What's the Deal with Attachment Theory?

May 02, 2023

Attachment theory is a psychological framework that describes how humans form and maintain emotional bonds with others, especially in intimate relationships. Developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the mid-twentieth century, attachment theory suggests that our early experiences with caregivers influence the way we think, feel, and behave in later relationships.  This was a shift in psychology that brought us to a more holistic way of thinking about relationships and our own mental health.


There are four primary attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. A secure attachment style occurs when a caregiver is consistently responsive and attuned to a child's needs, resulting in a sense of safety and trust in intimate relationships. An anxious-preoccupied attachment style involves a fear of abandonment and a tendency to be clingy or dependent on others. A dismissive-avoidant attachment style involves a distrust of intimacy and a desire for independence. A fearful-avoidant attachment style is a combination of both anxious and dismissive tendencies, resulting in a fear of both intimacy and abandonment.


Our attachment style matters in relationships because it affects how we interact with our partners, the emotions we experience, and the outcomes we achieve. People with secure attachment styles tend to have more satisfying and stable relationships, while those with insecure attachment styles are more likely to experience conflict, breakups, and feelings of loneliness or dissatisfaction. For example, individuals with anxious-preoccupied attachment styles may become preoccupied with their partner's availability and may experience jealousy or anxiety in the absence of constant reassurance. Dismissive-avoidant individuals may distance themselves emotionally or physically from their partners, minimizing the importance of intimacy or avoiding vulnerability altogether.


Fortunately, attachment is not a fixed trait, and people can repair and change their attachment styles over time. One effective way to repair insecure attachment patterns is through therapy, where individuals can explore their childhood experiences and how they may have influenced their attachment style. Another way is to practice vulnerability and communication skills with partners or trusted friends, learning to express emotions in more productive and healthy ways. Furthermore, individuals can cultivate a sense of self-love and self-compassion, fostering a secure base that allows them to enter into relationships with more confidence and emotional stability.


Understanding attachment theory can provide important insights into our relationships, helping us identify patterns that may be affecting our emotional wellbeing. Our attachment style matters because it influences how we connect with others and what we expect from relationships. With awareness and effort, we can repair and improve our attachments, leading to more fulfilling and satisfying relationships with ourselves and others.


If you want to learn more, or are concerned about your attachment style, contact us today!