#GetQurious: 5 experts discuss the theory of relationship attachment style

#GetQurious: 5 experts discuss the theory of relationship attachment style

Let’s begin the conversation. Let’s rid the taboo.

By Samantha Pérez


Founded by psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the 1950s and expanded by Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory outlines how your bond with your primary caregivers sets the foundation for how you navigate relationships throughout life. According to the theory, there are four types of attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious, and disorganised. Interestingly enough, according to a 2018 study, women score higher on anxiety and men score higher on avoidance when it comes to relationships. But these gender differences are small and have no direct impact on a person’s attachment style.


Though in respect to this theory, perhaps there is reason for some healthy scepticism about the over-reliance on the attachment-style model. As brought to my attention, we all, invariably demonstrate bits of all the different attachment styles depending on the circumstances in which we are with someone, how we feel around them, and what our most recent dating experience was like. Another limitation of the attachment theory is its failure to recognize the profound influences of social class, ethnicity, and culture on personality development. Research has demonstrated that social and economic factors have a powerful influence on development. 


Regardless, the attachment theory as a whole is a great opportunity to look inward and reflect on the most important relationship we all maintain – the one with ourselves. Ever more the one with our inner child. Quanna has reached out to 5 incredible experts to discuss this popular theory and to underline a crucial takeaway which is, realising that someone can change from an insecure attachment style and develop healthy and secure bonds in future relationships.

 

Talia Bombola | @taliabombola

Talia Bombola, The Confidence & Assertiveness Specialist™, is a Certified Psychodynamic, Licensed Psychotherapist and Relationship Mentor for Women. Her work centres around helping anxious women feel secure by increasing self-worth, confidence and assertiveness & rewiring beliefs about themselves, men, and relationships. She helps you rewire subconscious beliefs that no longer serve you to heal the "not enoughness" that is blocking you from living a life overflowing with satisfaction and self-worth. 

Talia Bombola

 

1. How have you navigated your own attachment style?

I learned that I had anxious attachment quite some time ago and that was a game changer. Prior to learning that, I found myself overwhelmed in previous relationships with feeling like I was “too much” and somehow “not enough” all at once. My self-worth needed improvement and I found myself in relationships that made me feel like I was riding a roller coaster. I had a high need for communication and consistency yet kept partnering with people who were avoidant. I did the inner work on myself which included self-help books, therapy (including EMDR and hypnosis), reiki, coaching, crying, journaling, exercising, and socialising. I would continue to push myself, some days pull myself closer to the version of myself I knew I wanted to be. I went deep into my childhood mentally and reparented every age my inner child showed up as.

 

I stopped dating and being attracted to partners who couldn’t be fully available for me and ended up with an amazing man who meets my needs and is the most secure person I think I’ve ever met. The secret to success in healing anxious attachment, in my belief, is doing the inner work on yourself to believe you are worthy and finding someone secure who doesn’t let you forget how worthy you are :) 

 

2. How can one start healing a disorganised/fearful-avoidant attachment style?

I think someone can work towards healing disorganised attachment by working with a trained professional who specialises in attachment theory. Disorganised attachment typically stems from severe childhood trauma/neglect and incredibly inconsistent caregiving. It is not something that should be taken lightly and does need to be worked through slowly. At the core, individuals with this kind of attachment believe they are unlovable and unworthy. There is also an intense mistrust in others, that correlates to the first psychosocial stage of development in infancy, and don’t believe other people will support and accept them. Due to the belief people will eventually reject them, as they felt in childhood, people with disorganised attachment will often preemptively withdraw from relationships or lash out as a way to create the self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Deep down, though, they strongly desire intimacy, closeness and acceptance from others because it increases positive regard and self-esteem. This is incredibly painful and confusing both for the partner with disorganised attachment as well as the partner receiving the hot and cold treatment. The behaviour can be confusing to romantic partners who experience their fearful avoidant attached partner as wanting to, even initiating closeness and then emotionally or physically retreat when they start to feel vulnerable in the relationship. Subconsciously, the vulnerability reminds them of childhood and infancy and times when their needs went ignored, unmet and neglected.

