top of page

UNDERSTANDING ATTACHMENT STYLES: How They Impact Relationships and How to Adapt

healthy relationship couple walking downtown next to street art

Attachment theory (attributed to psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth) is a lens that we can look through to better understand and explore the way we “attach” to others in a relationship. The basic theory suggests that one’s attachment to their primary caregiver as an infant has an impact of how we react to relationships throughout life. Exploring your attachment with a therapist can be a helpful step in your personal growth and your relationship satisfaction.

Though the theory focuses on attachment styles beginning in your early life, it is important to note that these styles are not permanent. Trauma, life events, and relationships can alter your attachment style throughout your life. Some of these complex ideas are great topics to discuss further with a counselor. For now, this will act as a basic overview of the theory.. what causes each style, how it appears in relationships, and what can be focused on to change or maintain each style.

Secure Attachment:

Origin: Caregivers are consistent and responsive to emotional and physical needs. Child learns “my needs will be met” and feels secure in the world and relationships. This is considered the most healthy style of attachment.

How it shows up: Trusts others, communicates well, connects with others, confident and secure in self, can ask for support. “My am confident my needs will be met in relationships and individually.”

Work to maintain: Continue to communicate, share needs and emotions, and ask for support. Continue to accept closeness, while leaving room for trust and help.

Anxious Attachment:

Origin: Caregivers are inconsistent to emotional and/or physical needs. Child learns “I don’t know if/when my needs will be met.” Child feels anxiety about potential rejection and seeks reassurance.

How it shows up: Fears rejection or abandonment, jealousy, low confidence, sensitive, clingy, need for attention. “Something is wrong with me, so I need to prove to others that I am good enough.”

Work to change: Increase independence and self-worth, while decreasing anxiety. Learn about and practice healthy relationship boundaries and communication.

Avoidant Attachment:

Origin: Caregivers do not attend to emotional and/or physical needs. Child learns “I am on my own to meet my own needs.” Child does not show emotions and feels the need to be independent.

How it shows up: Independent to the point of avoiding intimacy, uncomfortable with vulnerability and emotions, introverted, difficulty committing to or depending on others. “Something might be wrong with you, so it is not safe for me to depend on you.”

Work to change: Practice trust and emotional expression. Challenge fears of intimacy and vulnerability. Learn more open communication.

Disorganized Attachment:

Origin: Caregivers are very inconsistent, often times abusive or neglectful. Child learns “I can never know which side I am going to get” and experiences confusion and fear. Child wants to be close to, and also has fear toward caregiver.

How it shows up: A mix of anxious and avoidant styles. Intense fear of rejection or abandonment, extreme behavior or reactions, confusion, unpredictable or contradictory behavior.

Work to change: Counseling to address fears or past trauma. Increase coping with distress. Learning about aspects of secure and healthy relationships, and practicing building these connections.


bottom of page