First developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby around 70 years ago, the attachment theory explains how our bond with our primary caregivers – usually our parents – sets the stage for how we build our other relationships, including those with our partners.
The theory, which was later expanded by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, states that there are four main attachment styles.
The Secure: A person who has a secure attachment style tends to have good communication skills, can easily give and receive emotional support, trusts others, and is emotionally available. As such, this means that such a person would have high self-esteem and would feel comfortable being alone. In the theory, this is the result of emotionally available caregivers who imparted a sense of self-worth and safety in relationships.
The Avoidant: People who had emotionally distant, absent, or very strict parents can end up with an avoidant attachment pattern. This is characterised by commitment issues that result in an avoidance of physical and emotional intimacy, dismissiveness, and a belief that being alone is better than being with people. This type of attachment style can make people distrust their partners for no reason.
The Anxious: This style is usually the result of low self-esteem derived from the fact that the person would have had parents who were not always available to tend to their child’s needs. In relationships, this can bring about fear of abandonment and rejection, feelings of unworthiness, jealousy, and clinginess. It also manifests in low self-esteem.
The Disorganised: A person whose caregivers are inconsistent and who can be both a source of safety and fear can end up having a disorganised attachment style. What this means is that the person can have unpredictable behaviour in relationships, including simultaneously seeking love and pushing their partner away. Such people tend to have a harder time regulating their emotions, suffer from high levels of anxiety, are untrusting, and fear rejection.
Of course, as human beings, we can’t always be boxed into categories. Our own, individual experiences may mean that we have traits from several of the patterns listed above. Moreover, while it’s good to know that there are different attachment styles, we do not recommend self-diagnosis. Instead, if you feel that your attachment style may be affecting your relationship, speak to a licensed therapist.