 

In psychoanalytic theory, repetition compulsion is an unconscious need to reenact early traumas/patterns in the attempt to overcome or master them. Such traumas/patterns are repeated in a new situation symbolic of the repressed prototype.

 

You can preventatively do work around this pattern if you are aware it’s happening. Insight oriented work and shadow work can help. You can do it while it is happening actively by applying what you’ve learned and catching yourself in the projective process. Either way, after you gain insight into your patterns, you no longer need to create the pattern again in adulthood to master it. This doesn’t mean it won’t still come up. You have to be consciously aware of your childhood wounds and heal them so that you can have a fulfilling experience in life as an adult.

 

Cory Bush | @thecorybush

Cory Bush (they/them) is a sex positive doula and relationship coach based in Brooklyn, NY. They have been working in the sex-positive space for over four years, teaching workshops, performing at events, and offering private coaching. Cory is a Certified Full Spectrum Doula and incorporates much of their training and experience as a doula into their work as a coach. They’ve written for publications including Dipsea, Merry Jane, and Momotaro and have been featured as an expert for articles in Men’s Health, InStyle, and Cosmopolitan. They primarily educate on topics including but not limited to sex, reproductive health, relationships, non-monogamy, kink, and consent.

Cory Bush

they/them

 

1. How have you navigated your own attachment style?

I personally sway between having secure and anxious attachment, but have had periods where I'm more disorganised. Learning about attachment styles and being able to link certain behaviours to attachment ruptures has been so helpful for me in regulating my mood and emotions. I first read "Attached" by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller, which was a good introduction to attachment styles, but really it wasn't until the book “Polysecure” by Jessica Fern was released that I felt like there was a really solid resource that explored attachment through the lens of non-monogamy. I have a partner that sits closer to the avoidant side of the spectrum, so we've had to examine the ways that some of our disagreements can devolve into this very push-pull dynamic that doesn't ever actually solve the problem. Being able to recognize when our nervous systems are activated and coming up with strategies to self or co-regulate has been so helpful for us.

 

When I'm feeling more anxious in a relationship, my impulse is to lash out or cling tight to my partner as a means of finding security. I've learned to be more patient and forgiving with myself while also finding ways to hold myself accountable when I act from a place of fear and anxiety rather than trust and security. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been an invaluable resource for me in learning tangible skills to mitigate some of those fear-based responses. For me, education and knowledge is the best way to quell anxiety, so when those feelings come up, I try to explore and unpack them as much as possible so I can eventually let them go.

 

2. How can one start healing a disorganised/fearful-avoidant attachment style?

I think the first step to healing any kind of attachment style is examining the root of it. This is why I love attachment theory so much because it guides us to look into those formative years and the ways that we were parented and raised. Figuring out the "why" is great, but it shouldn't be used as a means to blame (non-abusive/neglectful) parents or caregivers who were doing their best with the resources they had. There are many external factors (poverty, racism, sexism, disability status, etc.) that can impact our caregiver's ability to meet our needs. That being said, no one is required to "forgive" their caregivers when it comes to healing insecure attachment. Only forgive if that feels healing to you.

 

There are so many ways to heal disorganised attachment. One of the most effective ways to heal any kind of insecure attachment is developing close relationships (this can be romantic, platonic, familial, etc.) with people who are securely attached. Relationships can be incredibly healing when intention and thought are put into them. Don't shy away from a connection that feels good and healthy because you feel like you need to heal more before you jump in. Take things slow and allow the connection to be one piece in the puzzle that is your healing process.

 

Inner child work is also a great way to heal disorganised attachment. Working with a therapist, reading books, or making your way through a workbook are all great options. I'll give another plug to DBT for learning real skills you can use when you're feeling activated or triggered - there are therapists, groups, podcasts, books, and the entire DBT handout manual is available online for free! Journaling is also incredibly helpful - you can do it the old fashioned way, use your notes app, or even do voice memos. Ultimately, building awareness around your attachment style and the way that it manifests in your life is a great way to help heal.


