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  • Writer's pictureRahel Landolt

Attachment Styles: Change Who You Choose & How You Fight :)

Updated: Jun 17

An introduction on Attachment Theory - what it is how it can help you date better, common symptoms and what you can do to become more secure.


To learn about attachment styles has been quite a revelation for me on my dating journey. And has been helping me see much more clearly; why I choose who I choose, why I feel how I feel, why I react as I react. And also it's been helping me shift patterns gradually. Making my life better, and certainly also that of the people I relate to. :)


Here I want to share with you the Attachment Styles 101; What it is, why I find it such a game-changer, common symptoms and what we can do to change them aka become more secure as we date and relate. Ready?


Attachment Styles - what it is about

As humans we have an inherent need to connect with other humans and belong. Attachment theory roots back to a concept formulated first in the 1950s and states basically that depending on how our parents met our needs when we were a child, we develop a certain attachment style. A relational blueprint so to say, which is wired into our nervous system, body, and brain - and which we also take into our adult relationships.


Our attachment style is said to largely influence who we choose as a partner, how we communicate with them and behave around them. Because of the early formation of the attachment styles, their characteristics are mainly subconscious and happen automatically. (So subconscious that many of us realise only after years and decades of repeating the same stories that we have created a certain pattern. Different faces of our partners, but same dynamics over and over again. The common denominator in all of them is: You. ;) )


Subconscious and automatic, until we are ready for change! Gladly, we CAN cultivate attachment security, and are not doomed to repeat our relationship-patterns again and again. Our systems are wired for connection and our brain’s neuroplasticity gives us the capacity to create new neural pathways.


Which are the different attachment styles?


Originally, the talk was about 3 styles avoidant, anxious (both "insecure" attachment styles) and secure. In very brief, as described in the book "Attached", anxiously attached people "tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back". Avoidants "equate intimacy with a loss of independence and try to minimise closeness". Secures feel comfortable with intimacy and are "usually warm and loving". Over time, a fourth style has been added, often described as "disorganised": which refers to people who have no predictable pattern of attachment behaviours.


The names and descriptions of the attachment styles differ slightly depending on where you read about them. "Attached" mentions anxious-avoidant as 4th style (doesn't go much into detail though). Diane Poole Heller uses the 4 styles ambivalent, avoidant, secure & disorganised, whereas "The Attachment Project" speaks about anxious/preoccupied, dismissing (resembles elsewhere avoidant), secure and disorganized. Other sources distinguish between fearful-avoidant (instead of disorganised) and dismissive-avoidant (or simply avoidant).


Below, I cite some tests where you can find out which style or styles respectively you have.


“I can identify with all styles equally. Which one am I now?”


I explain the theory further and why I find attachment theory can help us date better, by answering this question a friend asked me on Instagram 👆🏽.


I find it crucial to be aware that attachment styles depict a theory. Theories and concepts can help navigate complexity, by SIMPLIFYING reality. Meaning: They have their limitations.


Some descriptions and tests can create the illusion that you have either "this or that" attachment style. While in reality, it's very common to show "symptoms" - common emotions, thoughts and behaviours - from different styles, to varying degrees. I prefer therefore explanations and tests which talk about a "primary" attachment style and also give context, showing that human matters are always much more complex than we can rationally grasp.


Very important to know (I used to overhear that message in the past...) is that we can change our attachment style(s) over time - depending on the work we do and our relationship experiences. Also not to forget that depending on our (dating) partner, we can show a more secure, or more anxious or avoidant way of relating.


Focus less on the labelling, and more on symptoms and change


For me, it matters less which style(s) I have, and more that I can recognise a fear-based reaction in my system. Aka a response which comes from old unhealed wounds, commonly referred to "the (unintegrated) inner child" (insecurity). And then turn that response into one that comes from an empowered place (security).


Also, I very much believe that when we can see ourselves better, we can see others better! Knowing about attachment styles and recognising common "symptoms" also in another, can help us realise that their reaction is probably less about us than we think, calm our nervous system down, and respond to a situation from a centered place.


Common symptoms of avoidants and anxiously attached people


Here are a few examples of "symptoms" - common thoughts, emotions and reactions - of the avoidant and anxious style (according to the book "Attached"):


If you're anxious, you tend to resort to so-called activating strategies - seek closeleness with a partner - like:

  • Thinking about the mate, difficulty concentrating on other things

  • Remembering only their good qualities.

  • Putting them on a pedestal aka overestimating theirs while underestimating your talents and abilities

  • Believing this is your only chance for love, as in: "I'm only compatible with very few people - what are the chances I'll find another person like them?"

