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What Is Attachment and Why Is It Important?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC 

Have you ever wondered how certain people are drawn to others? What makes an anxious, insecure and often clingy young lady drawn to a self-absorbed and avoidant young man? Why does an unemotional female seem to always be drawn to a man who feels a need to get desperately validated? What is the basis for toxic relationships? The answer to these questions is often accounted for by therapists in the sum of two words: attachment styles. Today we explore this fascinating topic and provide some information which proves useful in seeking out healthy relationships.

Attachment styles, or schemas, are working models of relationships which people live out daily based on how they were treated as children by their parents. Often attachment styles show up in relationships with parents, then friendships and finally in romantic pursuits. There are four attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious, and disorganized.

Depending on how you were treated by your parents and caregivers during early development, you will develop one of these attachment styles. Attachment styles refer to the manner in which you seek love and react to or receive intimacy. Securely attached persons have a healthy working model of relationships while anxiously and avoidantly attached persons are more likely to find themselves in dysfunctional relationships and maladaptive patterns often. While you may have one of the two dysfunctional attachment styles, you can learn secure attachment by getting into therapy and working on your childhood issues with a licensed therapist. 

Securely attached persons are adults who, when they were children, were adequately validated and cared for by their caregivers. Their pleas for love, care, affection, attention, protection and especially soothing were always met with unconditional assurance and love. As a result, they grew to see the world as a safe place and relationships as one where love and respect are always given to them. As a result, they approach relationships with a secure sense of self, not daunted by time or distance from their lover, as they know he or she will return and remain faithfully committed to them. They may have fears just like everyone else, of heartbreak, however these fears do not drive their actions within the relationship to be overly clingy or to avoid intimacy for the sake of independence.

The avoidant partner, however, is different. The avoidant partner was taught from a very young age that their feelings and emotions do not matter. They were taught that emotions do not have relevance in a relationship and that independence is expected of them. Usually, these babies experienced some form of rejection, neglect, or indifference as infants or were expected to fend for themselves rather than being doted on. Their caregiver would typically be more cold, unaffectionate, and unattached. As a result, they grew with an insecure view of themselves and relationships. In a relationship, an avoidant person can be overly self-reliant, crave personal freedom, and lack emotion. It may appear as though they are playing with their spouse’s affection, time, and feelings- moving closer to their partner when their partner pulls away and pulling away when their partner moves closer. Deep down, these individuals crave closeness and intimacy; however, they are often wary of expressing and sharing deep emotions. They may also simply lack the know-how to do so based on their own upbringing. 

Unlike the avoidant partner who lacks emotion, the anxiously attached person is often full of emotion. These individuals crave closeness, intimacy, and love and may be very attune to their partner’s needs; However, they often are deeply fearful of abandonment and rejection and thus, may cling more tightly onto a partner and question their own value. Someone with an anxious attachment style is more likely to overanalyze, experience feelings of jealousy or frustration when the partner is unavailable or inattentive and seek out the approval of others. In childhood, these individuals were given mixed signals- sometimes their caregivers were responsive to their needs and bids for affection and others they were not- even being disciplined. As a result, the anxious partner develops subconscious beliefs that they will be abandoned or rejected, leading doubt and fear to seep into their relationships. 

If you have identified yourself as either anxious or avoidant and want to seek help through therapy in Chicago, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry today!


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