attachment style tema

Understanding Attachment Styles in Adulthood

Attachment theory was proposed as “the basis for a unified approach to psychotherapy” with the potential to provide interventions in individual therapy, couples therapy, and family therapy (Johnson, 2019, p. 5).

Relationships are crucial to the theory and the attachments themselves, and essential and intrinsic to what it means to be human, with ongoing research showing that secure attachment is linked to multiple areas of mental wellbeing and general health (Johnson, 2019).

Research has uncovered four distinct adult attachment styles, each one corresponding to childhood attachment styles and impacting how we (Levy & Orlans, 2014):

Perceive and manage emotional and sexual intimacy
Communicate emotions and needs and listen to our partners
Respond to conflict
Form internal working models of our expectations about our partner and the relationship
The four attachment styles – underpinned by the three dimensions of closeness, dependence/avoidance, and anxiety – are typically described as follows (Levy & Orlans, 2014):

Secure – Low avoidance and low anxiety
Neither fearful of rejection nor intimacy and not preoccupied with the relationship. The individual doesn’t worry about closeness, being depended on, or being abandoned.

Avoidant – High avoidance and low anxiety
Uncomfortable with closeness and valuing freedom and independence over concerns regarding their partner’s availability. They may find it difficult to trust others and prefer not to be depended upon.

Anxious – Low avoidance and high anxiety
Longing for intimacy and closeness and highly insecure regarding the relationship. They worry that their partner doesn’t love them yet are aware that their craving for closeness scares people away.

Anxious–Avoidant – High avoidance and high anxiety
Concerned that their partner’s love (and the relationship) will fail to last and uncomfortable with intimacy and closeness of all kinds. This style is less common, leaving the individual fearful of getting hurt and avoiding trust and dependency.

Each attachment style affects our behavioral, cognitive, and social aspects and shapes the partner we choose (Levy & Orlans, 2014).

The Effects on Relationships
Development Attachment StylesCentral to attachment theory is the notion that “the individual lives from the moment he is born until the moment he dies in an interpersonal or intersubjective context” (Marrone, 2014, p. 9).

Early in childhood, we form close relationships and attachments to parents or caregivers. Based on the quality of those relationships, the mental representations we develop serve as organizing factors later in life (Marrone, 2014).

Returning to the four attachment styles, their impact on relationships is as follows (Levy & Orlans, 2014):

Secure – Low avoidance and low anxiety
Impact on relationship:

  • Comfortable in an emotionally close relationship
    Depends on and depended on by their partner
    Available to their partner when needed
    Does not feel rejected when their partner needs separateness
    Trusting and tolerant of differences between themself and their partner
    Not overly or unnecessarily upset by relationship issues
    Warm and caring as a parent


Avoidant – High avoidance and low anxiety
Impact on relationship:

Remains emotionally distant, often keeping their partner wanting more connection
Sees intimacy as a loss – prefers autonomy
Unable to depend on a partner or be depended upon
Uncomfortable talking about emotions, so keeps communication intellectual
Self-sufficient, preferring to be alone
Takes charge in a crisis, remaining unemotional
Anxious – Low avoidance and high anxiety
Impact on relationship:

Insecure and preoccupied with the relationship

Needy and worried about abandonment
Ruminates on unresolved issues from the past
Emotional, argumentative, controlling, and angry
Blames the other person while remaining uncollaborative
Inconsistent with their children, leaving them anxiously attached


Anxious–Avoidant – High avoidance and high anxiety
Impact on relationship:

Unable to tolerate emotional closeness or manage emotions
Can form abusive and dysfunctional relationships
Lack of empathy and argumentative
Antisocial behaviors such as criminality and substance abuse
Mistreats their children, leading to the development of disorganized attachments
It is helpful to remember that “anxious adults had inconsistent parents. Avoidants had caregivers who were distant and rejecting” (Levy & Orlans, 2014, p. 262).

Ultimately, our adult attachment styles are strongly influenced by much earlier parent–child interactions (other factors include genetics). They affect our temperaments and ability to form close partnerships and a low-stress satisfying marriage (Levy & Orlans, 2014).

Can Attachment Styles Change?

Bowlby (1988) recognized that while it is difficult to change attachment patterns in adulthood, it is not impossible.

Bowlby’s model of therapeutic change was “based on helping a client understand his or her accumulated, and often forgotten or misunderstood, attachment experiences” and ultimately transforming insecure working models into more secure ones (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016, p. 444).

A crucial aspect of therapy based on attachment theory is providing a secure base for identifying, clarifying, questioning, revising, and transforming existing models into more adaptive ones. To do this, the client must engage in difficult self-exploration to uncover (partially or fully) hidden memories and face complexities previously avoided (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016).

Bowlby (1988) recognized that working models can be revised with careful treatment and support.

Recent studies confirm that effective relationship therapy can indeed transform attachment orientations. One such report concluded “that a significant proportion of inpatients receiving psychodynamic psychotherapy changed to a secure state of mind” (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016, p. 447).


source :Positivepsychology. by Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D.

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