How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationships?

We all go through different experiences in life and each incident has shaped us into who we are today. Your mind takes extra-ordinary measures to shield you from emotional hurt, as much as it would from a physical threat. And when people say you’ve developed thick skin or thin skin, it is actually a defense mechanism your mind learned way back. And as you leap towards connection, you need to unlearn a few things. If you stay connected with me on this blogging journey, we might learn how life is more about unlearning a few things rather than constantly learning new things.

I found a lot of wrong interpretations of attachment styles on the internet. It is not something that can be labeled with one word or picture. It is neither a label nor an excuse. It’s a scale and you may fit anywhere on that wide-scale or in more than one place. I couldn’t find a better intro to attachment styles than the one written by Silvy Khoucasian. In raw context, attachment style is our behavior pattern in close relationships. It is a coping mechanism that our mind developed to stop hurting emotionally as a child. Every child has an innate need for love and connection and the way this connection was met defines the kind of adults we are in our relationships. And as an attachment style is something we manifested on our own, we have the power to manifest a secure sense of attachment too. Understanding my attachment style changed my whole perspective of responding to people. After understanding my ‘Anxious Attachment tendency’ and my triggers, I learned that most of what I face is self-imposed. And that temporary loss of connection does not mean the end of it. The transition can be hard but it’s worth the effort.

Lend me your next 10 minutes and regard it as an investment because a lot of y’all need to hear this.

Attachment tendencies show up when you are emotionally invested in someone. Let me lay out the broad spectrum of attachment styles:

Anxious Attachment: Low on avoidance, high on anxiety.
Secure Attachment:
Low on avoidance, low on anxiety.
Dismissive avoidant Attachment:
High on avoidance, low on anxiety.
Anxious avoidant Attachment:
High on avoidance, high on anxiety.

1. Anxious Attachment

AA tendencies are likely to develop as a child when the parents/caregivers were inconsistently attuned. They were available and attuned one time and insensitive or intrusive other. The child could not feel safe from the few times the parent ‘Got it right’. (Note that It’s different for different people for all experiences mentioned in this blog.)

‘The child with this type of attachment does not internalize a sense of calm. They are left in a state of confusion whether they can depend on others. They cannot benefit from the intermittent times that their parent is attuned, because there are too many painful interactions in between.

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist. Read Lisa’s take on AA here.

The parent may have shown affection only to meet their own emotional need and been absent when the child needed it. This leaves the child drained and feeling worried for their parents and clinging to them out of need or guilt. Also, the parents sometimes are really attuned to the child’s needs and this leaves the child feeling that they have to act out or make their emotions known in order to get what they need. These feelings and methods of acting out stay with them into their adult relationships. They tend to approach closeness and intimacy in ways that might push their partner away. They want to be seen by you. And until they don’t feel like they are seen by you, they can’t be their usual selves. They seek more reassurance and feel compelled to demand signs that they are special to you. They become highly sensitive when they feel a loss of connection, which again can be different for different people. In Lisa’s words again, ‘They may hope their partner will “rescue” or “complete” them, a pursuit that is impossible for any other person to fulfill‘. This actually pushes their partner away. There’s a wounded child in them that is hoping for you to see them, hoping that you value them, dancing around you waiting for you to notice. Everything melts away when they feel noticed and that’s a headstart for them to connect the right way.

On the flip side, these are some of the warmest people when it comes to understanding and having your back in tough times. They always know the right way to comfort you.

How to approach someone with anxious attachment tendencies

“People that have anxious attachment tendencies are some of the most warm, loving.. and giving and ‘want to be connected’ and they really value and prioritize connection in relationships. And that’s a beautiful gift! .. especially when they have worked on some of the more challenging things they can bring a lot to the relationship.”

Silvy Khoucasian, Therapist

  • Positive reassurance can really go a long way. (They have a deep-rooted feelings of abandonment)
  • When they approach you and you’re busy; say you will be back after some time rather than avoiding.
  • Show up for them. (They want to know they matter to you)
  • They don’t require as much connection as you think they do. They actually become less anxious when they feel seen by you.
  • They tend to want to be behaviorally connected. Words just to affirm usually feel empty to them but your actions and presence mean a lot.
  • Physical affection like even just a touch of a hand means super so much to them.

