If you are one of the many people out there who finds yourself in patterns of unhealthy relationships, perhaps you’ll benefit from identifying your attachment style—which not only could answer fundamental questions for you around your relationship triggers but also provide clues as to why you attract certain types of people.
There is a great deal of research out there on infant attachment (John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, to name two) about how early interactions with caregivers set up internal working models of expectations of how others will behave towards them in the future. Infants that do not feel safe physically or emotionally—because their cries go unanswered, or their facial expressions are not mirrored appropriately—with their primary caregivers may become adults who, in a variety of ways, struggle in relationships.
In recent years, newer models have been developed to describe the way adults in intimate relationships relate to each other. Their attachment styles can usually be tied to their own earlier experiences and whether or not they’ve had their needs met. There are four types of adult attachment styles, but keep in mind: many people could be classified as an overlap of several. Take a look at the list below and see if you can identify with any of them.
• Secure-Autonomous: You believe relationships are generally safe. You are comfortable with emotions and intimacy. You are optimistic about relationships lasting and bringing you satisfaction.
• Unresolved/Disorganized: You struggle to function, control your emotions and may dissociate or space out.
Do you fit into one of these categories or a combination of a few? If you think back to your childhood, and what you know about your experience with your primary caregivers, does it make any sense to you that you might relate to your adult relationships in a similar way? Don’t we all still want a secure base, internally and in our in our intimate partnerships, to feel safe and contained in the world?
The unfortunate reality is that many of us have attachment wounds that run the gamut from serious abuse by parents to inadvertent mistakes by parents who’ve never learned how to be the best parent they could be to their own child. These patterns tend to repeat themselves down family lines.
Just because we didn’t form secure attachments in the beginning doesn’t mean we can’t experience secure attachments as adults. Forming attachments requires developing an understanding of what kind of attachment style we have, making sense of why that fits for us, and having new experiences that counter our expectations.
The new research around the neuroplasticity of the brain, by folks like Daniel Siegel, suggests that there can be new learnings that cover up old learnings. If you break your unhealthy relationship pattern long enough and have a healthy experience, your internal working models can shift as your brain forges new neural pathways of experience. Don’t listen if someone tells you people can’t change.
© Copyright 2009 by Lisa Kift. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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