  • An anxious feeling that only goes away when in contact with them.


As an avoidant, on the other hand, you tend to engage in deactivating strategies, like:

  • Saying (or thinking) "I'm not ready to commit"

  • Focusing on small imperfections in your partner: the way they talk, dress, eat or ... and allowing it to get in the way of your romantic feelings.

  • Long after an ex-partner (the "phantom ex")

  • Flirting with others - a hurtful way to introduce insecurity into the relationship

  • Pulling away when things are going well (e.g. not calling for several days after an intimate date)


(...find more great examples in the book "Attached".)


What is Secure relating?


So these are fear-based responses, emotions and thoughts. What does a response to a certain situation from a secure base look like? The authors of "Attached" describe a so-called "secure working model of love & relationships", containing the following elements:

  • You are wearing your heart on your sleeve.

  • You are able to gauge the other person’s response.

  • You are allowing both yourself and your partner to strive for a secure, mutually dependent bond.


They highlight how important "effective communication" is, in order to form such a secure working model. Effective communication can happen when you are genuine and completely honest about your feelings, focus on your needs, are specific, don't blame, are assertive and non-apologetic.


Got it? :)


And how can Avoidants and Anxious become more Secure?


I assume you did get it, so far (otherwise please ask) - and for myself do find it helpful to have so clearly depicted, black on white, what creates security in a relationship - for you and your partner - and what clearly does not.


Then, there's the question though how we can get there... The book gives some recommendations for that (and of course, check in with your truth if you want to follow them or not). Here are a few:

  • For anxious people: Acknowledge and accept your true relationship needs; Recognize and rule out avoidant prospects early on; Be authentic and use effective communication (see above); Give secure people a chance.

  • For avoidants: Identify deactivating strategies (see above); De-emphasize self-reliance and focus on mutual support; Find a secure partner; Be aware of your tendency to misinterpret behaviors; Make a gratitude list; Let go of the phantom ex; Forget about "The One".


...awareness helps, and then also often we get hijacked by the subconscious aka the inner child, aren't we? I find it so true that cognitive or talking therapy (also called top-down approaches) has its limitations, and we need to work with the body aka the soma (bottom-up), too - if we wish to heal and thrive.


There are many wonderful "bottom-up"-based methods you can try out. The ones I'm trained in and have been applying (including coached in) on myself through my VITA-coaching studies include: felt sense awareness, inner child work, meditation and mindfulness, gentle breathwork and embodiment practices for gentle trauma releases, as well as energy work (learn more about it here).


Finishing on a personal note...


The attachment styles theory and the science behind it has been helping me a lot to become a better dater aka better at relating in general (including - or first and foremost - to myself!)

  • It made me see that I’m not alone in my experience. That there's a very legitimate background for my behaviours. It's been helping me in finding compassion for myself and others.

  • It gives me concrete examples of connection-building and -threatening thoughts and behaviours and what a secure way of relating would look like. Awareness is always the first step toward change.

  • I came to understand that I’m not doomed with my insecure attachment behaviours but that I can learn to be more secure. As you, me too am work in progress. The beauty of doing the work (self-love, nervous system regulation, feeling the feels, questioning beliefs and all of the things :D) is that the bumps on the road don’t feel as devastating anymore, and we can instead start to enjoy the journey more and more - with greater clarity and inner peace.


As you may see, I love nerding out on this topic. Ask me questions on Attachment Styles and I will do my best to answer them. I'm also looking forward to hearing what you're taking away from this blog entry.


I conclude with a quote by @rainierwylde:

"You don't eliminate your insecurities. You love with them."

Thank you for having read till here!


Wishing you deep, nourishing connections, always.


Rahel


P.S.:

❥ Do you wish to gain “Clarity in Dating”? I recorded this audio-meditation for that purpose. It's for you who wishes to understand what you really want, what you love about yourself, what your inner child needs, when you abandon yourself, how you show up as a secure attachment figure to yourself and what you need in order to thrive in dating aka romantic relating.


And, if you're curious to start a 1:1 "Better Dating" coaching journey with me... don't hesitate to reach out (via e-mail or IG) and/or book a (pressure-)free discovery call.



Sources and further resources:


Book: “Attached: Are you Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? How the science of adult attachment can help you find – and keep – love” by Amir Levine (Author), Rachel Heller


Attachment Style Tests: One you can find in the above mentioned book. There are several online tests. I like the background and words of caution Diane Pool Heller gives on her page. Here is another test you may like, which goes way back into your childhood and may help you see commonalities between past and present. Please be aware that all these tests can be helpful because they point us in a direction, but don't take the results as solid fact and read the explanations to give them context!





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