What Is Attachment and Why Is It Important?
One thing that we can all agree on, is that the quality of our relationships has a huge impact on how satisfied and happy we are in our lives. On the flip side, when our relationships aren’t going well, or when we feel we are repeating the same mistakes over and over again, we can feel helpless, overwhelmed, frustrated and despairing for the future. A good way to start to address this issue is to look closer at our attachment style. This concept has been around a long time in psychology — basically it refers to how we relate to others and how we feel about the important people in our lives.
Generally we all fall into one of three categories — secure (where you feel comfortable in relationships), anxious (where you feel a bit stressed out by relationships and feel quite insecure), and dismissing (where you might avoid relationships or appear cold or aloof). There is another category that we call ‘mixed’, which is a combination of dismissing and anxious — a person can be ‘clingy’ but at times also cold and dismissing, depending on the situation.
Our attachment style is based on our experiences early on in life, and the type of care we received from our parents. If there wasn’t much warmth or your family was more an ‘arms length’ kind of family, you may be dismissing — if you had a lot of disruption or people leaving, you might be more the anxious type. If the people that you had in your life growing up were unpredictable or frightening, you might be more of the ‘mixed’ attachment style — because you’ve received conflicting messages about what you can expect from the people close to you.
People who have had positive relationships throughout life will often be securely attached, but there are some exceptions. For example, if you’ve had a really difficult and challenging romantic relationship, with lots of breaches of trust or on again, off again experiences, you might have developed an anxious or mixed attachment style because of this. Similarly, if you’ve had a really good and solid relationship where you felt safe and secure, it may have ‘healed’ an anxious or dismissing attachment style.
Some relationship counselors talk about the pull between intimacy and autonomy, and this is a good way of thinking of the anxious and dismissing styles of attachment. Anxiously attached people will crave intimacy, and dismissing people will crave autonomy.
Attachment style is really interesting, as it determines so much of how we relate to the world. It can even determine what kinds of ‘problems’ we have, in our friendships or at work. Attachment style relates to a concept which we term ‘object relations’ — which is really how we perceive other people in our lives.
It is a bit tricky to go into, but basically if you have had mostly good experiences with people during your developmental period (so, 3-10 yrs), you will perceive others as mostly good — you might be a bit wary around strangers, or people who seem a bit unpredictable, but your ‘object relations’ will be positive.
However, if you have had some people in your life who frightened you, neglected you, or harmed you in some ways, your object relations will be less positive. You might be much more likely to be suspicious, frightened of intimacy, sensitive to rejection or defensive when it comes to getting close to someone.