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The four attachment types and their Meaning for adults

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Which attachment type are you?

Some people end up in toxic relationships again and again and wonder how it can be that the way they experience romance keeps repeating itself. John Bowlby's attachment theory often provides answers to this. In fact, attachment theory describes romantic relationship dynamics best of all couples therapy approaches. I still deliberately write "often" because our attachment system is only one of several systems and our attachment type is of course not always the decisive factor. People are complex. But it is indeed "often" the case that knowing our attachment type and knowing how we can work on it can improve our relationship life enormously!

According to attachment theory, there are four attachment types:

secure attachment type

anxious attachment type

avoidant attachment type

disorganized aka anxious-avoidant attachment type

I am an expert in attachment theory (John Bowlby and others) and many people know me through social media, where I talk about into this topic in videos and text posts on Instagram and TikTok. The attachment styles and attachment types based on John Bowlby are a total game changer for many. They recognize themselves, have great "aha" moments and suddenly understand why their relationships work the way they do.

Secure Attachment Type

Around half of the population has a secure attachment style. This means that the attachment system is not the reason for their relationship problems. Securely attached people do not believe that they are not good enough and they do not need the other person to feel safe and whole. They can communicate needs and do not avoid conflict. They want not only themselves but also their partners to be well and are not "obsessed" with their relationship, but also have other things on their minds and in their hearts. They do feel anxiety in their partnerships, but only when there are real reasons for it.

The other half of the population has insecure attachment styles and falls into one of the following categories:

Avoidant  Attachment Type

The avoidant attachment type is characterized in particular by a great fear of commitment and the fear of rejection. At the beginning of a relationship, i.e. in the dating phase, when everything is still non-committal, avoidants can be very affectionate and close, but when things get serious, they often "deactivate", so to speak. Their feelings suddenly diminish or even disappear, they need a lot of space and independence, they quickly feel enmeshed and their partner's emotions overwhelm them. And that, indeed, is when the avoidance sets in primarily. They avoid negative emotions and conflicts at all costs. Real depths and vulnerability in a relationship is difficult. Depending on the severity, this is no longer a case of "they don't want to", but often a case of "they can't". It is a trauma reaction and not conscious negative behavior. However, it is of course possible to work on this, and someone who is with a person with an avoidant attachment style should also see this as a basic prerequisite for the relationship to work.

But be aware: attachment styles are fluid and many people will recognize elements of several attachment styles in themselves and perhaps also in their partner. But that doesn't automatically mean that they are disorganized. Those are always anxious and avoidant at the same time (and not just depending on context) and have a few other characteristics.

Anxious Attachment Type

The anxious attachment type is characterized in particular by a great fear of loss, jealousy and co-dependency. People with an anxious attachment style often emotionally commit to a new partner too quickly, without really knowing if their values, desires for commitment or relationship goals are even aligned. Unfortunately, they often commit to someone with an avoidant attachment style, and a phase of many ups and downs begins in which the anxious person puts their own needs behind. They can still show themselves in a very angry-critical way and need a lot of communication with their partner to soothe themselves.

The relationship takes up a disproportionate amount of space in their head up to a real obsession. They need constant reassurance and validation, have a pretty low self-esteem and look for faults. In themselves, because then they can then work on themselves and is in  control, but also in the other person, who is perhaps (at least in their minds) simply not devoted enough and doesn't give enough.

Disorganized (aka anxious-avoidant) Attachment Type

The disorganized attachment type is a mixture of anxious and avoidant, a constant "come here, go away", very confusing for others and for themselves too. Someone with this attachment style has often experienced abuse in childhood, and abuse can also mean very severe neglect. They are very insecure in relationships and find it very difficult to trust that they can really be loved. As a result of their childhood experiences, their attachment system is not stable and they fluctuates a lot in their behavior and are emotionally unstable. They can often explode if they think their partners are untrustworthy, lie or are unreliable. Even more so than the anxious ones, who also react sensitively to this. Therapy is more than useful here to strengthen the nervous system and achieve greater stability.

So, what do I do with these information now? There are several options:

How do I recognize my 
Attachment Type?

That's a good question and there is not always an easy answer because even an anxious person can develop avoidant tendencies in certain contexts and vice versa (as I have mentioned before). For example, if an anxious person comes together with another anxious person, this could overwhelm them to such an extent that they become more of an avoider in this context. And if an avoider gets involved with an even stronger avoider, they might become anxious. Nevertheless, both remain either anxious or avoidant in their basic tendencies, because they only develop the other traits when faced with danger.

The anxious attachment type feels a strong fear of loss, has low self-esteem, is quite jealous, and has an activated attachment system. This means they have to do something to maintain the relationship. Either control the partner, talk to them a lot or even criticize them a lot, or please them. They have to prove again and again that they are worthy of being loved.

