Attachment is one of the core developmental needs of human beings. We come into this world hardwired with it. As in, we are programmed by evolution to bond one or few adults for our survival (since, as babies, we are powerless). It acts as the basis on which we are able to form bonds and relationships throughout our life. Attachment is defined as an emotional bond shared by any two individuals, endured over time, in which rejection or separation by any one makes the other experience lower emotions such as stress, hurt, sorrow. Yes! One cannot deny Love, but attachment is the root reason of why we feel that emotional pain of losing someone we care about.
Our attachment style was formed on the basis of how well our emotional needs were taken care of in our earlier years of childhood. Our early attachment patterns create the inner maps and chart our relationships throughout life, not only in terms of what we can expect from others but also how much of comfort and pleasure we can experience in other person’s presence.
According to one of the well-established researches by a British Psychoanalyst John Bowlby, it has been concluded that one’s style of attachment is founded in first 2years after coming to this world, in the sense that – our brain keeps on forming circuits of the emotional experiences contained in our bodies as infants. So, by the end of second year of our birth, it can be predicted how well we will be able to form our interpersonal relationships in the world. Our unconscious reactions and learning from our childhood emotional experiences, forms a subconscious and neurological pattern, which derives our relational behaviours as adults, such as how well we are able to trust other person, whether we can comfortably talk about our emotions, how well can we emotionally empathise with another person, how often we get defensive in a discussion or conversation, etc. Our primary attachment styles function as denominators and set the tone of our relationships with others (especially, our romantic partners) function as numerators.
Knowing about our attachment styles can help us understand how we communicate, connect with our friends and romantic partners and why sometimes our interpersonal relationships do not work out. One can always learn and practise healthy ways of conflict resolution after receiving insight and awareness. Our attachment styles are also responsible for how we deal with and regulate our emotions, and also how well we recover from a stress or conflicted situation as an adult. It manifests in our patterns for proximity seeking, such as how much physical closeness and contact with others feel comfortable to us. The neurobiological and adaptive learning pattern we make out from our parenting, is manifested in our adult romantic relationships.
If you find difficulty in trusting people in relationships, difficulty in talking about how you sometimes truly feel, living with fear of abandonment or have no clue why conflicts keep happening even when you don’t do anything wrong from your side, then following information might be of some use for you. Because attachment just means how you have learned to adapt and connect in relationships.
Based on how consistently your primary caregivers (mostly, parents) were there for you and how much of your upbringing happened in a regulated environment, your attachment is identified as secure or insecure. If the caregivers were there for you in helping you understand or supporting you in your big emotional experiences – you probably develop a secure attachment style. If they were not much around or inconsistently around – you develop any of insecure attachment styles.
Secure attachment style is considered to be the healthy one. Meanwhile Insecure attachment styles can be manifested in an unhealthy manner. They are further understood under 3 categories – anxious, avoidant and disorganised.
Regulated parents can sense their baby’s needs and meet them, such as changing diaper when its wet, feeding when baby is hungry and holding, making eye contacts, lovingly caressing them whenever baby needs to be soothed. In short, this style of attachment is developed out of attuned parenting when parents are able to provide a “safe and holding” environment for baby’s needs and growth. A critical, challenging and most worthy part of this is tolerating, staying present and holding space for baby’s dysregulated states such as fear, anger, hunger, exhaustion, stress, discomfort, etc. In this process, infant is learning about and getting in tune with the social engagement phenomena. This baby is receiving the message that they can trust the world whenever it’s needed and also learn to stay inside the dysregulated body and get hold of how soothing feels like.
Later on, becoming adults, these people can understand the abstract essence of what love and acceptance feels like. They can empathise well. Can easily express their intentions, moods, desires with others. Their resilience to understand emotions and regulate them is aligned with their speech, facial expressions, and body language. (e.g.: they won’t express anger in silent treatment or passive aggression). These adults are less likely to feel fear of missing out or abandonment in romantic relationships. They are more likely to enjoy and tend to create balance in emotional intimacy and physical and sexual contact with their partners. They can easily communicate their needs and boundaries. They are also capable of conduction healthy communications and discussions to resolve conflicts.
So, if anyone out there is looking out for a non-toxic and emotionally available partner, “secure attachment style” should be announced as the new sexy on dating applications.
Now, as mentioned above, when we are born, we are biologically programmed to “get attached” to some adult, for survival. It necessarily may not matter whether our parents or care-givers were attentive, attuned, loving or distant, abusive neglectful. The latter does not always point towards bad parenting, but even if baby got the love but with inconsistency, meaning – if parents were too stressed with tight schedules, both of them working and unable to spend time with the child, one of the parents is suffering from any sickness, one of the siblings is demanding too much of parent’s attention, any family issues going on, or parents just can’t cope with their life problems, it will, by all means effect on child’s view and learning of safety, love and trust. The dysregulated environment will not enable the baby to learn how to self soothe as they may time to time lack support in their emotional regulation. Due to absence or inconsistent presence parents will lack emotional attunement and developing connection with their baby.
