appear indifferent or callous because of your shell. You value your independence from emotional closeness, fearing others will take advantage of you. This seeming superficiality ultimately leaves you lonely deep inside and may eventually drive your partner away.
4. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment: Intimacy Avoidance
Experienced losses, trauma, or sexual abuse in childhood and/or adolescence has led to the development of a highly destructive push-pull attachment pattern. You may both long for and fear intimate relationships, have difficulty managing stress, and may even demonstrate aggressive behaviors.
You see the world as an unsafe place where you’re unable to trust others. You believe it’s safer to isolate and turn to external experiences — alcohol, drugs, sex, spending — than to face and feel the tug of healthy human dependency needs and the risk of being emotionally open and available to your loved ones.
Our human experience is one of interdependency and interconnectedness.
In committed love, we are encouraged to face our childhood-learned fears of rejection, dependency, and intimacy in order to experience real love, which unlocks our true fearlessness: Freedom to attach securely to our partner and others.
Jianny Adamo, LMHC, founder of Fearless Love Coaching and Counseling supports singles and couples breaking through fears and limitations to create safe and intimate marriages and relationships.