Tools for anxiously attached.

  • A person’s style of attachment can be revised through new, safe experiences. This is true for all attachment styles.
  • Just paying conscious attention to your pattern and knowing and owning your story alone makes a lot of difference.
  • Do not trust your fears. Approach your thinking more gently when triggered.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t depend solely on one person for your emotional needs.

“When a child’s primary needs are not responded to in appropriate or consistent ways, a child becomes deeply confused.

They will still make attempts to “reach” for their caregiver not knowing if the comfort will actually ever come.

As adults, they are highly sensitive to anything that might lead to loss of connection.
They have (activating) strategies that turn on when they sense a (perceived threat) and can act out in unhealthy ways to try and regain connection.
They can often overlook red flags and put others on an unrealistic pedestal.

They care deeply about staying close and often feel an insatiable longing for connection.

And that makes complete sense ..
not knowing if love and connection will come from their main source is a terrifying and disorienting experience.

The first step in healing this attachment wound is by being willing to acknowledge the deep anger and confusion that lives within them.

That ability to validate and not abandon their own experience is what will help them become more discerning and present with others.

For my anxious folk, healing this attachment wound will not be easy.

It will require your willingness to feel loss of connection sometimes.

But you will soon realize that momentarily loss of connection does not always mean the loss of the relationship.

It will require you to be more mindful of choosing safer partners that clearly show their desire to care and comfort you.
They might feel boring at first, but your nervous system can slowly learn to become attracted to those who bring you peace.

It will require you to slow down and only share little bits of yourself at a time.

You will begin to see the difference between those who want to meet you in vulnerability ..
.. versus those who continuously keep you at arm’s length.
I am sending you so much courage in your journey ❤

– Silvy Khoucasian

2. Avoidant Attachment

As a child, their emotional needs were often discouraged or untended to. Their show of emotions like for e.g. crying might have been discouraged. And they slowly learned to shut themselves down and self-regulate which makes them highly self-reliant as adults. They coped with inattention by suppressing their need for connection and regarding it as a weakness. Note that, even though some parents consciously want the best for their children yet they sometimes find it difficult to be emotionally available and nurture the child with empathy. They themselves might have been treated the same way in their childhood and simply cannot stay attuned.

“During many frustrating and painful interactions with rejecting attachment figures, they have learned that acknowledging and displaying distress leads to rejection or punishment.”

 Jude Cassidy, Attachment Researcher

Thus, Avoidants learn early in life to suppress their natural need for emotional comfort. They adapt and tend to avoid showing dependency.

Children identified as having an avoidant attachment with a parent tend to disconnect from their bodily needs. Some of these children learn to rely heavily on self-soothing, self-nurturing behaviors. They develop a pseudo-independent orientation to life and maintain the illusion that they can take complete care of themselves. As a result, they have little desire or motivation to seek out other people for help or support.

As noted, the main defensive attachment strategy employed by children with avoidant attachment is to never show outwardly a desire for closeness, warmth, affection, or love. However, on a physiological level, when their heart rates and galvanic skin responses are measured during experimental separation experiences, they show as strong a reaction and as much anxiety as other children. 

Joyce Catlett, M.A.

Avoidants might seem to have a pretty normal attachment to their friends and well-wishers. However, they will only show distance behavior if you are close to them. If they are distancing you from themselves that means they consider you a close person. Also, they absolutely have no idea they are doing these things as most of what they do is unconscious. They tend to idealize their exes and try to find faults in their current partner. In their minds, if they are thinking of someone else then that means they don’t have to think about you. All these are unconscious strategies that their mind learned. They also tend to have an unrealistic fantasy of a perfect mate who meets all of his/her needs. Almost similar to how an anxious partner has an unrealistic picture of a perfect partner.