Later on, becoming adults, these people can be categorised in three ways
i. Insecure Avoidant
These are the adults whose attachment system is somewhere deactivated i.e.; they are out of tune with their emotions. They have avoidant mind and body, i.e., their inward state is disconnected with their outward state especially in the times of stress or conflict. What they are feeling emotionally and experiencing physiologically may be deviated from how it is expressed outwardly. It is hard for them to precisely understand their own emotions. There may find difficult in connecting emotionally in relationships. This is because they lacked nourishing connections during their upbringing. Usually with such people, during earlier years, either a parent or primary caregiver is missing, emotionally inexpressive and supportive, or way too critical and insensitive.
Message delivered from parenting – I am not available to you, physically or emotionally.
Message neurologically wired and adaptively learned by child – I can take care of myself.
Usually, these people thrive in their career more than interpersonal relationships because there is always unspoken fear of rejection. They are way too self sufficient and independent; minimize their needs and think they just don’t need anything from anyone.
In romantic relationships, this kind of people would be less expressive of their needs, hard on boundaries and lack emotional sensitivity and availability to empathise with partners feelings. And on having a conflict, they may express coldness or passive aggression.
ii. Insecure Anxious
These adults are just opposite of avoidant attachment style. They are more congruent with their internal states and can what they feel inwards is clearly expressed outwardly.
They are brought up by parents (Especially mothers) who themselves had highly extreme dysregulated nervous system, over worked, angry or anxious and therefore unsuccessful in soothing or calming the baby and unable to attune to emotional needs of their babies. They develop fear of abandonment due to inconsistency in the delivery of affection and presence of parent. Here, sometimes, the baby may also have a loving relationship with a parent, just in an unpredictable way. Since, mother’s needs and mood overrides baby’s needs, baby are wired to stay always vigilant, cautious towards others emotions and over work their mind in reading other people’s emotional cues. As adults, they focus heavily on their internal stress and then lean on other to help them manage their hyperarousal.
Message delivered from parenting – I may be available to you now, but I may not later, depending on what’s going on with me then
Message neurologically wired and adaptively learned by child –You not staying close to me means you’re leaving me
Usually, this kind of people adopt to people pleasing behaviours, with hope of having their efforts reciprocated, engaging in protest behaviours so as to get other person’s attention and draw them close.
In romantic relationships, these people become obsessed from their relationship, have enmeshed boundaries, find difficulty in expressing what they truly feel and saying no, seek constant reassurance and difficulty in spending time alone or away from partner due to fear of abandonment.
iii. Insecure Disorganised
This is kind of attachment styles is the combination of avoidant and anxious. It represents the most complex attachment adaptation because here the parent or caregiver is present in combination of neglectful, abusive, depressed, traumatised version. Often these parents are alcoholics or pre-occupied in dealing with their own unresolved loss or trauma. Either parent could be homeless or raising the child alone. So for the baby, the parent themselves could become source of fear, distress, terror, confusion instead of safety and security. Therefore, here baby, due to survival need may show distress when parent or caregiver is away but won’t show any emotional affection or interaction when they are present. They may experience a pervasive sense of “walking on eggshells” because they never know when their parents might be gone.
Message delivered from parenting – I can’t be there for you
Message neurologically wired and adaptively learned by child – I need contact but I can’t let down my guard, as I could never trust you
Usually, they may perceive relationships as dangerous and may feel explicable fear when they reach a certain level of intimacy.They may develop a negative self-image of themselves as well as the world around them – untrustworthy and chaotic. When stressed they may get emotionally very dysregulated, as there was no one to soothe them during their earlier years. They may indulge into self-harming, impulsive and unpredictable behaviours. They may be even carrying childhood trauma as parents, on finding to develop intimacy with child may break off into panic or rage, leaving baby in intense emotional experience of fear and distrust.
In romantic relationships, they may be too controlling in nature. They may long for connection and at the same time would find the relationship suffocating or difficult to be in.
But, even after all this, the fun-fact of attachment styles is that it can change as we interact and grow and work on ourselves and in sustaining our relationships. We can always rewire ourselves in healthy ways. All it takes, for an insecure individual is a little self-awareness and willingness to work on oneself in influence and support of a secure partner. One can develop two different attachment styles from two different caregivers.
Your attachment style does not define your personality, but it can surely help you understand your emotional-self and how to become and establish a healthy, fulfilling and non-toxic relationships.
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