The impact of attachment styles on relationships

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The first years of life are vital for one’s physical and emotional development. In order for a child to grow into a healthy and happy adult, emotional nurture is as important as the food they are given. The main care giver is responsible for the emotional nurturing of the child and, based on one’s relationship with their main care giver, people develop different types of attachment. Secure attachment and insecure attachment (anxious avoidant and anxious ambivalent) are the main types. While a securely attached child will develop into an adult who can enter, enjoy and sustain healthy relationships, insecurely attached children will grow into anxious adults who will struggle to enter and to keep happy relationships.

Here’s how the attachment style impacts us and the relationship we develop as adults:

Secure attachment

As a child, they tend to explore the environment independently and they see the parents as a secure base they can always return to. As adults, they are able to develop secure connections with their romantic partners and experience more satisfaction than the insecurely attached people. They will often be happier, offering the other partner the freedom they need and taking that for themselves. They will be able to ask for help from their partner when in difficulty and offer support to others when asked. The relationships they have tend to be equal, mature and honest. There is a general degree of independence that both partners enjoy without fearing dishonesty or abandonment. Finally, there is no need for control or for compensatory fantasies. None of the partners has to comply with the other partner’s expectation in order to feel loved and wanted. The partners are themselves and love each other for who they are, not for the needs their presence might satisfy in the other.

Insecure avoidant attachment

Due to a physically or psychologically absent care giver, who didn’t respond properly to a child’s needs or who repeatedly ignored his/her cries, the child developed an insecure avoidant attachment style. That means that, as adults, they will refuse to entertain strong feelings for anyone because they might be hurt again. They have trust issues and a fear of commitment. They are the people who will have many short-term relationships, who have a cynical attitude towards love and who will leave the relationship as soon as it starts to look serious. They are unresponsive to their partner’s needs and they often prefer to break the relationship rather than be there for their other half. It feels like a huge emotional pressure to give or receive love because, deep down, they are still the children who had been hurt when they needed love and responsiveness the most.

Insecure ambivalent attachment

While their parents were relatively present during a child’s first years, they showed no consistency in responding to the child’s needs. The child grew into a confused adult who needs to scream for attention and feels like they never get all the love they need. They are the people who enter often rocky relationships where they ask for permanent reassurance, worry a lot about being left and would do anything to keep their partner. Their fear of abandonment can sometimes make them prisoners of unhealthy relationships, where they might tolerate abusive behaviours just because, in their opinion, having someone who is not suitable for them is better than being lonely.
They can’t see the other person for who they are and often their partner’s image is pure fantasy. Behind this confused state of mind there is an angry and scared child who hasn’t been cared for properly, who keeps trying to repair the damage the care giver did by not seeing him/her, not listening to him/her and, most importantly, not loving him/her for what he/she was.

While there is no such thing as a pure attachment style, most adults tend to adopt one of these types. Relationships are the playground where people can grow, develop and bloom, and the attachment style we have can make that process pleasant, difficult or even impossible. If you or someone you know is having a rocky relationship and always ends up with ‘the wrong person’, it might be because of their attachment style. Individual therapy, as well as couple or family therapy, can help people identify their attachment style and support them in healing the inner child who has been mistreated. Nurturing your inner child means giving yourself the chance to a happier relationship, a more meaningful life and a better model for your children, if you have or decide to have them. A better tomorrow for yourself and your loved ones can start today, so feel free to get in touch if you need any support.