Why attachment style is important in psychotherapy?
Attachment styles are important when it comes to interpersonal relationships, and they're an effective way to classify the type of attachment you have with others. It's how we relate in our closest relationships; attachment styles are formed during childhood attachment relationships that serve as a blueprint for our future relationships (1).
If you had attachment issues when you were growing up, your attachment styles might be skewed when it comes to forming meaningful, lasting relationships with others in adulthood (2). This can cause problems in your close family or romantic relationships if left unaddressed. Attachment is not only about what kind of partner/love interest you prefer - it can also affect other parts of your life, including friendships.
Why attachment styles are formed during childhood attachment relationships can be explained by the child's innate need for attachment, which is to have a caregiver who meets their needs of protection, care, and support (3). However, if the attachment figure fails to meet these needs for whatever reason or neglects them - whether it's due to death, illness, divorce or simply being an emotionally unavailable parent - the child might get stuck with what is called 'insecure attachment' (4). This insecurity will affect how you perceive future attachment figures in your life because this negative mental representation stays with you into adulthood.
What are your attachment styles?
Anxious/preoccupied attachment style: People with this type of attachment style generally believe that others will leave them or not be there for them when the going gets tough. The preoccupied attachment person is overly concerned with being abandoned by attachment figures and seeks to avoid rejection at all costs. In romantic relationships, this attachment style can result from a less-than-ideal childhood attachment experience (5).
Avoidant/dismissive attachment style: This attachment style involves a negative perception of other people in general. People with an avoidant attachment have a hard time trusting other people and might perceive others as insensitive, self-absorbed, or highly competitive - which could easily lead to the conclusion that close relationships are too difficult to maintain. In romantic relationships, people with a dismissive attachment may find it difficult to get close to others and may, in some cases, prefer attachment figures who are not emotionally available (6).
Secure attachment style: People with a secure attachment attach in a comfortable and effective way and tend to present relatively low attachment-related anxiety. They have confident views of the self and others along with positive perceptions about relationships (7).
How do childhood attachment experiences affect your attachment styles?
Think back to your childhood - when you were little - and remember how there was always someone around to take care of you. If you're like most children, that figure was likely your parent. The older we get, the harder it is to recall specific memories from our early years because we develop selective memory as we grow up (8). However, this is one of the major defining factors in how attachment styles are created (9) .
A study conducted by the University of Denver found that attachment style was directly related to parental attachment style; if your parents were 'insecurely attached' (10), then there's a good chance you'll be insecurely attached as an adult as well (11).
While attachment theory is typically described with respect to children and their relationships with their caregivers, attachment can also apply to adults and their relationships with others. People who had indifferent or dismissive caregivers may find it difficult to trust others or become close to them because they feel like they won't be able to rely on someone else when times get tough (12).
In some cases, attachment styles may not be a result of attachment with a caregiver but attachment with peers. A study by the University of Denver found that attachment in adolescence is often shaped by the relationships adolescents from outside their homes (13). This can happen when someone gets stuck between two attachment figures - like when your sibling dies and you're really close to them but then your parents start to distance themselves from you. This can lead to 'fearful attachment' - which happens when an individual feels afraid when alone or neglected, yet doesn't feel comfortable seeking help from others because they think it will make things worse (14).
How do attachment styles affect other parts of your life?
Your attachment style can affect your relationships with others - romantic, friendships, and even work. This is because attachment has a significant impact on how you behave toward attachment figures (15).
People who were insecurely attached as kids tend to have less-than-ideal relationships as adults as well. Insecurely attached people display more hostility in their relationships than securely attached individuals do - which can create all sorts of problems within those relationships (16).
In the workplace, attachment styles also play a role. Individuals with a dismissive attachment tend to be competitive and focused on individual goals rather than collective goals, while those with an anxious attachment seek approval from others and are overly concerned about what other people think of them. These attachment styles can be positive and negative depending on the workplace (17).
How attachment styles affect romantic relationships.
Romantic attachment is defined as the 'tendency to become romantically involved with particular types of individuals, characterized by a strong emotional attachment and the desire to maintain closeness' (18). There are three attachment styles: secure attachment, dismissing attachment, and preoccupied attachment.
People who have a secure attachment style tend to form deep and lasting relationships because they don't fear intimacy or abandonment; their past doesn't play too much of a role in how they behave today (19). Securely attached people feel comfortable opening up emotionally to others and aren't overly concerned about rejection (20). They tend to be satisfied in relationships, and their attachment style doesn't change depending on how much time has passed since they met someone (21). Secure attachment is the most common type of attachment (22).
People with a dismissing attachment style tend to put up strong emotional barriers and avoid intimacy - either because they're afraid of it or don't feel like it's worth all the effort. They often fear that opening up will make them vulnerable to hurt - which can lead them to be competitive, hostile, and unreliable in relationships (23). Dismissing attachment styles are linked with infidelity and breakups (24). However, it may also cause problems when people get close; If you've ever been in a relationship with someone who abruptly withdraws when you get too close, that's an attachment in action.
If you're preoccupied with attachment, your romantic relationships are full of anxiety and confusion. You may struggle to feel comfortable in relationships and always seem to be trying to 'fix' things (25). People who struggle with attachment tend to worry about their partner falling out of love with them or leaving them behind (26). They might try so hard to please their partner that they neglect themselves, or become clingy and feel smothered by their partner's neediness. Preoccupied attachment can also lead to emotional abuse within the relationships - which often happens because preoccupied people don't think clearly while they're scared; it can drive them to push their partner away or lash out in a desperate attempt to feel safe again (27). So attachment does play a role in romantic relationships.
How attachment styles affect people who have experienced childhood trauma.
Insecure attachment styles can be especially problematic for individuals with PTSD because it affects how they process information and the memories that come up when they experience flashbacks, which may lead to avoidance of memories or reminders of their trauma - which makes it difficult for them to recover from their symptoms (28). [ARTICLE END]
References: [Article background information](https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201001/the-10-24-podcast-attachment-styles-and-childhood-trauma) 17. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201001/the-10-24-podcast-attachment-styles-and-childhood-trauma 18. http://journeyingtowardmanhood.blogspot.com/2011/02/boydstunasinghamsmith2final.html 19. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201001/the-10-24-podcast 20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nihgov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072597/?report=details 21 . https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201001/the-10-24-podcast 22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nihgov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072597/?report=details 23 . https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201001/the-10-24-podcast 24 . http://journeyingtowardmanhood.blogspot.com/2011/02/boydstunasinghamsmith2final.html 25 . https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps 26 . http://journeyingtowardmanhood 28 . http://journeyingtowardmanhood.blogspot.com/2011/02/boydstunasinghamsmith2final.html
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