Brenda Marie Davies | @godisgrey

Brenda Davies is a writer, actor & podcaster living in Los Angeles. Her Youtube channel God is Grey has over 10 million views and her work attracts an ever-growing audience of 250,000 people in 44 countries. Her debut novel On Her Knees: Memoir of a Prayerful Jezebel (Eerdmans, 2021) received rave reviews and maintained Amazon’s #1 position in Gender & Sexuality.

Brenda Marie Davies

she/her


1. How have you navigated your own attachment style?

I am - unfortunately - disorganised/fearfully attached. I’ve just begun my journey with therapy, so I haven’t yet unpacked the causes but I do suspect that my father’s physical abuse - paired with my mother’s inability to protect us from his unpredictable and scary behaviour -  contributed to my fear-based relationship style. I now see that fearful attachment occurs in both my romantic and platonic relationships where I vacillate between building impenetrable walls or letting people in who will reiterate the stale, harmful story that says, "I’ll always be abused or taken for granted."


Amusingly enough, I mistook my wall-building and go-with-the-flow attitude for secure attachment. Deep-down I wanted to create boundaries and stop getting cheated on (for the love of God!) but instead of admitting my needs, I danced around my fears, agreeing to open relationships that I didn’t want or allowing “boys nights” when I knew I wasn’t safe or protected by the person dating me. 


In a culture where expressing strong emotion or “acting like a girl” are not only under-valued but dismissed as weakness, I began recognizing that I said I hated pink or was “down for whatever” to make myself appear stoic, "masculine" or emotionless, and as agreeable as possible so I wouldn’t be abandoned or dismissed. But after investing in several abusive relationships, I had to recognize that this  “cool girl” persona was simply a front, created to avoid romantic vulnerability. 


2. How can one start healing a disorganised/fearful-avoidant attachment style?

The first key is being honest with yourself! Are you actually securely attached or are you a secret softie, trapped in a steel fortress, about to burst into wet, hot tears? 


Though you may be ashamed of your attachment style initially, the great news is, once you recognize the root of the issue, you can break the cycle! Therapy - specifically EMDR - has helped me address childhood and relational trauma and if you’re in need, Medical and other social programs are making therapy more accessible. Don’t let money be an obstacle to your healing! There are low-cost or free resources out there! 


Read books like The Body Keeps the Score, meditate, do breath work, take a "trip", hug a tree and put your feet in the grass. All that hippy dippy stuff works wonders & there’s plenty of science to explain the how and why. 


And finally, get curious and exhilarated about your healing. Healing is a rough and painful process but you’ll come out on the other side ready to express yourself authentically and find a partner willing and able to meet your basic needs. If you dive deep, you’ll choose your lovers wisely and create a stable foundation to become the securely-attached queen of your dreams. 


Esther De la Ford | @estherdelaford

Esther De La Ford is a Relationship and Sex Educator, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Consultant who is passionate about expanding our definitions of what sexual wellness can look like, and encouraging both young people and adults to learn more about how to be the best humans and partners they can be. Her one-to-one work focuses on helping women reclaim their power after sexual trauma, and navigate topics like anxiety, consent, boundaries and communication in all areas of life. She is a frequent radio and podcast guest and has appeared on the Kaye Adams Show, BBC Sounds, Radio 4 and BBC Scotland multiple times. She is a regular contributor to BBC The Social and her educational content has amassed over 10 million views. 


Esther currently has an offer for affordable therapy sessions, in response to the cost of living crisis hitting the UK. Do check out this opportunity out at: https://www.estherdelaford.com/affordabletherapy

Esther De La Ford

she/her


1. How have you navigated your own attachment style?

I’ve been quite lucky in that I used to have an anxious attachment style but then developed a secure one during my relationship with my current partner Pete, who is and has always been secure. In my teens I would obsess over what the boys (or girls) I was dating thought of me, I’d worry about them taking a long time to text back, or not seeming too eager when I replied. If someone ignored me or kept me at a distance it was like cat-nip to me, just further reinforcing my attachment style and belief that I needed to play games and chase people for attention and affection because I fundamentally wasn’t ‘good enough’ as I was. When I met Pete, he didn’t exhibit any of those avoidant attachment behaviours that I’d seen in previous partners. He text back when he could, explained why when he couldn’t, expressed his feelings and intentions from the beginning and was just generally a total delight to date. So in the past 8 years my attachment style has become secure just simply through being with a secure person, in a secure relationship. During the most important relationship of my life to date, there hasn’t been any need to ‘navigate’ my attachment style, which has been a real gift.  

