Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment – Book Summary

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment – Book Summary

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—LoveAttached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find-and Keep-Love, written by Amir Levin and Rachel Heller is a very practical and easy-to-read relationship advice book based on the attachment theory.

The attachment theory is one of the most popular and useful psychological models, describing how people react in relationships when they get emotionally upset or something doesn’t go according to their expectations; and that happens in every relationship sooner or later.

The premise of the book is that your significant other is greatly responsible for your happiness in the relationship. The big misconception out there about relationships is that your happiness should come from within and is not dependent on your intimate partner or other people close to you.

Research shows that that’s very far from the truth, that your well-being is indeed your partner’s responsibility but also vice versa – that your partner’s well-being is your responsibility.

  • Maybe it sounds very promising that the ideal relationship is one between two self-sufficient people, who unite in a mature, respectful way while maintaining clear boundaries;
  • it might sound logical and reasonable that being dependent on other people violates your independency and autonomy;
  • you might strive to be strong enough to not let your inner peace be disturbed by the people close to you, but all these things are tasks in vein.
  • These beliefs all sound good, but they are not how relationships work.

The suitable explanation for these misconceptions lies exactly in the attachment theory. Research has shown that when you become attached to someone, you form one psychological unit.

You are no longer separate entities, and the influence of one on the other even happens on the biological level, namely to the point of mutual regulation of blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and hormones.

When two people form an intimate relationship, they not only regulate each other’s biological states but also, even more importantly, each other’s psychological and emotional well-being.

When you form a close relationship with someone, mutual dependency takes place. It always does. Which kind of dependency takes place is the subject of four different attachment styles.

The main message of the book is that if you want to become independent, happy and fulfilled in life, while being in a relationship, your main job is to find the right person to depend on.

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Because if your partner is unable to meet your basic (attachment) needs, you experience a chronic sense of disquiet and suffer from constant tension.

That can have serious consequences for your emotional well-being and even physical health. That’s why it’s so important to understand your attachment style and the attachment style of people close to you, especially your spouse.

All happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love. – Baruch Spinoza

There are at least four different benefits of knowing about the attachment style theory and its implications, described in the book very well:

  1. You can gain a much better understanding of yourself and how you function in relationships
  2. You can develop a healthier attachment style if you suffer from a toxic one
  3. You get the framework to better choose the right people to get involved in relationship with
  4. You acquire the knowledge to help your spouse be more constructive in relationship

The four different attachment styles and how they get developed

The patterns of attachment that people express towards those they are close to in adulthood tend to be very similar to the patterns of attachment they had with their caretakers in their youth. The reason for that is quite straightforward.

When a child is born, they’re completely helpless and dependent on their caretakers (most often parents). And every child has needs that should be met in a timely, judicious manner. If that happens, the child feels safe and lovable. If the child’s needs aren’t met s/he feels abandoned.

Based on how well a child’s needs were met, different attachment styles are developed. The attachment style is a blueprint for how we survive/thrive in adult relationships, based on what we have learned about relationships and attachment being fully dependent on our caretakers.

Your dominant attachment style tends to influence:

  • How you view intimacy and togetherness
  • How you deal with conflict
  • Your attitude towards sex
  • Ability to communicate your wishes and needs
  • What kind of expectations you have towards your partner and the relationship

Your attachment style greatly defines how happy, fulfilled and successful you’ll be in relationships and in general.

We know four different attachment styles, one healthy and three toxic ones. The four different attachment styles are:

  • Secure Attachment Style – Consistent response to the child’s needs: If you have the secure attachment style, you usually feel comfortable with intimacy and have no problem being warm and loving.
  • Anxious Attachment Style – Inconsistent response to the child’s needs: If you have the anxious attachment style, you greatly crave intimacy deep down, which is shown in neediness, preoccupation with the relationship and worry about people close to you loving you back.
  • Avoidant Attachment Style – Rigid or distant response to the child’s needs: If you have the avoidant attachment style, you experience intimacy and closeness with other people ( or dependency, in other words) as a loss of personal independence and autonomy. That leads to behavior that minimizes closeness with other people.
  • Disorganized Attachment Style (Anxious – Avoidant): This is a rather rare attachment style that exhibits elements of both unhealthy attachment styles mentioned above.

If parents are sensitive, available and responsive to the child’s needs in general, the secure attachment style should be developed. If parents are inconsistently responsive, the anxious attachment style is developed.

