Our attachment styles will show up with every human interaction, whether we have an actual “relationship” with them or not. But typically people are most concerned about how their attachment style can impact their romantic, friend, family, and co-worker relationships.
If you have not read the article to learn what your attachment style is and how it was formed, start there first. Then read on for some general themes about how your style of relating will show up in your relationships:
Secure attachment - you can generally form healthy connections fairly easily.
You feel capable of receiving and giving love/support/attention to people you interact with.
You have pretty healthy coping strategies when relationship stressors arise.
You can communicate needs and wants to others in an effective way. You have healthy boundaries but can also be flexible with these.
You feel fairly confident in trusting others and do not default to suspicion or fear when it comes to other people.
You trust your friends and partners and are a consistent and trustworthy person to others.
Intimacy with others feels safe and positive.
Anxious/preoccupied attachment - you can easily feel unsteady in your connections.
You chronically feel concerned about people being dissatisfied with you.
You are likely very loving and caring and work at making others feel cared about. You can sometimes lose your sense of who you are or what you want in relationships because you focus on keeping the other person happy.
You might latch on more quickly or intensely and push for various forms of commitment quickly to decrease the anxiousness you feel.
You might crave or ask for constant reassurance that you are loved and good enough. You can easily forget previous actions or assurances and need more “proof” or reminders that you are loved or cared for.
You might get jealous or suspicious because you worry that you will be abandoned.
You might have a hard time with continually replaying social interactions and conversations in your head with worry about how you performed.
You might feel quite uncomfortable being alone with yourself.
Intimacy feels scary, but you crave it. You are just terrified that you will lose the closeness.
Avoidant Attachment - you are very independent and feel most comfortable without relationships and relying on yourself.
You are unlikely to admit needing support or asking for help with something. You prefer to do things on your own and avoid counting on others.
You may have a hard time knowing your own emotions. You rarely if ever acknowledge that your feelings have been hurt. You are most comfortable with the feeling of anger or frustration.
You may appear as aloof, shy, or conceited to others. You have strong boundaries and do not let people get very close or see much below the surface.
To you, the idea of being vulnerable feels terrifying and perhaps ridiculous. You limit self-disclosure.
You may be seen as “emotionally unavailable” to others and have a difficult time when asked to share how you feel. You may only feel comfortable with specific emotions at specific times (ex: it’s okay to be sad when your dog dies but not when your best friend blows you off at the last minute).
You may be controlling in a relationship and can easily get angry or jealous if you do decide to let someone get close. You feel in your core that you can only depend on yourself.
You tend to avoid strong displays of closeness and intimacy and are likely to shut down or pull away when things get too serious. You prefer to walk away from a relationship than to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable in it.
You likely focus most of your energy on your career or hobbies where you can have control and rarely need to rely on others.
You generally feel like relationships are doomed to fail. You keep your expectations very low to avoid disappointment, or very high so you can easily walk away.
Intimacy is mostly avoided. You want it deep down, but it’s too risky to trust others and you’re not even sure how to be close.
Disorganized/Anxious-Avoidant Attachment - you desperately want closeness in your relationships but don’t know how to do it.
You are confused about the right approach to get your needs met and feel unworthy to have them met anyway.
You struggle with emotional expression and connection skills and feel that you missed the lesson where this stuff was taught (you did).
You don’t have reliable coping strategies when faced with relationship stressors. You may have a pattern of addictive behaviors to help with soothing yourself.
You can struggle to trust or rely on others and easily read into words and behaviors, looking for clues. You expect and are waiting for the rejection or disappointment or hurt to come, it feels inevitable.
Your uncertainty and discomfort can lead you to instigate fights prematurely to test the relationship. You may stew in high anxiety while waiting for the other shoe to drop, making it difficult to focus on anything else in your life.
You might appear obsessive or chaotic or unpredictable to others.
You struggle with making decisions and live in fear of doing the wrong thing that will push others away. You feel that everyone else knows what they are doing and something is wrong with you.
Intimacy is craved and also greatly feared. Intimacy can lead you to use a pull/push dynamic where others are pulled in strongly and then pushed out forcefully when the fear of hurt gets triggered.
Can attachment styles change?
Yes. Our default styles can grow and change with intentional focus and through new healing experiences in relationships.
When we are able to experience relationships that are different than the ones we grew up with, we can re-write our working model of safety.
It might help to quickly read back over the What do these attachment styles mean about us? section in the What is my attachment style? article about our internal working models of self and others.
Changing our working models takes pretty intentional and willing effort, because they’ve been firmly solidified over time. Our working model becomes the lens through which we interpret interactions in life, so everything feels like data supporting our default thinking. Hence, challenging and shifting that default lens is not a quick process, but there are some options:
1. Find a good therapist.
Therapy is a powerful way to start shifting and healing your attachment style. A therapist can offer a non-judgmental, safe, accepting, reliable, and predictable space for you. You can use that lower-risk unique type of relationship to express and make sense of your experiences and emotions. This dynamic allows you to better understand why you feel/think/act the way you do and start to decide if you want to keep it that way. You can learn to reorient your attachment style through insight and practicing vulnerability in that therapeutic relationship.
2. Do your own reading and research.
Learn about yourself and your attachment patterns. Identify ways to take small steps outside of your comfort zone with vulnerability and boundaries. A lot of the attachment struggles we have come back to the concept of trust. Having trust in others and trust in ourselves. If you can combine starting to trust even when it is scary & uncertain with an increased ability to soothe and manage your emotions, you can start to re-write your relational working model. See further below for reading recommendations.
3. Find secure people.
Choosing to befriend and date people with a secure attachment style can help you shift over time too. The constant security and reliability can chip away at your old working model that people are not trustable or that you need constant reassurance to feel secure in a relationship. If you notice that people are unreliable or unpredictable, focus on finding other sources of connection instead. Further reading on how to know if someone is trustable.
4. Learn to trust yourself more.
When it comes to the Anxious and Disorganized/ Anxious-Avoidant attachment styles, a key component to healing is growing trust in ourselves. It could even be described as learning to feel safe attaching to yourself. Internal trust in yourself can be developed by:
Increasing your successful experiences coping with distress. This looks like identifying and using new healthy coping strategies so that you learn to regulate your emotions on your own. Regulating means being able to soothe yourself in stressful and uncomfortable emotional states rather than distracting yourself or avoiding them or seeking reassurance.
Taking on new projects and exploring new hobbies. These are effective ways to grow your confidence in your overall competence and capability as an individual. Pushing yourself to try new things and go to new spaces helps reinforce the feeling that you can rely on yourself even if there is no one else to guide you.
Overall taking good care of yourself. Become an adult that you can trust to meet your needs. Sometimes this is called “re-parenting” as an approach. It can look like creating solid daily routines, prioritizing your physical health, and talking to yourself in a supportive rather than demeaning way. Explore ways to grow your self-esteem and self-compassion skills.
Attachment is at once a simple concept and a complicated dynamic. The bottom line is that we are social beings and we have a biological drive for connection to others in order to survive.
Our life satisfaction, fulfillment, and overall mental wellness rely on our ability to effectively connect to others. How effectively do you attach?
Some further reading recommendations:
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner's Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship by Stan Tatkin
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson
Note that the above book links are affiliate links and if you make a purchase I may receive a small commission.