Bowlby’s attachment theory says that our adult romantic relationships are influenced by the relationship we had with our caregivers while growing up. Did we have a strong, secure emotional bond with them? Or, did we learn to adapt to a confusing or threatening environment? Not everyone goes through the same bonding experience with their parents. And, over time, our attachment style is also shaped by our relationships, like our first loves and heartbreaks. Some attachment styles can be detrimental to romantic relationships, making us insecure or withdrawn. So how can we change our attachment style to improve our relationships with others?
Bartholomew and Horowitz created 4 types of attachment styles, one secure and three insecure (anxious, avoidant, and disorganized).
The Experiences in Close Relationship Scale (ECR) is a questionnaire that can be used to assess what attachment style you are (D’Arienzo et al., 2019).
Sometimes we may not understand why we don’t feel fulfilled in our relationships. Attachment styles provide a clue. A study involving 1,276 students evaluated attachments to mothers and fathers, and how these attachments correlated with the student’s perception of relationships (Mónaco et al., 2019). Those who had a secure attachment with both parents also felt satisfied in their relationships and had better emotional regulation.
The affection we received and the bond created with our parents matters a lot more than we think. If your parents were engaged and responsive to your needs, and you felt a sense of trust as a child, then you may be more likely to develop a secure attachment. This becomes beneficial for the future as you are able to be understanding of others in the relationship and are able to trust them, support them, and give them space. Securely attached individuals tend to have greater life and relationship satisfaction.
Those with insecure attachment styles tend to have a harder time creating intimate relationships. If your parents were unresponsive to your needs, critical, and didn’t provide a sense of trust as a child, then you may be more likely to develop an insecure attachment, whether it’d be anxious, avoidant, or disorganized. This can heavily affect future relationships as harmful habits can evolve, such as not trusting your partner, being distant, or being obsessive. You may find it hard to be committed to a long-term relationship, so short-term relationships may seem more suitable.
We have created an unhealthy attachment to social media. Social media addiction has been on the rise, and people spend almost 2.5 hours on social media per day. Some psychologists believe that the constant need to be on social media actually stems from an insecure attachment style (D’Arienzo et al., 2019). Studies have been conducted to determine the relationship between social media addiction and attachment styles. These show that people who are secure have a healthy relationship with social media (i.e. no addiction). Psychologists reason that this is because people who have a secure attachment style have high self-esteem and feel secure in their relationships. They don't feel the need to portray a perfect image on social media, or obsess over what others are up to.
Those who are insecure-anxious tend to use social media often, spending about 7.5 hours on the Internet. Studies suggest that this is because when people with a insecure-anxious attachment style experience negative emotions, they tend to rely on social media to reassure them with attention.
Those who are insecure-avoidant tend to have no specific relationship with social media, as they both have an addiction, yet do not interact with others online. This is because people who have an insecure-avoidant attachment style use social media to avoid FOMO (fear of missing out) in what others are doing but do not want to be socially engaged.
Those who are insecure-disorganized tend to have no social media addiction, as they like their privacy from others and rarely engage in social media interactions. This is because people who have an insecure-disorganized attachment style don’t need social media to reassure them and don’t rely on social media engagement as a factor for their social lives. But, they also pull away from most social interactions.
These three insecure attachment styles miss the security, control, and trust that secure attachment styles gave. Insecure attachment styles use social media as a security blanket to comfort and reassure them, make them feel like they are in control and involved in something, and rely on social media to make them feel better about themselves.
If you're anxious or avoidant in relationships, don't lose hope. It IS very possible to change your attachment style over time. You can become more secure, starting with developing an understanding of how you grew up and how that affects the way you are in relationships today. Working on becoming aware of your emotions can help you develop a secure attachment style.
The Attachment Diathesis-Stress Process Model was designed to examine 3 categories of stress -- external, internal, and chronic -- to see how different attachment styles respond differently in relationships when distressed. Higher stress levels can cause those with anxious attachment styles to cope by looking for reassurance, becoming clingy, and having a higher expectation for their needs being met. Those with avoidant/disorganized attachment styles look to cope by distancing themselves from others, denying any needs, and become super independent.
For those who are insecure-anxious, emotion-focused coping strategies will work best. Emotion-focused coping will allow a person to manage and evaluate their emotions (Simpson & Rholes, 2017). This will allow them to:
Emotion-focused coping strategies can include: meditation, listening to music, exercise. If you're using mood tracking or mood-management apps like LIFE Intelligence, you can notice when you're feeling anxious, insecure, or overwhelmed, and find immediate breathing, therapy, or other exercises to help. Coping strategies can effectively regulate your emotions and become a healthy habit for you and your relationship.
For those who are either insecure-avoidant or insecure-disorganized, deactivating coping strategies will work best. Deactivating coping strategies will allow a person to directly solve the problem (Simpson & Rholes, 2017). This will allow them to:
Deactivating coping strategies can include: creating a to-do list, creating boundaries, talking with others. If you're using the LIFE Intelligence app, you can work on communication skills and becoming more vulnerable in Missions 7-8 (out of 9).
Regulating our emotions and being aware of how we feel in intimate relationships can be challenging, but the LIFE Intelligence app can help you find and maintain happy relationships. The LIFE Intelligence app is a 9-mission (topic) self-development program that improves your relationship with yourself, and with a partner. LIFE allows you to understand who you are, manage your anxieties or tendencies, and find clarify in your relationship needs and wants.
For example, Mission 7.2 and 7.3 (out of the 9-Mission program) is designed to help you and your partner figure out your attachment styles. Both missions allow you and your partner to recognize what obstacles may cause relationship conflicts, and help you work towards becoming more secure as individuals, and more supportive of one another. You can also use the app's free-forever relationship prompts for questions out of couples counseling, that can deepen your intimacy and make for more meaningful date nights. If you're looking to grow, either as a person or a pair, give LIFE Intelligence a try.
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Erozkan, A. (2016). The Link between Types of Attachment and Childhood Trauma. Universal journal of educational research, 4(5), 1071-1079. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1099777.pdf
Galiana, L., Tomás, J. M., Fernández, I., & Oliver, A. (2020). Predicting well-being among the elderly: The role of coping strategies. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 616. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00616/full
Gazzillo, F., Dazzi, N., De Luca, E., Rodomonti, M., & Silberschatz, G. (2020). Attachment disorganization and severe psychopathology: A possible dialogue between attachment theory and control-mastery theory. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 37(3), 173. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c733/9ff2b1dc15ffb44677f50832bc36fc9be56d.pdf
Henschel, S., Nandrino, J. L., & Doba, K. (2020). Emotion regulation and empathic abilities in young adults: The role of attachment styles. Personality and Individual Differences, 156, 109763. Emotional regulation and empathic abilities in young adults: The role of attachment styles
Mónaco, E., Schoeps, K., & Montoya-Castilla, I. (2019). Attachment styles and well-being in adolescents: How does emotional development affect this relationship?. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(14), 2554.
Simpson, J. A., & Rholes, W. S. (2017). Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationships. Current opinion in psychology, 13, 19-24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4845754/
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Vollmann, M., Sprang, S., & van den Brink, F. (2019). Adult attachment and relationship satisfaction: The mediating role of gratitude toward the partner. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(11-12), 3875-3886. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0265407519841712