And if parents are distant, rigid and unresponsive, the avoidant attachment style is usually developed.

Besides the upbringing environment, other factors such as genes, life experiences and early romantic relationships have a big influence on which attachment style becomes dominant in our lives.

If caretakers are sensitive and responsive to a child’s needs, the child will develop the secure attachment style – the child learns that s/he can rely on their parents and be confident that they’ll be available whenever s/he needs them. Well, an easy temperament of the child and positive marital satisfaction with social proper support improves the chances of the needs being met.

Getting Attached - Attachment theory

Everybody needs a relationship secure base as a child or an adult

It can be seen very early in children what kind of an attachment style they are developing. The attachment style is seen by the children’s exploratory drive and their ability to play and learn in the presence of the attachment figure, the caretaker (and without it).

A caretaker’s presence or departure can either arouse or stifle the child’s exploratory drive. Only if the attachment figure presents a secure base for the child does the child have the courage to go into a previously unknown environment and explore with confidence.

  • Secure attachment in babies: Even though the baby is visibly distressed when the attachment figure leaves the room, they are very happy and eager to meet the caretaker when they get back. Once the attachment figure is present, they are quickly reassured, calmed down and resume with the play and exploration activities.
  • Anxious attachment in babies: The baby becomes very distressed when the attachment figure leaves the room. When the attachment figure returns as the source of the secure base for them, they react ambivalently – they are happy and angry at the same time.
  • Avoidant attachment in babies: When the attachment figure leaves the room, the baby acts as if nothing happened. When the caretaker comes back, the baby tends to ignore them and continue to play indifferently. But inside, the baby is not calm or collected, but very distressed.

The need for a secure base stays with us in adulthood. We all face challenges, difficulties and new situations in our adult lives. We need to be highly functional at work, inspired by our hobbies, and take care of our core relationships.

Only if we have a secure base in the relationships, can we take risks, be creative, and pursue our dreams. If we don’t have such a secure base, we have a much harder time maintaining focus and engaging in life.

That’s why it’s impossible to be a separate entity in relationships. You need to be dependent on others as a secure base in order to explore the world and go after your goals.

In childhood, and adult relationships, you need to be attached to people who present a secure base to you. You need to be backed by someone who is supportive and whom you can rely on and turn to in times of need.

As an interesting fact, around 50% of people are secure, 20% are anxious, 25% are avoidant, and around 3 to 5% suffer from a disorganized attachment style.

Nevertheless, we all tend to have one dominant attachment style. That’s because the need for close relationships is embedded in our genes. It’s a biological fact, impossible to escape.

Getting attached to other people is wired in your genes, so there’s no escape from attachement

We are programmed by evolution to single out a few individuals in our lives and make them precious and close to us. We’ve been bred to be dependent on a significant other, and these needs start in the womb and end when we die.

But why is that so? The attachment or dependency on others provided a survival advantage, because people who relied only on themselves were an easier prey.

Being close to people, especially to a partner, was a matter of life and death in prehistoric times. Forging close relationships was and thus still is an absolute necessity as such.

Even our brains have developed a biological mechanism that is responsible for creating and regulating connections with different attachment figures during our lifetime – parents, children, romantic partners and relatives.

This mechanism, which we call the attachment system, is a set of emotions and behaviors that drives us to stay close to our loved ones in order to stay safe and protected. To have a secure base.

The interdependency in close relationships goes extremely far. Attached and dependent people become one physiological unit. If one reacts, the other reacts, if one’s upset, it also makes the other upset.

The significant other is part of you, and you are part of them, so you will do anything to save him or her. Such a vested interest in the well-being of another person presented a very important survival advantage for both people involved in the relationship. You watch my back, I watch yours.

That all makes sense, but the main question in all this is: where do the insecure attachment styles come from then? If the environment is fairly safe, being attached to a few people close to you did make sense in the jungle.

But in a very dangerous and hostile environment (wars, diseases, catastrophes etc.), it sometimes made sense not to invest time and energy in just one or a few people, because they would likely not be around for too long.

It made sense to be less attached and move on when they passed away. That’s where the avoidant attachment style comes from.

The second option in the hostile environment was to be intensely persistent and hypervigilant about staying close to the attachment figure, making sure they didn’t abandon you or leave you alone.

