Understanding attachment styles

There is a book I recommend to all my clients. That book is called Attached by Amir Levine and his co-writer Rachel Heller.

Attached book cover.jpg

^ credit to the book cover of attached.  

I first found this book through Danielle Laporte mentioning it. I ordered it on my kindle as a nightly read.

 

The book itself helped me release the deep shame I carried around about being codependent.


I thought I was so weak and so terrible for being an anxious attached person in my relationships, like I couldn’t just fulfil myself properly.  Can you relate?

 

Reading attached helped me realize that we can fall into 3 different categories of attachment:

 

1)    Anxious attached

2)    Avoidant attached

3)    Secured attached

 

I’m going to use the word attunement as we go along here. Simply put, attunement is the way in which a person can tune in and anticipate and take action on meeting the needs of another – this is particularly important in the parent and child relationship - especially when the child is not capable to meet their own needs yet.

 

We fall into these different types of attachment depending on how we related with our primary care givers and their level of effective attunement to us.

 

If our mamas or dads gave us proper attunement and encouraged us to explore the world, while letting us experience failing and succeeding without forcing us to perform in any specific way in order to have our needs met, this is a good sign. Ideally, if we also knew we had a secure base to return to no matter what, and if they were guiding and helpful while expecting us to be honest and respectful…we will usually fall into a secure attachment style.

 

If our parents couldn’t (for any reason) give us proper attunement and resented us for needing it because they had nothing to give at the end of their tough day, we may have repressed our need for attachment and thus we become avoidant, never wanting to get close to intimacy incase of rejection or abandonment.

 

In another instance, if our parents couldn’t provide attunement on a consistent basis, being available under their own ideal circumstances only, a person usually becomes anxious – always wondering when you’ll be dropped next and not trusting anyone’s motives or words because it could always be taken away from you when you most need it. An anxious attached person ends up feeling like they have to be on guard constantly incase something about their secure base changes at a moment's notice.

 

This is all simplification of how we end up having a specific attachment type, but I’m sure you get the point. If you would want to explore your attachment style deeper with me, you can book a one-off coaching session here.

 

The book attached states a simple truth: you’re not bad for wanting intimacy and closeness. In fact, it’s actually 100 % normal, and studies show that when we have a secure base to return to as children provided by our parents and then in our intimate relationships as adults, we become increasingly more self-confident and we are more likely to dare to go for our dreams and fulfil our potential. This is simply because we know we have support and that we aren’t alone in coping with life.

 

In mainstream psychology, there is a lot of shame attached to being codependent, and we are told that we have a faulty inside as we sit on the couch of the therapist we pay if we exhibit signs of being anxiously attached. 

 

I feel like this is a great disservice, because by approaching this behavior as a personality flaw, we forgo the extensive attachment science that tells us how our attachment system gets activated by each other, and how when an anxious and avoidant get together, we go 'crazy' - a.k.a playing out patterns of codependency. The book does case studies on specific people, showing how an anxious attached person, when in relationship with an avoidant attached person, becomes more anxious, and the avoidant more avoidant, because they trigger each other. 

 

This creates the anxious-avoidant trap. Attached debunks the myth that anxious or avoidant attachment people have serious maladaptive issues with science that shows WHY a person develops these ways of relating in the first place.

 Secure people are more likely to date anxious people over avoidant people, and if the secure person is willing to reassure the anxious person adequately and the anxious person is willing to believe the reassurance, then the anxious person can truly heal from the broken attachment they suffered in childhood with their primary caregiver. Secure people usually just say no to avoidant attached people's methods of withdrawing, whereas anxious attached people get activated by it and actually look to see if they can prevent the withdrawing by using protest behavior.  

Knowing this info could change the game in your relationship. If you’re an anxious attached person and he or she is an avoidant attached person, there is hope if both parties want to work through their respective wrongdoings to the relationship’s dynamic.

Here’s what would need to happen bluntly:

  • The avoidant attached person needs to stop making the anxious attached person wrong for needing intimacy and closeness with him/her.

  • The avoidant needs to become more comfortable needing their partner, and admitting to himself/herself that they do need them, which will help both feel connected to each other. Thus, the couple will be able to begin relying on each other as a team.

  • The anxious attached person absolutely needs to commit to stop doing protest behavior when he/she doesn’t get their way and they feel their partner withdrawing. Instead they need to speak directly to their needs and request them. They also need to be willing to actually walk away if their needs are not being met, instead of staying and chasing the avoidant.

  • When the anxious attached person activates the avoidant’s shut down coping strategies, he/she must openly let the anxious know so they can get some space, all while keeping connected through certain foundations they put in place.


If these aren’t implemented, chances are the anxious/avoidant trap will continue and eventually the relationship will come to a permanent demise, as both parties will keep triggering each other into the other’s worst coping strategies.  Ultimately, the difference in our attachment style (I am anxious and he is avoidant), and the unwillingness of both parties to address and rectify the issue in my past relationship with Samuel was one of the reasons we didn’t survive as a couple.

It can truly make all the difference to spot what the problem in your partnership is and it’s the best to realize that you can try again and fix the things that aren’t working.  I highly recommend this book before you deem yourself codependent or in a relationship with "someone impossible to deal with". It may just be your attachment styles from childhood triggering each other.  

And if it’s not possible for both parties to want to work on this, if. you’re an anxious attached person like I am, reading this book will help you get back on the dating scene with the right vision so you can spot secured attached people.

RelationshipsEmily Aube