Avoidants seek out relationships and enjoy spending time with their partner. However, they become uncomfortable when the relationship gets too close. They steer clear of emotional closeness. They may perceive their partners as ‘wanting too much’ when their partner desires closeness and fear being engulfed. When faced with separation and loss, many dismissive people are able to bury themselves in work/goals. This would happen not just in moments of separation but also in moments of closeness, they would tend to focus on other things like work and friends and keep themselves occupied. They deny vulnerability and suppress their emotions when triggered.

When they do seek support from a partner during a crisis, they are likely to use indirect strategies such as hinting, complaining, and sulking.

Joyce Catlett, M.A.

” According to attachment researchers, Fraley and Brumbaugh, many dismissing adults use “pre-emptive” strategies to deactivate the attachment system, for example, they may choose not to get involved in a close relationship for fear of rejection; they may avert their gaze from unpleasant sights, or they may “tune out” a conversation related to attachment issues. A second strategy is to suppress memories of negative attachment events, such as a breakup. In fact, adults categorized as dismissing report very few memories of their early relationship with parents. Others may describe their childhood as happy and their parents as loving, but are unable to give specific examples to support these positive evaluations. ” -Joyce Catlett

On a personal note, DA’s are just children who had to grow up too fast to take care of themselves. They need as much comfort and closeness but unconsciously fear emotional distress and can’t easily leap to connection. They too need help, but won’t ask for it. They have to be approached more gently but a large part of moving towards developing a secure sense of attachment lies within that person’s power. Unlearning these patterns go a long way in having a fulfilling lifestyle and peace of mind.

How to approach someone with avoidant attachment tendencies

Deep down, they want close connection just like you do, but they feel incredibly invaded upon and exposed when you get too close. They rarely had anyone engage them, or perhaps they were engaged, but in ways that were (too) invasive, so they had to eventually learn to shut down. If your partner tends to shut down quickly during fights or when feelings become intense, this might be why.

They also have a hard time going from “solo time” to “connection time.” They spend most of their energy regulating themselves, and when someone tries to “interfere” with wanting connection, they can feel highly threatened. In order for your avoidant partner to become more secure, they need you, even if they don’t show it.

After spending time apart, give them some solo time to transition before requesting connection. Ask for a hug and kiss and then let them unwind a bit so they can be more present for you. Spend frequent time in activities where the focus isn’t just on you two. For example, going to a concert, taking a fun class together, are all things that can help bring their guard down. It can help them get in touch with their feelings of connection towards you. A lot of avoidants feel “defective” internally, even though they may never feel safe to admit that. Your reassurance is incredibly healing. The truth is your partner desperately wants to connect with you, but they often have to sit through some awful thoughts and feelings first. Those thoughts and feelings usually have (nothing) to do with you, but they are triggered by you. Closeness with you triggers painful memories of being left alone or invaded upon. There is something magical that happens when we begin to understand our partner. It doesn’t mean we won’t get hurt by disconnecting behaviors. But we can learn to ask for connection in ways that also honors our partner’s pain. We can learn to tolerate doing things that might feel counterintuitive .. so that both partner’s can win.

Silvy Khoucasian, Therapist

They are super loving at the start of something new as it is mostly surface level but as things get more comfortable they tend to pull away. This is when they need to be approached more gently because they feel engulfed with emotional closeness.

  • Most of what they do might seem personal, but its more about them than you.
  • Trust them to connect with you on their own.
  • Do not approach them with blame, they can’t help being the way they are. They can only be helped by trusting them and showing them safer ways of connection.
  • Give them a transition period or alone time after work or a thing.

Tools for avoidantly attached

If you relate more to avoidant tendencies, you’re most likely with an anxious partner. Anxious and avoidants are a tough pair but attract each other like a moth to a fire. The anxious will be willing to go the extra mile with you. And out of their nature and reasons, they will keep on giving and giving love and that fills a great hole inside you. You out of your nature will not give it back. This will lead to frustration. That is not a healthy way of connection. It won’t actually fulfill you and make you happy like a safe connection would.