Your survival was too dependent on somebody else, even in adulthood. That’s where the anxious attachment style comes from. That means there must be a fairly safe (home) environment provided to the offspring for the secure attachment style to be developed, even though we don’t live in the jungle anymore.

  • Relatively stable, secure and warm environment -> Secure attachment style
  • Hostile, toxic or dangerous environment -> Insecure attachment style

Your brains are wired to look for closeness and proximity. Period. Being attached to other people (and being dependent on them) is one of your very basic needs, and you can’t be happy in life, if you don’t find a way to fulfill it.

Getting attached literally means that you seek constant support from and closeness to your partner. If they fail to reassure you with their physical and psychological proximity, you are programmed to continue your attempts to achieve closeness, until you get the proper response from the other party.

These things are written in your genes. The attachment style is a big part of who you are and how you act in relationships. Now let’s look more closely at different attachment styles.

Anxious Attachment Style

The anxious attachment style

With the anxious attachment style, relationships tend to consume a large part of someone’s emotional energy. That’s because people with the anxious attachment style can easily get upset.

They tend to be extremely sensitive to fluctuations in relationships and their partner’s mood, since they take things in relationships too personally.

The main characteristics of the anxious attachment style are that a person craves intimacy and closeness, but they also have a lot of insecurities about the relationships and many little things their partner does set them off.

If you find yourself in the statements below, you probably possess the anxious attachment style:

  • You worry that your partner will stop loving you
  • You’re afraid people will not like the real you once they get to know you
  • When you’re not in a relationship you feel anxious and incomplete
  • When your partner is away, you’re afraid they’ll get interested in somebody else
  • When you express your feelings, you’re afraid your partner won’t feel the same
  • You tend to think about your relationships a lot
  • You usually get attached to a romantic partner very quickly
  • You are very sensitive to your partner’s moods
  • You’re afraid that you won’t find somebody else if your partner leaves you
  • During a conflict, you tend to react impulsively and say things that you later regret
  • You very often worry that you’re not attractive enough
  • You get depressed if somebody you like checks out other people
  • If your partner begins to act cold or distant, you worry that you have done something wrong
  • If your partner tried to break up with you, you would make try to make them jealous
  • You suffer the Mr. Nice Guy Syndrome

The anxious ones want a lot of closeness in their relationships, they like a great deal of physical contact, but they have many insecurities. The insecurities can be expressed in the interest in partner’s exes, their sexual past, and where they stand compared to them.

The anxious types usually try very hard to please people in relationships and become very unhappy when they don’t have a spouse. That’s because they often feel that something is wrong with them (they suffer from deep feelings of shame). Sometimes they play games to keep the interest alive, like playing hard to get.

They have a hard time not making things in relationships about themselves, and they easily act out instead of focusing on solving problems. They are usually very suspicious about unfaithfulness, and are preoccupied with the relationship in general.

But where does the anxiety comes from? People with the anxious attachment style possess a unique ability to sense when a relationship is threatened.

Even the slightest hint that something is wrong activates the attachment system, which can’t be calmed down until there is a clear indication and reassurance from the partner that the relationship is safe.

People with the secure attachment style don’t react to such small subtleties. The anxious ones are more vigilant to changes in others’ emotional expressions and have a higher degree of sensitivity to other people’s cues.

The problem is that people with anxious attachment might really sense the interrelation hints earlier, but they also tend to jump to conclusions very quickly, and usually misinterpret people’s emotional states.

In their conclusions, the reality of relationships is much darker than it actually is.

Thoughts Emotions Reactions
  • I know s/he’s leaving me.
  • I’ll never find anyone else.
  • It was too good to last.
  • I’ve ruined everything.
  • I knew something would go wrong.
  • S/he better come back to beg my forgiveness etc.
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Fearful
  • Resentful
  • Frustrated
  • Depressed
  • Hopeless
  • Despairing
  • Jealous
  • Hostile
  • Vengeful
  • Guilty
  • Self-loathing
  • Restless
  • Uneasy
  • Humiliated
  • Hate-filled
  • Uncertain
  • Agitated
  • Rejected
  • Unloved
  • Lonely
  • Misunderstood
  • Unappreciated
  • Act out.
  • Attempt to reestablish contact at any cost.
  • Pick a fight.
  • Wait for them to make the first reconciliation move.
  • Threaten to leave.
  • Act hostile—roll your eyes, look disdainful.
  • Try to make him/her feel jealous.
  • Act busy or unapproachable.
  • Withdraw — stop talking to your partner or turn away from him/her physically.
  • Act manipulatively.

