When I talk about trauma or explore my relationships these days, I also talk about the throughline of it all, called Attachment Theory. I urge you all to make this the most important part of your mental health journey, whether you’re on one or not.
Attachment Theory is the belief that we all have needs to connect to others from the moment we leave the womb- some even say before. The way we bond to our caregivers at an early age determines how we perceive, give, and receive love.
Dr. Kirk Honda from the “Psychology in Seattle Podcast” explains in his Attachment Deep Dive video, “I use attachment theory to interpret my own emotions, my reactions to other people- every regrettable thing I’ve ever done can be eloquently and thoroughly explained through attachment theory.”
There are four major attachment styles:
Here we go!
If your parents taught you emotional and self awareness at a young age, then more often than not, your attachment type is secure.
When you fell as a child and cried, you caregiver rushed to your side, noted how you were feeling, helped you understand that you’re crying because you hurt yourself, and said, “Don’t worry, I’m with you, let’s get through this pain together.” More or less, that was their script.
They help you understand WHY you felt the way you did, and what you could do about it.
This helped you not only better understand your own feelings, but also people around you.
If that above narrative isn’t all that familiar- keep reading.
If your caregiver wasn’t always around as a child, you may have had to fight for attention, you may have had to put up a fight to get your needs met. You may have even experienced physical, sexual, and/or mental abuse. Some infants are seen going beyond the normal lengths of screaming and crying whenever their caregivers were to leave the room, and as children might have been labeled as “whiny” or “clingy.” As they grow older, they learn that in order to receive love, you have to physically demand it, control, or manipulate in some way. If the child learns this, their attachment need might be identified as “Anxious/Preoccupied” Attachment Insecurity. These are people who might hyper-fixate on seemingly small details of a relationship, assigning meanings to certain behaviors and patterns that they see, even if they may not be true. It’s all because they are afraid of a person leaving them, and they seek to control the situation- and the person- whenever possible.
(This all by the way, is a spectrum- you may not fit the bill entirely, and only therapy or extensive reading and research can really help you understand.)
If your caregiver left you at an early age, or consistently was never around, you might have self-soothed by never needing to rely on anyone. An example: some children taken into ICE Custody had no choice but to turn their backs and learn to only rely on themselves, without their parents- they cut their emotions off. Those whose parents eventually came back were completely emotionless upon their return. Some even stated, “I can’t feel my heart.” These are people who learned to avoid confrontation and emotional altogether. Oftentimes they reject love and feel no need to be in touch with their emotions, because as a child, they learned that their emotions caused them so much pain that could never be fixed. So why bother feeling anything? These people are typically referred to as having “Dismissive/Avoidant” Insecurity.
These are the two main types of insecurity, but there is one more: The Fearful Avoidant, or the Disorganized Attachment insecurity.
For these people, you may have grown up in a tumultuous home where your parent’s love was not consistent, and caused much confusion. One minute you are craving their love, and the next moment they may abuse you in some way. You love the people who hurt you, and you are lost in emotional whiplash. While you crave being vulnerable with someone, something will trigger you to run when you get too close. This is said to be the hardest attachment style to have, because there is no way to cope. Anxious/Preoccupied will cope by clinging harder, Dismissive Avoidants will self-soothe on their own. A Fearful Avoidant is confused, lost, and described as being “hot and cold.” This is also the style I most identify with. For these people, therapy may be the only option to really become more secure, but there are certainly resources out there to help you on your way.
Because it’s a very uncommon style to have, I want to link a video here from Thais Gibson who identified as what she calls, “A Volatile Fearful Avoidant” who learned to become secure: Profiling the Fearful Avoidant/Disorganized: Key Traits of the High Functioning Fearful Avoidant
It hurts seeing relationships fail because of difficulty navigating our learned definitions of love, and how we subconsciously protect ourselves while also failing ourselves at the same time.
There’s no excuse for manipulation, control, abandonment, volatility- but through this concept, we can understand why it happens, and we begin to see that the core of it isn’t always malicious or intentional. The core wounds that people with insecure attachments styles have are very real, relatable, but CAN be fixed. I’m hoping that this gateway into this topic can give you a path to help become more aware of your own emotions, and the different layers we pile on top to bury them. The more we know these concepts, the easier it becomes to relate to one another, and to understand and better ourselves.
Best of luck, you deserve real love.