Love & Attachment

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I am interested in attachment theory, especially as it relates to relationships and dating. It is really helpful to understand your own attachment style, as well as how to identify the style of a potential partner. According to the theory, there are three major attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Secure people assume that they are worthy of love, and that others can be trusted to give it to them. Anxiously attached people assume that others will abandon them—so they cling, try too hard to accommodate others, or plunge into intimacy too rapidly. Avoidantly attached people are similarly afraid of abandonment; instead of clinging, however, they keep others at a distance. Attachment is a spectrum, and it can change over time; it is common, for example, to exhibit more insecure attachment when stressed. But we each have a primary attachment style that we demonstrate most often.

An attachment styles is based, in large part, on our early relationships with our caregivers. If our caregivers were warm and validating, we become secure. If they were unresponsive or overprotective, we can develop insecure attachment, as we believe that others will desert or harm us. To protect against anticipated mistreatment, we act anxiously or avoidantly (or both). Although early experiences with caregivers establish expectations about how we will be treated, these expectations evolve in other relationships, and they shape those relationships in turn.

There are three primary, underlying dimensions that characterize attachment styles and patterns. The first dimension is closeness, meaning the extent to which people feel comfortable being emotionally close and intimate with others. The second is dependence/avoidance, or the extent to which people feel comfortable depending on others and having partners depend on them. The third is anxiety, or the extent to which people worry their partners will abandon and reject them.

Secure: Low on avoidance, low on anxiety. Comfortable with intimacy; not worried about rejection or preoccupied with the relationship. “It is easy for me to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”

Anxious: Low on avoidance, high on anxiety. Crave closeness and intimacy, very insecure about the relationship. “I want to be extremely emotionally close (merge) with others, but others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t love or value me and will abandon me. My inordinate need for closeness scares people away.

Avoidant: High on avoidance, low on anxiety. Uncomfortable with closeness and primarily values independence and freedom; not worried about partner’s availability. “I am uncomfortable being close to others. I find it difficult to trust and depend on others and prefer that others do not depend on me. It is very important that I feel independent and self-sufficient. My partner wants me to be more intimate than I am comfortable being.”

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