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Understanding Adult Attachment Styles

Understanding our attachment style can be significant as it can impact our relationships, not just romantic ones. In adults, there are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant-dismissive, and disorganized-fearful/avoidant. These attachment styles are characterized by specific thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

The attachment style that we develop is thought to be influenced by the early experiences we have with our primary caregivers, but our experiences throughout life, such as being exposed to bullying during elementary and high school, can also shape and potentially change our attachment style. The foundation of our attachment style is formed during childhood with our primary caregivers, but it can be modified by our experiences throughout our lifetime.

It's important to note that there are no "bad" or "good" attachment styles. It doesn't matter what your attachment style is, and people with different attachment styles can be compatible. What's important is understanding your own attachment style and patterns of behaviour so that you can effectively communicate with your partner when specific triggers may lead to feelings of anxiety or a desire to distance oneself. The goal is to understand and manage these patterns rather than trying to change one's attachment style.

The three main attachment styles - anxious, avoidant, and disorganized - are coping mechanisms that individuals use to protect themselves from the perceived fear of rejection and abandonment. These attachment styles are formed in childhood based on the individual's experiences with their primary caregivers, and they all stem from the fear of being rejected or abandoned. To develop a secure attachment with their primary caregiver, children need to have their needs met, both physical and emotional. These needs must be consistently met throughout childhood, and even throughout an individual's lifetime, in order to create a strong attachment between the caregiver and the child. It's important for parents to understand the importance of meeting their child's needs in order to foster a secure attachment.

Attachment Styles

According to my professional experience, it is unlikely for anyone to have a completely secure attachment. To provide some context, an adult with a secure attachment would have had parents who were able to consistently meet all of their physical and emotional needs, regulate their own emotions effectively, and teach their child how to regulate their emotions. However, it is more common for individuals to have a mixture of all four attachment styles, with one style being more dominant than the others.

Secure Attachment

Children with a secure attachment style are typically able to be comforted by their caregivers when distressed and use their caregiver as a "secure base" from which to explore their environment when they are not distressed. This attachment style is characterized by trust, comfort, and closeness. Adults with a secure attachment style feel confident and secure in their relationships.

Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment

Children with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style may become very distressed and angry when separated from their caregiver, resist contact when the caregiver returns, and not quickly calm when comfort is offered. These children may be less confident exploring their environment and may be wary of strangers.

Anxious-ambivalent attachment is characterized by anxiety and insecurity. Adults with this attachment style may worry about abandonment or rejection and have difficulty trusting others.

Avoidant Attachment

Children with an avoidant attachment style may not strongly signal a need for comfort and may be quite distant and avoid contact with their caregiver when reunited after a brief separation. A desire for independence and distance characterizes avoidant attachment.

Adults with this attachment style may avoid intimacy and close relationships and may seem cold or distant to others.

Disorganized Attachment

Children with a disorganized attachment style may have a caregiver who has not provided a safe, secure base for the child to return to confidently. Instead, the primary caregiver may have created a relationship with the child in which the child loves and cares for them but also fears them. This leaves the child consistently unsure of how the caregiver will respond to their needs. As a result, the child's instincts may be conflicted. They are hardwired to seek support and security from their caregiver, but they are also scared of them. Disorganized attachment is characterized by a mix of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that can be contradictory or confusing.

Adults with this attachment style may have difficulty with emotional regulation and may exhibit different behaviours in different situations because they are hardwired to seek support and security from their partner but have also learned to be afraid of them simultaneously. They may become anxious and use avoidance as a coping mechanism in their relationships.

Discovering Your Attachment Style

Understanding our attachment style can help us understand our relationships with others and allow us to work on any areas that may be causing difficulties. To understand your attachment style, you can take a questionnaire such as Diane Poole's free attachment style questionnaire.

Let me know your attachment style by answering the poll question below ✨

Do You Know Your Dominant Attachment Style?

  • 0%Secure Attachment

  • 0%Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment

  • 0%Avoidant Attachment

  • 0%Disorganized Attachment

Stephanie Underwood, BSW, RSW

Registered Social Worker



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