Source: Levine, Amir & Heller, Rachel. (2010) Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love (Kindle Locations 1791-1798). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The main goal of the anxious attachment system, when activated, is to reestablish closeness with the partner. The thoughts and feelings that compel a person to reestablish closeness with others are called activating strategies.

Activating strategies compel you to get close to your partner in the physical or emotional sense. Once you get the repose and the security is reestablished, the attachment style is calmed down and you can revert back to your normal, calm self.

The more times the reassurance is not established, the more aggressive the anxious attachment system becomes.

Practical examples of how the anxious attachment system and activating strategies work are the following:

  • You think a lot about your partner
  • You have a hard time concentrating on other things
  • You put your partner on a pedestal
  • You want to be with your significant other all the time
  • You believe you won’t have another chance in life
  • You might stay in the relationship even if you’re unhappy

If the insecurities are not calmed down in a timely and respectful manner (with a text, call, hug, kiss, sex, honest conversation etc.) the anxious attachment system triggers protest behavior.

Examples of protest behaviors, shown as neediness or attention seeking, are:

  • Excessive communication: Sending text messages, showing up at your partner’s workplace etc.
  • Withdrawing: Giving the silent treatment, turning your back on your partner etc.
  • Keeping score: Measuring how much you invest in the relationship compared to your partner (for example, how often you call compared to them)
  • Acting hostile: Rolling eyes when they speak, using sarcasm, etc.
  • Threats to leave the relationship, making the partner jealous or other types of manipulations

Relationship tips for people with the anxious attachment style

If you have the anxious attachment style, there are a few very important precautions and actions to take when you’re dating:

  • Acknowledge and accept your relationship needs. If your needs are not met in a relationship, you can’t be truly happy. After you understand your needs, learn to express them. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind.
  • For the anxious attachment style, it’s also very important to develop the abundance mindset. You must become aware that there are many unique and wonderful potential people out there who can be superb partners to you. You must see clearly how you provide value in relationships.
  • Don’t jump into relationships: With the anxious attachment style, you tend to get attached really quickly. One passionate kiss and you might be madly in love, craving the other person. When that happens, you need to calm down and remind yourself that you must first get to know the person. You must trick your attachment system into being easier to you.
  • Don’t let your concerns escalate: Anxious individuals see relationships as something fragile and unstable, something that can collapse at any moment. Even a small concern can escalate quickly, causing a concentration of negative thoughts, which escalate to an explosive, accusatory, critical or threatening style of communication. Thus, it’s helpful to recognize small emotional upsets early and explain them to your partner openly and honestly.

Avoidant Attachment Style

The avoidant attachment style

We’re all usually impressed with digital nomads, lonesome travelers and explorers who travel the world, without any need to settle down and commit to anything.

But these people usually suffer from the avoidant attachment style, where they fight hard to keep people at a distance, even if they are in a serious relationship.

The astonishing free spirit is unfortunately usually just a defensive stance, letting avoidant types quickly break down when they face tougher life circumstances. But first things first.

The avoidant type individuals experience relationships as jailtime, especially when they get too close to people. Thus, they tend to maintain their independence and self-sufficiency.

As everybody, avoidants also want to be close to people, but keep them at an arm’s length instead. Usually, avoidants don’t care much about romantic relationships or being rejected. They also don’t like to open up in relationships, and tend to repress rather than express their emotions.

The main characteristics of the avoidant attachment style are that such people feel very uncomfortable when things get too close and intimate in relationships, freedom is more important to them than relationships, and they don’t worry much about their partner’s feelings or commitment towards them.

All these traits can be seen in behaviors below, which can also be hints that you possess the avoidant attachment style. Do you find yourself in the statements below?

  • You bounce back quickly after a breakup and can quickly put anybody out of your mind
  • You find it difficult to emotionally support your partner when they’re feeling down
  • Your independence is more important to you than your relationship
  • You prefer not to share your innermost feelings with your partner
  • You have a very difficult time depending on your partner
  • Many times, you feel angry or annoyed with your partner without knowing why
  • You prefer casual sex with uncommitted partners to intimate sex with one person
  • It makes you nervous when your partner gets too close to you
  • Your partner wants to be more intimate than you feel comfortable being
  • You miss your partner when you’re apart, but when you’re together you feel the need to escape
  • You hate feeling that other people depend on you
  • You’re relieved when somebody you like checks out other people, it means they don’t want to be exclusive
  • When somebody you love acts cold and distant, you’re indifferent or maybe even relieved
  • Sometimes when you get in a relationship that you thought you wanted, you’re not sure what you really want anymore

With avoidants, everyday interactions more or less become a negotiation for space and independence. Other people must somehow comply with their wishes, or they withdraw.