  • The first two tools listed in anxious section are applicable to all styles. Which are: really getting to know your unique attachment style and triggers; and moving towards safe connection.
  • As counterintuitive as it may feel to you, leaning towards connection in healthy ways is going to fulfill you. You may think of it as co-dependency but its not. We are wired to lean on people we love in moments of distress so that we can feel more regulated. That’s healthy dependency.

3. Secure Attachment: The one to aim for

Someone who identifies with strong secure attachment qualities likely grew up with a caregiver who was sensitive to their needs enough times that they had a “felt sense” of safety and connection. They felt safe to rely on their caregivers.

This doesn’t mean that their caregiver didn’t make mistakes.

Sure they did, and probably often.

But a felt sense of secure attachment develops when caregivers are able to (notice) their mistakes and make the necessary repairs to restore connection. Due to that level of consistent attunement, that child then develops a healthy internal regulating system which helps them to soothe themselves later in life. As an adult, those who have strong securely attached traits tend to be more collaborative and sensitive.

Silvy Khoucasian, Therapist.

I don’t think this needs much explanation 🙂

Click here! to read a beautiful Caption Post.

4. Fearful Avoidant

I have not experienced relating to anyone with this attachment style and I don’t completely understand it. And that is why I don’t feel competent enough to write on this style myself. I would rather post credible sources of Information regarding this.

People who have strong Fearful Avoidant tendencies (also known as Disorganized Attachment), often grew up with a caregiver who was sometimes threatening or unable to care for them in appropriate ways.
This attachment style is often linked with the caregiver being intrusive, abusive, or neglectful.
The caregiver may have even “used” the child for comfort which is a role reversal for the child .. and can later cause a deep sense of confusion and emotional dis-regulation.
They may feel more connection with their caregivers than people with strong Dismissive Avoidant traits, but that connection often came at the cost of themselves.
As adults, people with fearful avoidant traits can have a combination of anxious and avoidant tendencies.
They crave and long for closeness .. but they tend to experience a high level of anxiety when they begin to depend on someone.
They can feel “used or betrayed or overwhelmed” by others because their old memories of childhood begin to resurface in relationships.
They can struggle with their self-esteem as well as their ability to reach out for and take in support.
They tend to prematurely (pull away) from relationships due to their fears of rejection and deep feelings of anxiety.
The first step in healing this attachment wound is to gently work through and feel into the unacknowledged pain .. in very small doses.
It’s by being willing to gently give yourself permission to acknowledge all the ways you were hurt, neglected, or felt unsafe to rely on those you loved.
You work is to begin holding firmer boundaries .. as you have a tendency to “lose yourself” quickly in intimate relationships and can fall into codependent behaviors.
Allow yourself to notice and practice receiving from those who genuinely want to give to you in small doses.
Learn to discern between reciprocal and mutual love vs. those who only want to take from you.
You deserve to be loved.
You deserve to have empathy for your story.
You deserve to write a new story of healthy and loving relationships as you gently heal and work through the pain of the first one.
~Silvy Khoucasian

Tools for the FA

Hope this helped you in some way

Quoting Brene Brown in one of her talks, “When we ask people about love they talk about heartbreak. When asked about connection, they talk about pain”. Unhealthy ways of love are so much gratified by the art and culture around us that we tend to suffer in love more than we grow in it. But like Vincent Van Gogh said and I believe it so much- ‘There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people’. Love is art. Sure, it’s tough.. and nobody knows what to do and some learn it the hard way and others never do. Yet, healthy connections are the only thing that leads to a more fulfilling and happy life. It really is the al-cure but not the way movies show it. (I wrote a researched blog on this: Click Here!)

And no, love doesn’t just comes once. It’s wrongfully glorified that way. Love comes from different people to us. People come into our lives sometimes to play a rather small part but valuable whatsoever. They come along with a lesson. They let you discover something new inside you that you never knew until then. So, finally, when the right person comes along, you’re ready and better equipped with all the experiences that came your way.

Find this blog as an attempt to help you love better. Go get it, tiger 😉 

Additional Links: 4 Tools For The Anxious + Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Style Pairing.– Silvy Khoucasian.

Dear Dismissive Avoidant: What Your Anxious & Fearful Avoidant Partners Need & Want You to Know!

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