We all bring a lot of “stuff” into our relationships, which can affect how we relate to other people, romantically and otherwise. In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with attachment theory expert and psychotherapist Thais Gibson on how our past experiences impact our relationships, how we can use the different attachment styles to better understand ourselves and connect with our partners, why we need to communicate our needs and desires, and how we can reprogram past traumas and heal our relationships.
As Thais describes in her new book, Attachment Theory: A Guide to Strengthening the Relationships in Your Life, the different attachment styles highlight the fact that we have all learned to relate to people in different ways. These are the rules that we live by when it comes to our interpersonal relationships. If we don’t recognize this, it can impact how we interact with the people in our lives—it is like playing a board game with completely different sets of rules. This is not only challenging, but can also cause a lot of pain, reinforcing past traumas and negative thinking patterns.
The attachment styles are largely the result of programmed experiences, both good and bad. These are patterns of thought built by repetition and emotion, mainly during our childhood, which provide a framework through which we see and engage with the world around us. There are four main attachment styles, one positive and three negative:
- Securely attached: the securely attached learn from young that their feelings can be expressed, that they can and should deal with them, not suppress them, and that their needs can and do get met. These people learn that it is okay to be vulnerable—it is safe to express their needs and desires. They feel worthiness and have an easier time bonding with others and showing up in a romantic relationship. This is the ideal attachment style that we all hope to develop in our relationships.
- Dismissive avoidant: This is the most avoidant attachment style, which often results from emotional neglect in some form. It can often fly under the radar, especially if a child’s parents are not emotionally available, or a child has no emotional safe space to express their feelings or needs. This attachment style is often afraid to commit, doesn’t want to settle down, and runs away when too much vulnerability is required. They have core wounds around being unsafe, and the need to look out for themselves. They generally want simplicity and safety in a relationship, where they can take their walls down slowly over time.
- Anxious preoccupied: This attachment style is characterized by inconsistency in one’s childhood, which makes them afraid of losing connections. They tend to have a major fear of abandonment, as well as isolation and rejection. This attachment style is often seen as “needy/clingy”—they feel loneliness more deeply than others. Consequently, they need to feel a lot of love, and need a lot of time together as a couple, as well as validation and consistency.
- Fearful avoidant: This attachment style is often the result of trauma, or something that did or did not happen when the person was young. They often struggle with trust, inconsistency, chaos—their experiences have taught them that they cannot way?? to know what to expect, that there is no cause and effect in life. This makes them hypervigilant and experts at reading body language. They are constantly on the lookout and never in a space of trusting. They bring this constant sense of uneasiness and distrust into relationships, which means they share similar characteristics to the anxious preoccupied attachment style and the dismissive avoidant attachment style, and tend to feel defective and unworthy of love. In a relationship, they want and need a lot of transparency, information, openness and trust.
These attachment styles show up in all of our relationships, not just romantic ones. They are the beliefs we hold deep within us, core events and situations that have imprinted on us in our subconscious mind, which create patterns of thought that impact our communication and behavior. They are what we bring to the table in any relationship—the rules we play by. This is why it is integral we recognize them for what they are and understand how they impact us, not only to improve our relationship with others but also to improve our relationship with ourselves.
The three insecure attachment styles mentioned above have core wounds and negative expectations thatdeveloped from things that did or did not happen to someone when they were younger. Thankfully, these can be reprogrammed over time because the brain is neuroplastic: it can change! This means the more we understand our attachment style and how it affects our perceptions and worldview, the more we can work on our core wounds and communicate our needs and desires more clearly in any relationship. You do this by:
1. Identifying your needs. Do the internal work of identifying your core wounds and needs. Get to the root of your perceptions, so you can start working on reprogramming this over time. These feelings and needs are the guides, showing you to yourself so you can heal.
Yes, nature and nurture impact your development and engagement with the world, but the most important factor is YOU: your mind. This is your perception of the environment, your worldview, which you can always change! Thais’ book Attachment Theory: A Guide to Strengthening the Relationships in Your Life, her online attachment style quiz and her courses at the Personal Development School can really help you start doing this today!