Last year I started the year writing about attachment styles and how we can learn to know ourselves and the dynamics within our relationships better though looking at our type. I was sent an article a few weeks ago about the attachment types so I thought that it would be good to return to them as a theme as we start the year. Knowing our type helps us to recognise the scripts we are living by. It’s as if we have learnt to see the world through a certain set of expectations and this can shape how we relate to others. As we see our type and how it plays out in our behaviour this gives us more freedom to choose how to act.
To summarise the four types of attachment:
1. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving. They find it easy to enter relationships and will tend to stay in long and enduring partnerships. Consequently there are not so many secure people on the dating scene as they tend to be in relationships or become established in a long term relationship again after breaking up.
2. Anxious people are often preoccupied with relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back. If held by a partner who reassures them that they are wanted the anxious person can learn to feel more secure. But they most often feel attracted to avoidants as avoidants give them a feeling around love that feels familiar – they are a person the anxiously attached partner has to chase after in the hope of being loved, much as the child felt that love was not certain and clung on to their parents out of fear of being abandoned. Anxious people will often overlook secure people as it seems too unfamiliar to have someone showing unconditional love, instead they will say the person is a bit boring. Whereas if someone ignores them or is hard to get, then this triggers a feeling of familiarity and the thought that if I can get this person to love me I will be ok. Just as the child felt the mother was distant and they had to find a way to get her to love them.
3. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness. They find it hard to enter relationships and will often find reasons to end a relationship so are much more likely to be on the dating scene as a single person. As a result of the tendency of securely attached people to stay in long term relationships and avoidants to be single, anxiously attached people are much more likely to meet avoidants. Avoidants do want love, but they have learnt to feel that they will be overwhelmed or smothered by the mother so they pull away. Or they learnt to deal with the mother’s withdrawal by a show of not caring and distance – whereas inside they were desperate for love. In contrast the anxious child responded to the mother’s lack of care by trying to get close and cling to her. When avoidants and anxious people date it leads to a discordant dance where one partner tries to get close while the other is trying to create distance. The more each one tries to go into their coping strategy the more it antagonises the other.
4. Anxious/avoidant people will swing between these two types – tending to worry about romantic partners that are distant and then push away anyone who tries to get close.
The value of seeing that we are one of these types is that we can then start to question the assumptions our mind makes. When someone does not reply to a text, if we know we are anxiously attached we can recognise how this triggers our insecurity and the need for reassurance. We may be able to remind ourselves that it is ok for a few hours or a day to go by without a reply and this does not mean the person now hates us! It may just stop us from bombarding them with texts in the hope of getting a reply or we may create a coping strategy to help us get the reassurance we need.
A few years ago when I was experiencing this a lot a friend offered me the option to text him whenever I felt I needed to text the person I was dating. Each time I became anxious and wanted to hear from him I texted my friend (who is securely attached so was able to do this without feeling overwhelmed) to say “I’m feeling anxious and really want to text him” and he would reply and say something supportive like, “It’s ok!, hang in there!”
This really helped me to ride those waves of anxiety….and see that eventually a text would come back. This helped me to gain my own sense of being able to ride the wave of anxiety, so now when I am waiting for a reply and the anxious thoughts come up I’m able to nurture myself, reminding myself I am ok and to give it time. As an anxiously attached person there is a double whammy – we tell ourselves we are wrong to be feeling anxious but then want the other person to take our anxiety away by replying and then feel annoyed with them for not replying quickly enough to make us feel better. Learning to see this pattern play out it looses some of its power. Like wise if we are avoidant we can then recognise a pattern playing out each time we meet someone which results in finding reasons to create distance and hold them away.
To read about the types and how they play out in dating and relationships follow these links:
An introduction to the types: an outline of the types and how ours plays out in a romantic relationship.
How to work with our type: tips on how to know yourself and work with the tendencies of your type, or the type that you are in a relationship with, through greater understanding of what is going on for them.
Common thoughts and actions of each type: how to make dating and relationships work between types
Effective communication strategies for each type: how to make relationships work by learning how to communicate