The attachment style we develop as children carries over into our adult years. Children with a secure attachment style are likely to become adults who foster healthy, caring relationships. People who developed other attachment styles as children may have a harder time creating or maintaining relationships as adults. The good news is that being aware of attachment styles in adults—and understanding what may have contributed to developing those styles in childhood—can allow you to foster a secure attachment style in yourself and others.
Those who grew up in homes with a parent who nurtured them emotionally, provided for their basic needs, and was consistently present are likely to have a secure attachment style as adults. Adults with a secure attachment style tend to have a healthy level of self-esteem. They generally feel comfortable sharing their feelings with a partner or trusted friend, and they seek out social support in the forms of friends and family.
An avoidant style may be fostered in childhood by a parent who is emotionally distant, but it also has to do with temperament and personality. Whatever the reason, an avoidant attachment style in childhood frequently translates into a dismissive-avoidant attachment style in adulthood. Adults with this attachment style may struggle to form strong relationships because they are subconsciously afraid to make an emotional investment. An underlying belief that their needs will not be met can make it hard for them to become intimate or share thoughts and feelings.
Many people with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style (usually described as an anxious or ambivalent style in childhood) may have experienced inconsistency and unpredictability during their formative years. The worry caused by this can make them appear clingy or possessive, both as children and adults. Adults with this attachment style may worry that their partner doesn’t love them or isn’t committed. This anxiety and the behaviors it engenders can cause their relationships to feel unsatisfying, lead to frequent breakups, and make them particularly upset when a relationship ends.
This is the least common type of attachment style, but it can also be the most difficult. Again, while there are many factors that contribute to the development of attachment styles, early childhood influences are often key. A fearful-avoidant style (described as a disorganized style in children) may be caused by abuse, trauma, or erratic behavior from a parent or caregiver. Adults with this attachment style can experience deep confusion and conflicting emotions when it comes to relationships, as they both fear and desire intimacy.
The attachment styles we develop in childhood influence our behavior and relationships as adults. It’s important to understand that attachment styles are complicated: they result from a combination of many factors, including personality, life experiences, and early relationships. If you or a loved one has an attachment style that makes relationships difficult, know that there are reasons for this, and that people have the ability to develop a secure attachment style. We’ll discuss how adults can develop a more secure attachment style next month in Part Three of our Attachment Style Series.