They tend to send mixed signals in relationships, they love to jokingly or sarcastically devaluate their partners, emphasize boundaries in relationships and have very unrealistic views of how the relationship should be.

They love to fantasize about the perfect partner they will meet some day or about sex with other people.

Thoughts Emotions Reactions
  • I knew she wasn’t right for me
  • I wasn’t made for relationships
  • S/he is taking over my life
  • I have to do everything her/his way
  •  I need to get out of here
  • I feel suffocated
  • If s/he was the one, this wouldn’t be happening
  • S/he just wants to tie me down
  • S/he’s so needy, it’s pathetic
  • Withdrawn
  • Frustrated
  • Angry
  • Pressured
  • Unappreciated
  • Misunderstood
  • Resentful
  • Hostile
  • Aloof
  • Empty
  • Deceived
  • Tense
  • Hate-filled
  • Self-righteous
  • Contemptuous
  • Despairing
  • Scornful
  • Restless
  • Distrustful
  • Act out.
  • Get up and leave.
  • Belittle your partner.
  • Act hostile, look disdainful.
  • Make critical remarks.
  • Withdraw mentally or physically.
  • Minimize physical contact.
  • Keep emotional sharing to a minimum.
  • Stop listening to your partner.
  • Ignore him/her.

 

Source: Levine, Amir & Heller, Rachel. (2010) Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love (Kindle Locations 1824-1829). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Avoidant people tend to be very fearful of being taken advantage of, have several uncompromising rules, and either explode or go away in disagreements.

They don’t make their intentions clear, especially when it comes to their feelings, and consequently other people have difficulty knowing, much less talking about, what’s going on in the relationship.

People with the avoidant attachment style tend to end their relationships quite frequently – that’s also one of the reasons why so many avoidants can be found in the dating pool.

Avoidant people run to deactivating strategies in a relationship, namely creating more distance and detachment. Examples of such deactivating strategies are:

  • Not being prepared to commit, even years after being together with somebody
  • Focusing on small imperfections in their partner
  • Daydreaming about the phantom ex or idealistic future partner, just around the corner
  • Flirting with others
  • Not expressing feelings toward other people
  • Pulling away when things are going well
  • Forming relationships with an impossible future (e.g. somebody married)
  • Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy
  • Avoiding physical closeness

After the deactivation strategy creates enough distance in the relationship, the attraction and the desire for closeness comes back. The crisis ends when a safe distance is created, the threat of intimacy is gone, and there is no longer the need to suppress the avoidant’s true feelings.

Relationship tips for people with the avoidant attachment style

Avoidants usually can’t change their attachment style without therapy and a true experience of a healthy dependent relationship. The best thing avoidants can do on their own is to learn to recognize the deactivation strategies, find a secure partner, and focus on mutual support.

Some other tips for avoidants from the book are:

  • Exclusive self-reliance (bad) does not equal independence (good): It’s important for everybody to be able to stand on their own two feet, but it’s also important to accept support from other people. Interdependence can be the most beautiful experience ever, if you depend on the right person. You can get joy from paying attention to needs of other people, and be part of something greater than yourself. Start with small steps, relying on small commitments of different people.
  • Focus on the positives of your partner: People with the avoidant attachment style tend to rate their partner less positively than non-avoidants. They tend to find a small imperfection to dwell on in order to create distance in relationships. That means you have to constantly remind yourself about the positives of your partner. Making a relationship gratitude list can be very beneficial.
  • Learn to read between the lines: Avoidant individuals usually have a hard time reading relationship cues – thoughts, feelings and needs of their partners. That’s why as the avoidant, you must become aware of the tendencies to misinterpret behaviors. Practice straightforward communication and put some effort into reading the cues of how other people are feeling.
  • Stop hallucinating about the perfect ex: There are no perfect relationships, so as the avoidant you must nix the phantom ex, forget about “the one”, and find a secure individual worth committing to. Having hobbies in common with your spouse, to get a little bit distracted, can also prove very beneficial.
  • Communicate your needs: Communicate your need for some space effectively, and find a way of doing so that’s acceptable to your spouse. Find a way to satisfy your own needs, while also satisfying your partner’s needs.

