Humans are wired for connection. Our very first one, with our parents, is the most important one when we’re infants. Your parents, specifically your primary caregiver, can set the stage for the rest of your relationships.
Was your primary caregiver dependable and able to meet your needs? If so, you likely formed a healthy attachment to them. As an adult, you probably find it easy to build and develop intimate connections. You can express and regulate your emotions well.
Was your caregiver inconsistent, abusive, or unable to meet your needs? If so, you likely formed an “insecure” attachment to them. You may struggle to form or maintain meaningful relationships as an adult. You might find it hard to trust others or unconsciously choose partners who are unable to meet your needs.
These are the basics of attachment theory. Attachment theory is the idea that the bond you form with your caregiver as an infant can deeply affect your relationships as an adult.
There are four general attachment styles:
The last three on this list are considered “insecure” attachment styles. Relationships can be difficult for people with insecure attachment styles if the underlying issues aren’t properly addressed.
Being able to trust that your caregiver would be there for you is a crucial part of child development.
You may choose partners or friends who unconsciously remind you of your caregiver because they feel familiar. We often repeat the patterns we learned in childhood with our romantic partners because they’re the closest thing we have to our caregiver as adults.
These patterns can show up as:
If you have an anxious attachment style, you’re generally preoccupied with relationships and experienced abandonment or inconsistent care as an infant. You may question your self-worth and experience the need to validate yourself through others.
You may have an anxious attachment style if you:
If you have an avoidant attachment style, you did not experience sensitive responses to your needs as an infant and are highly independent as a result. You likely learned that you couldn’t depend on your caregiver and could only depend on yourself.
You may have an avoidant attachment style if you:
If you have a disorganized attachment style, you experienced inconsistent care from your caregiver and had an abusive or chaotic childhood. You may have traits of both anxious and avoidant styles and deeply crave intimacy while simultaneously being terrified of it.
You may have a disorganized attachment style if you:
If you have a secure attachment style, you could depend on your caregiver to meet your physical and emotional needs as a child. You may be comfortable with intimacy and can identify and express your emotions.
You may have a secure attachment style if you:
If you have an insecure attachment style, suppressing the trauma you experienced as a child can prevent you from forming healthy relationships.
The good news is that attachment styles aren’t permanent. You can develop a secure attachment as an adult if you’re struggling with anxious or avoidant tendencies.
The most effective way to change your attachment style is working with a therapist who will help you build healthy relationships and develop a secure attachment. Your therapist can help you make sense of your past emotional experiences and guide you to becoming more secure in your relationships.
Cognitive behavioral therapy exercises (CBT) in particular can help you understand yourself and how to work with your attachment style. With CBT, you can learn techniques to help regulate your emotions and change your negative thought patterns that impact your behavior.
If you’re struggling with anxiety when it comes to building and maintaining relationships, Cerebral can help! Here are some tools from Cerebral that will help you start your journey to healing: