Attachment Styles

This time I read “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller and I am really impressed. This is a book on relationships.

The main thesis of the book is that adults, just like toddlers, exhibit 3 distinct attachment styles. Those attachment styles are observed between a caretaker and a toddler but they persevere into the adulthood and, specifically, romantic relationships. There are two types of attachments: secure and insecure. Insecure is further divided into anxious and avoidant. The descriptions of all 3 are quoted below:

Anxious: You love to be very close to your romantic partners and have the capacity for great intimacy. You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like him/her to be. Relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy. You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in your partner’s moods and actions, and although your senses are often accurate, you take your partner’s behaviors too personally. You experience a lot of negative emotions within the relationship and get easily upset. As a result, you tend to act out and say things you later regret. If the other person provides a lot of security and reassurance, however, you are able to shed much of your preoccupation and feel contented.

Secure: Being warm and loving in a relationship comes naturally to you. You enjoy being intimate without becoming overly worried about your relationships. You take things in stride when it comes to romance and don’t get easily upset over relationship matters. You effectively communicate your needs and feelings to your partner and are strong at reading your partner’s emotional cues and responding to them. You share your successes and problems with your mate, and are able to be there for him or her in times of need.

Avoidant: It is very important for you to maintain your independence and self-sufficiency and you often prefer autonomy to intimate relationships. Even though you do want to be close to others, you feel uncomfortable with too much closeness and tend to keep your partner at arm’s length. You don’t spend much time worrying about your romantic relationships or about being rejected. You tend not to open up to your partners and they often complain that you are emotionally distant. In relationships, you are often on high alert for any signs of control or impingement on your territory by your partner.

People typically have no difficulty recognising their own style; however some people don’t have a clear style. The book included tests to determine your style. And… I was not at all surprised that I am avoidant.

The book goes further into describing patterns of behaviours associated with each style.

If you are an anxious type, then you tend to indulge in protest behaviour. Protest behaviour is any action that tries to reestablish contact with your partner and get their attention. Examples include: withdrawing, acting hostile, threatening to leave, manipulating, making him/her feel jealous. What is also interesting, is that you tend to be attracted to an avoidant partner if you are anxious. That’s because avoidant people send mixed signals: they call but take their time about it; they are interested in you, but lets you understand that they are still playing the field. You are left guessing. Further description from the book:

Every time you get mixed messages, your attachment system is activated and you become preoccupied with the relationship. But then he compliments you or makes a romantic gesture that gets your heart racing, and you tell yourself he’s interested after all; you’re elated. Unfortunately, the bliss is very short-lived. Quickly the positive messages become mixed once again with ambiguous ones and again you find yourself plunging down that roller coaster. You now live in suspense, anticipating that next small remark or gesture that will reassure you. After living like this for a while, you start to do something interesting. You start to equate the anxiety, the preoccupation, the obsession, and those ever-so-short bursts of joy with love. What you’re really doing is equating an activated attachment system with passion.

Such emotional roller coaster is exciting at first, but gets really tiring after some time. In fact, the book recommends against dating avoidant people altogether if you happen to be an anxious type.

Another interesting idea that the book introduces is so-called The Law Of Large Numbers: Why You Are More Likely To Meet Avoidants When You Go Out On A Date.

Reasons for that are: people with an avoidant attachment style tend to end their relationships more frequently. Since they suppress their emotions it is easy for them to “get over” partners quickly and start dating again almost immediately. People with secure attachment style, on the other hand, don’t go through many partners before they find one that they happily settled down with. Once things click, they tend to form long-lasting relationships. Also avaidants don’t actually date one another because their relationships lack the emotional glue to stay together. Result: avoidants are often available in the dating pool and will often end up dating anxious types.

The authors strongly advise the anxious types to identify secure types and stick to them despite the fact that things may appear to be boring at first.

If you are avoidant, then the hurtful pattern of behaviours that you engage in stem from you a) avoiding being reliant on your partner b) avoiding being vulnerable to your partner c) avoiding being relied upon by your partner. You want to keep yourself safe and distant, ready it break it off any minute. Such deactivating strategies that you use are: avoiding commitment despite staying together for years, focusing on small imperfections in your partner, pining after an ex, flirting with others, not saying “I love you”, pulling away when things are going well, forming relationships with an impossible future, such as with someone who is married, “checkout out mentally” when your partner is talking to you, keeping secrets and leaving things foggy, avoiding physical closeness.

Avoidants consistently mistake self-reliance for independence. It’s actually OK to depend on your partner and be vulnerable. “Daring Greatly” is another great read on the subject matter. What you should do instead is learn the deactivating strategies and fight those tendencies. Focus more on mutual support as opposed to self-reliance… And, the authors say, find a secure partner.

Secure types are great because they get to date everyone. What is interesting that secure-secure couples are just as happy as secure-insecure couples. That’s because secures can handle both anxious and avoidant just fine by making them more secure.

The reasons secures are great: they handle conflicts well, they are not easily threatened by criticism, they communicate effectively, don’t play the push-pull game, comfortable with closeness, quick to forgive, view sex and emotional intimacy as one.

However, the downsides of being secure is that you are more likely to be investing in a relationships that the other person wants to leave. You are blinded by your own security and don’t see the dissatisfaction of your partner.

The second half the book goes into more details about how to avoid Anxious-Avoidant relationship trap and describes how to communicate with your partner more effectively. I am not going to go into those details. I will say though, that this book has been another big eye-opener for me. I am now actively dealing with my avoidant tendencies: they are actually quite easy to spot. I would say that this book is essential if suspect that you are in an anxious-avoidant relationship.

Um… thanks for reading? No, seriously, thank you!