4 Styles of Attachment


Some time ago I wrote a post about bonding or “attachment” in relationships. I described the different styles and something about each one, with a really simple assessment. As Nan was taking a continuing education class on this subject I was reminded again about how incredibly important this is to our ability to withstand the conflicts that we face in all of our relationships – personal and otherwise. Here are two additional assessments that are more comprehensive:  What is your attachment style?

Once again, the four types of attachment have been identified as secure, avoidant (anxious), ambivalent and disorganized. I also like the descriptives that Kim Bartholomew uses:

  • Secure – comfortable with intimacy and autonomy (positive view of self, low anxiety – positive view of others, low avoidance)
  • Preoccupied – preoccupied with relationships and abandonment (negative view of self, high anxiety – positive view of others, low avoidance)
  • Dismissing – downplays intimacy, overly self-reliant (positive view of self, low anxiety – negative view of others, high avoidance)
  • Fearful – fearful of intimacy, socially avoidant (negative view of self, high anxiety – negative view of others, high avoidance)

I would like to focus on when two of the types are in a relationship – the avoidant (dismissing) and the ambivalent (preoccupied). This pairing can be described as “repelling magnets”. This is a low trust relationship, where the needs of each are intensified rather than satisfied the closer they get to each other. This could also be described as a pursuer-distancer relationship. The ambivalent partner pursues when feeling relational anxiety (abandonment), but the avoidant partner feels controlled or annoyed and instead of offering reassurance will emotionally distance.

What is the solution? The ambivalent partner must learn to emotionally regulate themselves so that the intensity of their expressed feelings do not overwhelm their partner. And in response an avoidant must learn to move towards their partner’s anxiety and offer reassurance, despite what they are feeling internally.

If you substitute the disorganized or fearful attachment type in either of the above roles, there is likely to be even more chaos and lower relational satisfaction. In this case the need for individual and then couples counseling is crucial for symptom reduction and perhaps even the survival of the relationship.

Attachment repair is the process of reversing the damage that was caused in early life. During those impressionable years, certain negative beliefs were formed and need to be unpacked. As an individual becomes more secure, they are able to manage themselves better when stressors that are present in all relationships surface. Instead of reacting, they can learn to act with a measured and thoughtful response.

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