- Tori Nieusma, LCSW
I Want You, I Need You, Oh Baby, Oh Baby: The Art of Attachment
Growing up we are reliant on our caregivers and look to them for connection and support. As adults we continue to look for this connection with friends and romantic partners. Connection is a basic human need, and we are hardwired to seek it out.
We refer to this connection and bond with others as attachment. There are four adult attachment styles formed through this support (or lack of support): secure, anxious (preoccupied), avoidant (dismissive), and disorganized (fearful).
Anxious, avoidant, and disorganized are all types of insecure attachment.
When we receive the connection and support we seek as children, we are likely to form secure attachments as adults.
Secure attachments as children form when caregivers are attentive and responsive to our needs. This teaches us that they are dependable. It then becomes safe for us to explore our world, knowing we can turn back to our caregivers if needed.
As a secure adult, this same message would apply to friends and romantic partners. We would feel confident relying on them. We would hold the belief that the connection will persevere, even when conflict arises. In the same way, as children we knew our caregivers would remain present as we explored.
Since the process of attachment begins in early childhood and continues through adulthood, when this connection and support is not present, we are more vulnerable to developing an insecure attachment style.
Anxious attachment forms when caregivers do not provide consistent attention and responsiveness. They will be nurturing and supportive one instance and then dismissive and closed off the next. This teaches us that they are not always available for us. We may then begin to seek constant, ongoing attention due to the fear that we may lose it completely someday.
Anxious attachment as an adult involves the same level of fear. We do not believe that relationships can persevere. We may hold ongoing concerns that our relationships will come to an end at any time. Due to this we seek constant reassurance.
Avoidant attachment comes from a lack of support and dismissal of our feelings. This may be a result of caregivers facing their own anxiety when met with our need for emotional support. Avoidant attachments can also form when we are discouraged from expressing emotion or seeking support. This teaches us that relying on others is bad and can lead to punishment.
As adults, avoidant attachment comes with the same message that relying on others is bad. We believe that if we get close and open up to someone we will be seen as bad. We have learned that we should suppress our emotions and not share them with others. This then leads us to close ourselves off from connection with others as adults.
Disorganized attachment forms from the same inconsistencies as anxious and avoidant. Patterns that form disorganized attachment are a mixture of those seen with anxious and avoidant. Here, caregivers may be nurturing one instance and then angry the next. This leads to us seeing these caregivers as sources of both comfort and fear. We then become disorganized, meaning that we are not sure how we want to respond to our caregivers. We may crave and seek attention but then also respond with fear.
This is because we have learned that we cannot count on the response we will get because our caregivers are not consistent.
These established patterns then continue into adulthood. As adults, we feel the same mixture of wanting attention and fearing it. We see partners and friends as sources of both comfort and fear as well. We may desire intimacy and closeness but also push away those offering it. We become both anxious and avoidant as we have learned that sometimes connection is good and sometimes it is not.
So while we crave this connection, we are also fearful that asking for it will be met with hostility or anger.
If you resonate with one of the insecure attachment styles discussed, do not panic! There are many ways to begin to address insecure attachment and work towards happy, healthy relationships.
Individually, there is a form of therapy called interpersonal therapy (or IPT) that helps you learn the skills and to conduct experiments in your current relationships to build feelings of security and to allow you to safely attach.
For couples- and individuals- there is another type of therapy called emotionally focused therapy (or EFT) that teaches you how to identify and respond to the emotions instead of the behaviors of your partner (or yourself). By connecting with the emotions, secure attachments can occur.
As a sidenote, EFT is also a therapy that can be a nice supplement or contrast to traditional behavior therapies like CBT, DBT, and ACT. So, if you have been in therapy and know the “skills” but still feel a disconnect, EFT could be an ideal supplement or alternative to try.
We are always here as a resource to help support you in finding a way to live your most genuine, authentic life and to form and have long-term, safe, stable relationships with yourself and others! By working on attachment, you can truly heal and find safety while living and working towards your best life.
To get scheduled, please call (910) 742-0489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org