I have noticed my style differs when it comes to friendships, in friendships I’m a disorganised/fearful-avoidant attacher, and again that’s very much been learnt through being involved in multiple intense insecure friendships in the past. ​Navigating that has involved learning about my attachment style and how it manifests in friendships, and staying aware of it when I’m interacting with friends, or making decisions regarding friends. I fear being abandoned or rejected so I face that fear by learning acceptance that some relationships are only for a season, and that’s beautiful and safe and okay. The kind of people I want to have in my life will be people who are there because they want to be. When the avoidant aspect of my attachment style comes through, I focus on communicating with people why I may be being distant and letting them know it isn’t about them, and that I value them. I make an effort to make the people in my life feel valued and loved while also communicating my boundaries and needs, letting them know solitude is important to me, that I might not always be available, but that it isn’t because I’m unhappy with them and if they really need me, I will be there.  

It's a balancing act, but so worthwhile. Most people go their whole lives never thinking to be intentional in the way they navigate their relationships, or looking to understand themselves. We heal deep cycles when we start to do this work.  


2. How can one start healing a disorganised/fearful-avoidant attachment style?

The best way to go about healing any insecure attachment style is to seek therapy (if you can). Begin learning about yourself more, learning how your attachment style affects how you feel about yourself and respond in relationships. ​

 

Awareness and understanding are the first steps to compassion and healing.​

 

Spend time reading resources about attachment and familiarising yourself with the knowledge that intimacy, emotional and physical closeness and interdependence in our relationships are hardwired into our DNA. We evolved to desire closeness with loved ones, and we can learn how to enjoy secure attachment in relationships again through cultivating self-awareness, self-respect and self-love.  Nothing changes overnight, and if you have a history of trauma it may take more time and patience to start shifting to a secure way of attaching.  


James Preece | @jamespreececoach

James Preece is a leading International Dating Expert and Dating Coach. He has been working in the industry for over seventeen years and has helped tens of thousands of men and women find love, build confidence and improve their relationships.

 

He is a regularly featured expert in top UK and international media and is the author of 15 best selling dating books, including the Amazon Number One best seller Online Dating Guide "I will Make You Click!"

James Preece

1. How have you navigated your own attachment style?

I've always been fortunate to have a secure attachment style. I had a good childhood, and my parents had a strong marriage. This meant I was always looking for a long term relationship and have now been with my wife for fifteen years. She also has a secure attachment style for the same reasons.


However, no attachment style is completely fixed as all relationships are a work in progress. When I was younger, I dated a LOT and when I look back I can see times when I was anxious or avoidant.  Much of this is based on what is reflected back at you. If a partner wasn't as "secure" as I was then it could cause issues of jealousy or turn me off them. 


I've come to realise over all my years of dating coaching, that you can change your attachment style over time if you are willing to work at it. If you find a good partner, then you learn new behaviours and beliefs. 


If you don't have an attachment style that is working for you, it's time to do something about it. If you don't, you'll continue to make bad choices and date unsuitable people. 


2. How can one start healing a disorganised/fearful-avoidant attachment style?

To heal your attachment style, you need to understand how your body feels, how other people make you feel, and how to respond to those feelings.


I recommend forgiving anyone who has treated you badly in the past. It's only once you let go that you can set yourself free to change. The key to this is to ensure you have a secure attachment with yourself. You have to love who you are and realise that you are worthy of happiness. Once you know your own value, you'll be able to see the world in a different, more optimistic way. 


If you need help, then find a coach who can fix this quickly.

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