Attachment Style: How to Break the Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships

Have you ever noticed how some of us seem to struggle with a history of unhealthy relationships?

Maybe it’s you who does this?

Subsequently, have you ever noticed how relationships seem to come easier for some people? One reason is our attachment style. Learning about your attachment style can go a long way in developing new healthy relationships.

four main attachment styles

These four styles determine many of the ways we interact each other in relationships and with our own children. They are influenced starting from birth by the way our parents interact with us with different childhood experiences resulting in different attachment styles as adults.

The four styles are called:

  • Secure Attachment Style
  • Dismissive/Avoidant Attachment Style
  • Preoccupied/Anxious Attachment Style
  • Fearful Attachment Style

no right or wrong attachment style 

These are not something you consciously choose for yourself but instead are shaped early in life. However, there are clearly healthier attachment styles than others. The healthiest attachment style is the Secure Attachment style.

If you fall into one of the other three categories, you can work towards attaining a Secure Attachment style. Thereby helping yourself to develop healthy, meaningful relationships based on trust and mutual support.

secure AN attachment style

People who have secured an attachment style are comfortable in their relationships with significant others, parents, siblings, children, and so on. They trust in the knowledge that their friends and family members care for them and are available if needed. This is the type of person, for example, who wouldn’t be bothered by an unanswered text message or missed phone call with no call back for a few days.

They trust that their family member or friend will get back to them in time. They have enough confidence in the relationship to not have to worry about trivial details. These people have been blessed with a warm and loving childhood with attentive parents who instilled a deep trust in them by being readily available whenever necessary.

The second attachment style – dismissive/avoidant 

The second attachment style is characterized by an individual being emotionally detached from relationships with peer and romantic partners. They place a great deal of emphasis on self reliance and independence. It is very important to them to be able to take care of themselves. They may describe their parents as either overly perfect—with no flaws to speak of—or the opposite, with no middle ground. They may be isolated, spending lots of time alone instead of in social situations.  

A person with this attachment style will choose to deal with conflict on relationships by distancing themselves rather than address the problem or work through it. People who express themselves through this attachment style were often taught not to be dependent on others or behave in a way that made them appear vulnerable.

the Preoccupied/Anxious Attachment style 

The next attachment style is characterized mainly by fear of losing relationships.This insecurity causes them to be overly clingy or dependent on a romantic partner. Which can put a strain on the relationship. These people become worried and preoccupied with many aspects of relationship. They dwell on mistakes and over analyze their own actions as well as the actions of others. This may be caused by experiencing unstable relationships in childhood with parents or other adult figures. Parents who are unavailable to their children or leave without explanation can cause the child to grow into an adult who doesn’t know how to maintain secure relationships with others. Or translates that fear from childhood onto every interaction, worrying that any relationship may fall apart any moment.

Fearful attachment style 

This attachment style is present in people who have experienced severe childhood trauma such as sexual or physical abuse or outright rejection from a parent or trusted adult figure. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to try and bury these traumatic experiences. Or they might engage in other self harming or self-destructive behaviors. These people have developed a fear of any sort of adult relationship and as such have developed an incredibly low self esteem.

This manifests in feelings of worthlessness and hatred towards oneself.

The expressions of the way they were treated as children have turned inward. This contributes to their warped sense of self and is painful and difficult to live with. These people would very much like to have normal and healthy adult relationships. But the trauma in their past is such that they are terrified to connect with anyone for fear that they will be hurt again.

Of all the attachment styles, a person experiencing this one is the most in need of professional help. Counselling and therapy services can go a long way to addressing childhood trauma. As well as abuse or rejection and help you work towards being able to form meaningful long-lasting relationships. Ones that are healthy and emotionally satisfying.

Achieving a Secure Attachment Style

As well as childhood experiences, adult relationships and experiences can shape and adjust our attachment styles, whether for better or worse. Maintaining relationships with people who already have a secure and healthy attachment can help us to develop one for ourselves by modelling the behaviors we experience by interacting with them.

Understanding where our attachment style comes from

This is a big step towards achieving a secure attachment style. Researching the different attachment styles or consulting a professional to find out what your attachment style is can help you start to work out the bad habits and patterns that come along with that style. On top of that, talking through your childhood experiences and figuring out which ones have contributed to the way you interact with adults can be very helpful.

You can start this process by writing down some things from your childhood and going over your experiences with a professional who can help you to address and trauma from your childhood.

Understanding your attachment style isn’t about blaming your parents for doing something wrong. Even though our attachment styles are formed in infancy and heavily influenced by our childhood experiences. Parents are also people with their own attachment styles that are informed by their own experiences in childhood, and so on. 

Recognizing your attachment style

This affects your ability to form lasting and meaningful healthy relationships with the other adults in your life. In turn helping your children form a secure attachment style for themselves. Once you understand the ways this can influence your life, and the lives of those around you, you can actively work towards correcting any harmful or unhealthy behaviors. Even ones that you may not even know you have been exhibiting. Or maybe you’ve recognized these behaviors as unhealthy but didn’t know where they came from or how to go about correcting them. This is just one way of becoming our best selves and achieving harmony in our relationships.

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