Attachment Styles: What Do They Say About You?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated July 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Depending on our experiences and who we are, different attachment styles can develop from the time we're children to when we're adults. There are different kinds of attachment styles. 

There are four attachment styles: secure, anxious, dismissive or avoidant, and fearful-avoidance.
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Attachment styles

We can learn a lot about ourselves from studying attachment styles. Learning about different kinds of attachments can also enrich our relationships. 

In the book Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, they discuss attachment theory. The theory centers around the idea that there are different kinds of attachments that we can have to others. Some people might be anxiously attached while others can be securely attached. Depending on your attachment to people, you might have trouble maintaining relationships, or you might find it easy to connect with others. 

Let's go over the different kinds of attachments and see which category you think you might fall under. Also remember that your attachment style can change, depending on how you view yourself and if you work on your relationship challenges in therapy, with your support system, or through other methods.

Secure

A secure attachment style can happen when a person feels confident in themselves. They likely have a favorable view of themselves and others. Those that are securely attached are typically able to form healthy, foundational bonds with people. 

It can be imperative to know that secure attachment is normally the goal for a healthy dynamic in relationships. Securely attached adults can feel satisfied in their relationships with others. They can be independent while also enjoying being with others. They may not have a problem venturing out of relationships and doing things by themselves. In a securely attached couple, they can feel confident that their partner probably won't leave them. They likely don’t struggle with feelings of abandonment without reason. They can be confident in their relationships and feel secure.

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Anxious

Unlike the secure attachment, the anxious style can be seen in people that may have a negative sense of self. They may feel afraid of abandonment, and as a result they might seek intense, intimate connections because they may want to mesh with another person. People who have anxious attachment styles may express themselves in a very emotional way. They may appear to be emotionally dysregulated, and they may be impulsive in relationships because they don't want to be abandoned. They may worry about the other person leaving so much that they might have emotional outbursts. 

Those with an anxious attachment style may struggle with feelings of anxiety or an anxiety disorder. If you notice that you're remarkably fearful of losing a partner, that could be because you have an anxious attachment style. If you find that you're anxiously attached, don't worry. You can work on your anxiety in therapy or through other methods and find out the root cause. Maybe you have childhood trauma that impacted your ability to connect with others. Perhaps you have an anxiety disorder, and one of the triggers could be relationship-building. No matter what the issues are you can discuss them in therapy and learn to connect to others in healthy ways.

Avoidant

Avoidant attachment can be considered the opposite of secure. People who have this type of attachment might not seem attached at all. They may tend to spend a lot of time by themselves. Typically, people with this attachment style can display themselves as being emotionally unavailable. They might come off as being insensitive or uncaring in relationships, but that might not be the case. Most likely, it could be that they're afraid to get hurt. That might be why they don't attach; it's often out of fear. 

This attachment style could be the product of childhood neglect, and it could be that their parents wanted them to grow up very quickly and fend for themselves at a young age. Avoidant people may have difficulty in relationships because they can seem cold, but they often aren't. It can in fact be a sign that they're fearful of connecting to others, and they can display it through avoidance or seemingly not connecting with their partner.

Fearful-avoidant

People who are fearful-avoidant may have been through hard experiences in their early lives. These individuals might have had severe trauma as children. They may have experienced sexual abuse or other forms of abuse as a young child, and because of that, they can feel afraid to trust others completely. They might be afraid to get close, and they may view themselves negatively. 

People with anxious-avoidant attachment might have mixed feelings about others; they may want to be with people but can be afraid to get close to others because they may have been burned before. It can be difficult because they may want to connect but can find it challenging to do so due to fear. 

Trauma can impact us, but the effects don't have to be permanent. You can discuss traumatic events in therapy where it's safe to reveal your feelings.

Attachment styles and compatibility

You may be wondering who you are compatible with depending on your attachment style. If you're securely attached you may attract others like you or you might not. Securely attached people may gravitate toward other securely attached people, but they also might attract anxious people or avoidant ones. That doesn't mean the relationships won't work. People can learn, improve, and overcome past trauma to form healthy relationships that work for both involved parties.

Anxious and avoidant attachment styles relationship

An anxious attachment style with an avoidant attachment style often doesn't work. This is because it can be a very volatile relationship. It can be up and down, and it can also be extremely addictive because the anxious person might be trying so hard to get the attention of the avoidant person.

Secure attachment and avoidant-anxious

Someone with secure attachment might be very good for someone who is avoidant because the avoidant person might not feel scared that the individual with a secure attachment style is going to leave them.

Anxious attachment and anxious attachment

Anxious attachment and anxious attachment can be challenging because both individuals might feel afraid that the other person could leave them. This can be an extremely anxiety-provoking relationship, although those individuals might find that they're understanding the other person's anxiety.

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Are you concerned about your attachment style?

How to foster secure attachment in children

One of the ways to foster secure attachment in children can be to empower them to be independent and do things by themselves. Naturally, those activities may need to be age-appropriate. It can be as simple as allowing your child to ride their bike in the neighborhood when they are old enough to do that by themselves. That can foster a sense of confidence and independence and they know that their parents will be there when they get home. 

Another important aspect of secure attachment can be trusting your children to do the right thing, whatever that means for a given situation. When you allow your child to go out with friends, give them a reasonable time to get home and trust that they will do what’s best.

Can you become securely attached? Can your attachment style change?

You deserve to receive love, and there may be ways to make that goal achievable. One of the ways to get the love you deserve can be by working on yourself in therapy. When you talk to a therapist who cares about your well-being, you can discuss that you want to be in a loving relationship and the challenges you might be facing to get there. You don't have to go through it alone. There are online counselors who understand attachment styles and can help you turn your relationships from anxious, fearful, or avoidant to secure.

In attachment therapy, the goal can be to become confident in love, to be able to trust your partner and to be securely attached. If you work on yourself in therapy, you may find that you and your partner can become more securely attached, but remember that there is a close tie between self-esteem and the quality of relationships, so focusing on yourself may be paramount. 

If you don't feel securely attached, remember that it’s possible to modify, and it's something that you can work towards so that you can have healthy relationships. One way you can do this is to find a counselor through BetterHelp and start online counseling. The counselors at BetterHelp are great at helping you discover what's going to work for you and how to become more securely attached to your relationship.

A wide array of clinical studies have come to the same conclusion: online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy when it comes to treating the symptoms of mental illness. 95% of couples who engage in online therapy report that the process is helpful. Plus, online therapy comes with many other added benefits. For example, online therapy is convenient- it doesn’t imply time off work, childcare, or transportation costs. It’s also available even if therapists in your area are not, and you can choose therapists specific to your needs and condition. 

Takeaway

Attachment styles might start when we are young, but they don't have to remain the same. 
Check out BetterHelp to open a conversation about your attachment style and its implications in your life. There are many qualified counselors and therapists ready to help.
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