The Best Questions To Ask Yourself To Determine Which Of The 4 Attachment Styles You Are
Your childhood may be a distant memory at this point in time, but experiences from your younger days can still have ways of affecting your life now. That's especially true when it comes to relationships. As strange as it may seem, what you learned as a child can play a role in determining the type of partners you choose, how fast or slow your relationships progress, and even how you deal with heartbreak. If your relationships have been less than ideal, it may be a good idea to figure out what your attachment style is.
"Attachment styles define how we relate to other people and get our needs met," Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD at Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Bustle. It's something that's learned very early on when you're a baby. Your attachment style is based on how your parents responded to your needs.
According to Jacob Kountz, marriage and family therapist trainee and Clinic Manager at CSU Bakersfield, there are many growing sub-types of attachment styles but these four are the most popular and well-known: secure, avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized.
If someone has a secure attachment style, their parents (or caregivers) attended to them while they were in distress, and now, they're likely to feel secure, healthy, and happy in their relationships. For those with avoidant attachment style, their parents were likely distant or disengaged, and now, they might be emotionally distant, less explorative, and feel like their needs won't be met in their relationships. Ambivalent attachment style results from parents who were inconsistent — sometimes sensitive and attentive and other times they were neglectful. The adult may then become anxious, insecure, and confused in their relationships.
The final attachment style, disorganized attachment style, results from parents who likely reacted to moments of stress by getting frightened, withdrawing completely, or acting in ways that were unpredictable and erratic. As a result, an adult is more likely to be non-responsive, angry, or passive in their relationships.
"Humans have an innate function called neuroplasticity which means they have the capability to learn, structure and restructure specific concepts in their minds," Kountz says. "When children are consistently experiencing certain behaviors from parents, the neural pathways of these memories become stronger and stronger. Eventually, children become jaded by these reactions from their parents and generally accept these situations and perceive it as, 'This is just how things are.'"
Because of this, attachment styles can affect how you relate to others as an adult. So what's your attachment style? While answering "yes" to these questions may not guarantee you an exact, or fixed answer, it can help give you further insight into how you may act in relationships, and why you may be feeling the way you currently do. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to understand more.
1. "Are You Kind To Yourself And Positive To Others?"
Do you find that you're kind to yourself and generally positive with others? Do you feel accepted by others? Do you accept yourself? Do you feel competent in the actions you take? If you can answer "yes" to all, you likely have a secure attachment style.
As psychologist and author, Linda Baggett, PhD tells Bustle, adults with a secure attachment style find it easy to become close with others. "They know that they can count on others and others can count on them," she says. "They tend to view themselves and relationships positively and are happier in relationships."
2. "Would You Consider Yourself Very Independent?"
Are you an independent person? Are you perfectly content without having many relationships? Do you hide your feelings most of the time? If so, you may have an avoidant attachment style.
According to Dr. Baggett, people with avoidant attachment styles didn't use their parents as a "safe base for exploration." They likely didn't get upset when their parents would leave and pretty much acted like they weren't there when they returned. "These babies grow up knowing parents don’t respond to their needs, so they learn to shut down emotions and needs and be independent," she says. "They avoid connection because they have learned that relationships hurt."
As an adult, there are two type of avoidant attachment: dismissive-avoidant, in which adults value independence and aren't too interested in close relationships. They're likely to avoid intimacy and may be seen as emotionally unavailable. Then there are fearful-avoidants who want to be close to others but are scared of getting hurt. "Often these adults feel like they don’t deserve healthy, quality relationships, so they avoid intimacy or hide their feelings," Dr. Baggett says. Of course, being independent does not automatically make you emotionally unavailable in relationships, but if some of these questions resonate with you, it could be a sign of some form of this attachment style.
3. "Do You Worry About Being Alone?"
Do you have a fear of being alone? Do you worry about being rejected by others? Do you seek out help when you're stressed? Do you value close relationships over your own personal achievement? If so, you may have an ambivalent attachment style.
Adults with an ambivalent attachment style likely grew up with parents or caregivers who lacked consistency. "These babies grow up knowing people can’t be counted on and develop an extra clingy style to try to get their needs met," Dr. Baggett says. As an adult, you might want closeness but will have this fear that others won't want to get close to you. As a result, you may have some insecurity and will seek a lot of responsiveness and reassurance from your partner. "Their self-esteem is very tied to how they feel in their relationships and when things go wrong, they tend to blame themselves," she says. "They are anxious without their partners and only feel better once the partner is there."
4. "Do You Have A Hard Time Opening Up To Others?"
Do you find it difficult to open up and be vulnerable? Is it a major struggle for you to trust other people? Do you have trouble making sense of your childhood experiences? If so, you may have a disorganized attachment style.
According to Dr. Baggett, this attachment style is often a result of physical or sexual abuse, parents with significant psychological problems, or parents with substance abuse issues. "These babies don’t know what to make of relationships and connecting because the people who are supposed to soothe them are also dangerous," she says. If you have any sort of trauma in your childhood, you may have a disorganized attachment as an adult.
A secure attachment style is often most conducive to healthy adult relationships. But if you have any of the attachment styles, you're going to be OK. "Anyone can work on forming new patterns to develop secure relationships," Dr. Raichbach says. "This is always a worthwhile effort, considering our attachment style defines who we select to be in relationships with and how happy we are in our relationships."
If your relationships have been less than ideal, knowing your attachment style can help you break out of unhealthy patterns so you can have that happy and healthy relationship that you want.