The secure attachment style

For the lucky people with the secure attachment style, warm and loving relationships come naturally. They enjoy being intimate without being overly worried about the partner or relationship itself.

They can truly enjoy relationships, not getting too upset about small relationship matters. The important skill of the secures is that they know how to effectively communicate their needs and feelings in a relationship and are strong at responding to their partner’s needs.

The statements to identify the secure attachment style:

  • You find it easy to be affectionate with your partner
  • You feel comfortable depending on romantic partners
  • You are generally satisfied with your relationships
  • You don’t feel the need to act out much in your relationships
  • You have no problem expressing your needs and want to other people
  • You believe most people are essentially honest and dependable
  • You’re comfortable sharing your personal thoughts and feelings with your partner
  • An argument with your partner doesn’t cause you to question the entire relationship
  • Sometimes people see you as boring because you create little drama in relationships
  • When you disagree with someone, you have no problem expressing your opinion
  • If somebody you like checks out other people, you might feel a pang of jealousy, but it’s fleeting
  • If a partner starts to act cold and distant, you wonder what’s happened, but you know it’s probably not about you
  • If somebody breaks up with you, you get hurt at first, but you know you’ll get over it
  • You won’t have much of a problem staying in touch with your ex in a platonic way, since you have a lot in common

Secure people are reliable and consistent, make decisions together with their partner and stay flexible in how they view the relationship. They are most often great communicators, can reach compromise during arguments, and don’t view relationships as hard work.

They are not afraid of commitment and dependency, and closeness leads to even further closeness in their life. On top of that, they have no problem naturally expressing feelings towards people they love and they avoid relationship games.

Relationship research shows that people tend to become more secure when they are in a relationship with somebody secure.

Secure people also have relationship problems and issues in life. But they see relationship problems as opportunities to get closer and deepen their bond. Don’t get fooled into thinking that perfect relationships don’t have any arguments.

What’s important when it comes to conflict is to show basic concern for the well-being of your partner, maintain the focus on the problem, refrain from generalizing the conflict, avoid blame, be willing to engage in a discussion and effectively communicate your needs and feelings, without the conflict getting out of control. And that’s what secure people know how to do very well.

The disorganized attachment style

This very rare combination is a mixture of the anxious and avoidant attachment styles, also referred to as the disorganized style. People with the disorganized style are both uncomfortable with intimacy and closeness and at the same time extremely concerned about their partner’s availability.

The disorganized attachment style gets developed especially among children who experienced severe stress or even abuse, which led to a situation where a person has no consistent strategy for responding to separation and reunion.

Anxious Avoidant Trap

When people with different attachment style date each other

You only have a 50/50 chance of dating somebody with the secure attachment style or being lucky enough to enjoy having one. By far the best experience in a relationship is if both parties possess the secure attachment style.

The second-best option is if at least one of the partners has the secure attachment style (if the person is strong enough not to be drawn into the insecurities of the other partner). That brings at least some stability in the relationship and the insecure type can learn from the secure one.

The avoidant attachment style is often equated with masculinity, and the anxious attachment style with femininity. That leads to a very common avoidant-anxious relationship trap.

If the two avoidant types meet, they rarely stay together. There just isn’t not enough glue. The hardest combination is when one person is avoidant and the other one is anxious – frequently called the anxious‑avoidant trap.

The avoidants easily intensify worries and feelings of inadequacy of the anxious ones. The problem is that anxious people (especially women) love to date avoidant people (men). That’s because each party gets a reaffirmation of their belief system about themselves and the relationship.

  • Why are avoidants attracted to anxious individuals? They get a chance to reassure their self‑perception that they are strong and independent, and that other people only try to chain them with closeness.
  • Why are anxious individuals attracted to avoidants? They get a chance to reassure their belief that they are always let down by people in their lives and that nobody wants to fulfill their need for intimacy.

What seems like excitement, passion and real love in this combination in the beginning, is only an over‑stimulated attachment system that soon leads to a lot of emotional drama. The anxious person gets mixed messages that lead to a preoccupation with the relationship and a thrill. At least in the beginning.

