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What Attachment Style Do You Have? Here's What Therapists Want You to Know

Get to know the four attachment styles and how your attachment style impacts your life and relationships.

Casey Clark
Casey Clark

Casey Clark is a writer from NYC who covers beauty, mental health, and commerce. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, TODAY, HuffPost, Allure, and more. As someone who struggles with depression, she finds comfort in creating easily digestible content on complex mental health topics to reduce stigma and raise awareness.

10

min read

Have you ever wondered why you’re constantly worried a friend is going to leave you? A partner actually likes you? Well, these common questions can actually reveal a lot about your attachment style. 

“Attachment styles are developed in childhood within the first six months to two years and are shaped by how a primary caregiver reacts towards a child’s needs,” says Tara Bowles, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker and UpLift provider. “The belief is that the way babies bond with their primary caregivers will affect the way they bond in their adult relationships.” 

Not only does one’s upbringing impact relationships, but it also has been shown to be tied to survival. British psychologist, John Bowlby, who is recognized as the founder of attachment theory, believed that there were four characteristics tied to attachment: proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress. 

Each of these have one element in common—they all involve going back to an attachment figure, whether that’s to soothe anxiety, embrace comfort, or feel safe. Once again, this shows the importance of how relationships to other people play a huge role in navigating life’s ups and downs. 

With that said, there are four attachment styles that people generally fall into: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized. Each of these attachment styles are highly nuanced and present in different ways.

We’ve gone ahead and broken them down so you can learn more about the different styles, how they may impact your life—and ultimately how therapy can help you on your journey towards developing more secure attachments. 

What are the four styles of attachment?

Secure attachment

Secure attachment occurs as the result of having a caregiver being attuned to a child’s needs and meets them appropriately in a caring environment. This involves making an individual feel safe, seen, validated, valued, and comforted from an early age. 

Individuals with secure attachment are usually better able to regulate their own emotions, connect with others (friends, partners, family members), and manage conflict in their personal relationships. They also tend to view themselves, other people, and the world around them in a more positive light. 

Studies have shown that individuals with secure attachments are less prone to having experiencing fear, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

Victor Rivera Sink, LCMHC, licensed clinical mental health counselor and UpLift provider, adds that people with secure attachments tend to have better self esteem and can comfortably be alone for extended periods of time. 

Anxious attachment 

Anxious attachment develops when a caregiver is unpredictable, such as loving one moment and inattentive and dismissive the next. 

“People with an anxious attachment are often clingy in relationships and fearful that their partner will abandon them,” says Bowles. “They crave constant reassurance that they are loved and have difficulty trusting in relationships.” 

According to Sink, this may present as being jealous, frequently needing approval, having low self-esteem, and difficulty accepting criticism. 

Other common characteristics of the anxious attachment style include fear of rejection, experiencing jealousy, and having codependent tendencies particularly in the areas of emotional regulation and validation. 

Some common questions people with anxious attachment may frequently ask include: 

  • “Are you going to leave me?” 
  • “Do you hate me?” 
  • “Are you sure it’s okay?”

The questions may vary from person to person, however, they generally lead back to needing validation and reassurance. Individuals with anxious attachment may find themselves feeling more anxious (as the name implies) throughout their daily lives while in the search for external validation and reassurance from friends, loved ones, etc. 

Avoidant attachment

Avoidant attachment is on the opposite side of the spectrum from anxious attachment. This style develops when a caregiver consistently dismisses or ignores a child’s needs.

“Individuals with the avoidant attachment style tend to believe that they don’t have to be in a relationship to feel complete,” says Bowles. “They don’t want to have to depend on others or have others depend on them.” 

Adults with this avoidant attachment style usually avoid intimacy or emotional closeness to other people. For example, people with avoidant attachment may begin to withdraw from a relationship if they feel like the other person is becoming reliant on them. They also may experience long-lasting feelings of anxiety and a lower sense of self which has shown to be a risk factor for depression. 

Aside from being distant in a relationship, people with avoidant attachment may tend to hide or suppress their feelings when faced with a potentially emotion-dense situation, such as conflict. “They would rather run away and avoid conflict or any difficult emotions,” adds Bowles. 

Disorganized attachment 

Also known as a "fearful avoidant attachment style," disorganized attachment usually occurs as a result of neglect, childhood trauma, or being fearful of caregivers. 

People with disorganized attachment want to be close but also are highly fearful of getting close. “Their behaviors tend to be erratic and conflicted as they can be close and clingy one minute and running away and avoidant the next,” says Bowles. “They crave intimacy and closeness but are too afraid to actually commit.” 

Signs of disorganized attachment include difficulty trusting other people and having difficulty regulating emotions. According to Sink, disorganized attachment is often associated with mood disorders, personality disorders, and sexual assault struggles. 

What is the best therapy for attachment styles? 

If you’ve identified with the above attachment styles, then you might be asking yourself, “How do you overcome attachment issues?” Long answer short: going to therapy. 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to therapy because some modalities tend to work better for some than others. However, there are two most commonly used to work on attachment issues: attachment-based therapy and Internal Family Systems. 

Attachment-based therapy is a specific therapy that helps people to rebuild trust in relationships, increase self-esteem, focus on their own worth, and what they can bring to a relationship. Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is an attachment-based therapy that focuses on building the relationship between the client’s self and the different parts in order to build a secure attachment.

When it comes to understanding your attachment style, Bowles recommends finding a therapist because it can be helpful in getting to know yourself and increasing your emotional awareness. In therapy, individuals can learn how to communicate openly and effectively and know what their needs are in relationships. 

Looking for a provider to help you better understand your attachment style? UpLift has tools to match you with a therapist that works for you—because everyone deserves access to a provider that understands them.

About the author
Casey Clark

Casey Clark is a writer from NYC who covers beauty, mental health, and commerce. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, TODAY, HuffPost, Allure, and more. As someone who struggles with depression, she finds comfort in creating easily digestible content on complex mental health topics to reduce stigma and raise awareness.

Edited by

Eliana Reyes

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Jack Sykstus, LMFT, CSAC

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