People with an avoidant attachment system avoid conflicts and negative emotions. They repress them, don't want to feel them and certainly don't want to have any relationship discussions. Their attachment system deactivates from time to time. This means that they shy away from communication, withdraw and sometimes lose the feeling of love altogether.

Those who have a disorganized or anxious-avoidant attachment style are not anxious and avoidant depending on the context, they are both at the same time.

There is a lot of anxiety, there is an intense "come here, go away" within minutes. And unfortunately, they can also explode because they simply feel hopelessly overwhelmed in some situations.

Do you recognize your primary style now?

Who is the Best Match?

The best partner for an insecure person is always someone who is securely attached. However, insecure people often find them less attractive because they lack the usual chaos. It's important to stay on track, because a relationship with someone secure would definitely be beneficial. However, an anxious person and an avoidant often end up together. But if both are not on the outer spectrum of their attachment styles, they can work on making the relationship more secure.

How do I recognize my Partner's  Attachment Type?

You often only recognize your partner's attachment type after a few months. Many people want to know how they can put a stop to dating someone  straight away, but this is hardly possible. Even a narcissist is very accommodating at first. Nevertheless, there are red flags quite early on, especially with narcissists, but it is a little more difficult with attachment styles. This is why it is so important to work on this together when the first "symptoms" appear.

Avoidants can start out very affectionate and not avoidant at all, or they can be so avoidant that it is very difficult to get close to them.

The anxious ones are only triggered when there is a reason for the anxiety, and they often aren’t in the honeymoon phase when both are still happily united.

So, as soon as one of you recognizes yourself or your partner in the descriptions, it makes sense to take action. See a therapist.  I will of course be happy to support you, too. Read a lot about attachment styles and how you can calm a nervous system that has been put on alert.

Who Am I Attracted To?

As this is an important topic, I would like to go into it again separately here. The insecure attachment types are very contradictory. We are often attracted to what we lack. Since anxious people are by definition very anxious and have a major self-esteem issue, they are attracted to the apparent self-assurance of narcissists or narcissistic avoidants. They also have to fight for love with avoidants. After all, they have a switched-on attachment system that wants to actively do something in order to be loved. With secure ones, they don't have to fight. Being active calms their nervous system. Unfortunately, the withdrawal also reinforces the fear. They unconsciously repeat the drama of their childhood, when they had to actively vie for their parents' attention. Now, in adulthood, they want their partners to give them the appreciation they lacked back then. Unfortunately, they are in a pretty losing position and with every rejection, their anxiety increases and their self-esteem decreases.

The avoidants, on the other hand, had to fend for themselves emotionally as children. When they were feeling bad, they went to their room. This is still their strategy today. They had to take care of their parents' emotions instead of the other way around. Even today, repression is still the method of choice. They find it somehow attractive that the anxious ones are so emotional, because that's what they lack, but if this emotionality becomes negative, it's too much for them. They avoid conflict to the hilt. They avoid exactly what the anxious ones need, namely communication about negative things in their relationship.

So you see, neither of them is actually good for each other. But it can be beneficial if both recognize this and work on it together.

If you would like to work on your attachment style too, please make an appointment. I have an insecure attachment style myself and can put myself in your shoes :).

What do I do with all the  Information?There are several options.

1. The attachment style -  Test

If you are now curious about what attachment type you have, feel free to take my attachment style test. Answer the questions truthfully and without thinking too much. The test is written in the confidential “you” form because many come to me via social media.

2. The Ebook

Feel free to download my ebook "Understanding Your Attachment Style" if you would like more detailed information on the subject. It is free and contains an overview of the history of attachment theory and a detailed description of the individual types.

3. Couples therapy: the anxious-avoidant  Relationship Dynamic

The insecure attachers often find themselves in a relationship. It would be better to look for someone who is securely attached, but hey, the chaos feels familiar and so the cobbler sticks to his last. When two very strongly insecure people get together, it often results in a toxic relationship. Not good, nobody wants that, nobody should do toxic. Everyone should work very hard on themselves individually but also together. If the dynamic is unhealthy, but there is still a lot of love and not just addiction (the toxic can certainly be addictive, because the ups and downs produce so many stress and happiness hormones in the blood that the body can get stuck on them), then we can indeed work on making this one relationship safer in a couple's therapy.

4. Individual Sessions for the Anxious or Avoidant Attached

I have many clients, in the office and especially online, who come to me individually and are either single or in a relationship and want to work on their insecure attachment style. The knowledge of attachment theory and tips, tools and interventions for dealing with the typical unfavorable behaviors are worth their weight in gold. You can find more information about this here.

5. The online course “Decode your attachment style and finally have a happy Relationship"

The absolute cheapest way to learn more about and apply therapy for attachment types is my online course for 49 euros. Of course, it doesn't replace live therapy, but it's a good first step in the right direction and can be enough for many people.

Get in touch

If you have any questions, please send me an email or book your appointment quickly and easily via Doctolib.


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