Especially anxiously attached people tend to associate the calm attachment system with boredom and indifference, which is obviously not the case. The main trick in this scenario is to not get hooked on the highs and lows, and mistake the attachment system for passion or love.

Can you go from an insecure to a secure adult attachment style?

We often rely on the common deceitful belief that love conquers all. That’s a big utopia.

Not only does true love need constant hard work (based on the growth mindset), understanding different attachment styles and how they force us to behave in relationships is mandatory for love to thrive, especially if you or your significant other don’t enjoy the secure attachment style.

Proper awareness and hard work conquer all, not some miracle or love. So, what can you do when both parties in a relationship don’t possess the secure attachment style?

First of all, it’s good to know that attachment styles are stable, but plastic. That means you can definitely greatly influence your dominant attachment style.

Research shows that one in four people change their attachment style in a few years’ period, without even being aware of the transition happening and knowing nothing about the attachment theory.

With proper knowledge, the transition can thus be that much faster. The best way to positively influence your attachment style is to have an experience of the attachment with somebody secure.

The dependency paradox: The more efficiently you are dependent on other people, the more daring and independent you become. You are only as needy as your unmet needs.

Homework

Besides experiencing secure attachment and the advice given along with the description of each attachment style, there are a few other things you can absolutely do to improve the quality of your relationships, recommended in the book:

  1. As mentioned, find a person who has a secure attachment style (or get an animal). As an alternative, you can develop a relationship with an animal as a starting point. We don’t perceive pets as hostile in a relationship, trying to damage us, and thus we can feel more secure in such relationships.
  2. Create your relationship inventory and analyze how your attachment style affects your day‑to‑day thoughts, feelings and behaviors in a romantic situation (past and present). Here is what you should analyze for every intimate relationship in your life:
    • Name of partner (current or ex)
    • Recurrent patterns in the relationship
    • Triggers of activation or deactivation system
    • Reactions – thoughts, feelings, actions
    • Insecure working models and principles (protest behavior etc.)
    • The damage such behavior does
    • Alternative, healthier behavior
  3. Become an extraordinary communicator. Learn to express your needs and expectations to your partner in a direct, non-accusatory manner. If you can’t do it on the spot, script a scenario of the conversation, answering the following questions:
    • Why do I feel uneasy or insecure in the relationship?
    • What specific actions by my partner make me feel this way?
    • What specific actions by my partner would make me feel more secure and loved?
    • Which of the above actions do I feel most comfortable bringing up and discussing?
  4. Follow the secure relationship principles, such as:
    • Be available to your spouse in every sense
    • Don’t interfere with the goal of taking away your partner’s personal power (micromanage)
    • Act encouragingly
    • Communicate efficiently
    • Don’t play any games
    • View yourself as responsible for your partner’s well-being
    • Be honest in your intentions
    • Maintain the focus on the problem at hand
    • Don’t make generalizations during conflict
    • Attend to your partner’s upsets before they escalate

What you can do for your children to develop the secure attachment style

An important point to take note of from the book is to make sure you do everything in your power for your children to develop the safe attachment style. The initial relationship a child forms with the caretaker has a great role in what type of an attachment style will be developed.

As mentioned, there are many other factors, such as the child’s temperament, general social support, levels of stress in a caretaker’s life, early romantic experiences, and so on. But the initial relationship does matter.

The best thing you can do as a parent to help your child develop the secure attachment style is to:

  1. Be available: Respond to a child’s needs in a timely and respective manner, allow them to be dependent when they need it and provide comfort when things go wrong.
  2. Don’t interfere: Don’t micromanage your child, take over the situation they have to face or undermine their confidence and abilities. Leave them the initiative and the feeling of power and provide behind‑the‑scenes support.
  3. Encourage: Provide proper encouragement, be accepting of their learning, development, and personal growth. Whenever possible, try to boost their self-esteem and provide praise, especially when they achieve something with effort, not because of an innate ability (the growth mindset praise).

One of the strong predictors of the secure type being developed in a child is if the caretaker has some kind of a sixth sense, and intuitively knows when the child needs to be held or comforted.

Great caretakers know how to respond before the child’s emerging distress escalates and becomes a full-blown fit. But if that happens, your job as a caretaker is to find a way to soothe the baby as quickly as possible.

This book can really change the quality of your relationships and understanding of yourself and others. There are many additional examples and recommendations in the book (how to manage conflicts, improve relationships with avoidants etc.), so I definitely recommend you to buy and read it!

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