There’s no denying it: Friendship is having a renaissance in the cultural zeitgeist. I don’t know if it’s the 1989 re-release or the ongoing loneliness epidemic (or a combination of both), but I, for one, have never been more grateful for the incredible friendships that I have in my life. If you too are feeling a little more sentimental about the gals in 2023, you might be wondering how you can be a better friend, maintain longer-lasting friendships, and understand your connection to the people who matter most to you. Enter: Attachment styles—the theory of psychology that you never knew you needed to apply to your friendships.
In order to learn more about attachment styles and how to leverage them to become a better friend, I spoke with therapist Alexis B. Kaufman, LCSW, PLLC. Her insight on what each attachment style looks like, how to identify your friendship attachment style, and how to use your attachment style to improve your relationships is chef’s kiss. 2023 is the year of treating our friendships with the same attentiveness that we provide our romantic ones, so read on to learn all about attachment styles and their impact on our friendships.
What is an attachment style?
Here’s the 411 on attachment styles: Unlike other personality types and tests that we might use to help describe how we relate to other people, attachment styles describe our emotional attachment in current relationships based on our past experiences. According to Kaufman, “An attachment style is initially formed by interactions with our caregivers when we are babies and continues to influence our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors as we navigate other meaningful relationships throughout adulthood.” This consideration of the early social interactions that shaped our childhood makes attachment styles a particularly useful way of evaluating our relationships, whether romantic or platonic.
How to identify your attachment style in friendships
If attachment theory sounds like exactly your cup of tea, there are tons of online resources for discovering your own attachment style, of which there are four: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized (also known as anxious-avoidant). Identifying which attachment style best applies to your friendships is as easy as taking a quiz, but it can also look like educating yourself on the styles themselves, talking to your friends, family, and emotional support system about the experiences in your past relationships, and journaling as a form of self-discovery.
To give a brief overview, Kaufman explains that “If you feel doubtful about the status of the relationship when you are not with the friend or even question if the friend still likes you or wants to see you again, you may have an anxious attachment style. Alternatively, if you feel extremely overwhelmed by closeness in friendships and spending too much time with friends leaves you feeling like you want to run away to be alone, you may have an avoidant attachment style.”
Finally, in anxious-avoidant attachment styles, you may find intimate relationships confusing, and if you have a secure attachment style (OK, rockstar), you likely aren’t thinking about your personal relationships too much because you trust that they will last.
How your attachment style could be affecting your friendships—for better or worse
Learning about attachment styles for the first time and potentially discovering that you are insecurely attached can, admittedly, be a little bit scary. Especially if you deeply value your friendships and relationships, realizing that you may be unintentionally detached from them due to things that happened in your past relationships can be seriously jarring. Thankfully, according to Kaufman, no attachment style is exclusively ever “good” or “bad,” and there are strengths in all attachment styles. Here are a few ways in which your attachment styles can impact your friendships:
You have a high attunement to the needs of others in your friendships
If your attachment style falls on the anxious end of the spectrum, it’s likely that you’ll be highly attentive in your personal relationships and more likely to address issues when they arise. “In anxious attachment style, you are very attuned to others’ emotions and are likely aware of the slightest shift in connection,” Kaufman says. “This means you deeply value maintaining close friendships and are more likely to address any issues that arise in the relationship.”
You unintentionally push friends away
Of course, there are some downsides to being anxiously attached. Kaufman identifies one of these negative consequences of an anxious attachment style as unintentionally pushing your friends away if you find yourself seeking constant reassurance from them. If you feel like you’re constantly experiencing friendship anxiety, then it might be worth evaluating where those feelings are coming from and whether they are tied to an event in your past.
You have high levels of independence and self-sufficiency
Being independent and able to care for yourself is an important part of any relationship because it allows you to show up more fully for the other person in the friendship in moments when it matters most. If you have an avoidant attachment style, you might be more independent than most. “You’re unlikely to overwhelm your friends by being too demanding and will be able to enjoy time spent on your own,” Kaufman says.
You limit the level of connection in your friendships
Just like anxious attachment styles, avoidant attachment styles have a flip side that can make friendships challenging. “ If you lean toward an avoidant style of attachment, you may not be able to get too close to others, which could limit the level of connection in your friendships,” Kaufman says. Dealing with a lack of depth in your personal relationships may mean that you have an avoidant attachment style and that you might want to reevaluate your tendency toward independence.
You have confidence in your personal relationships
If and when you do find yourself securely attached to a friendship, it means that you will be able to enjoy the friendship in both its presence and absence. “In a secure attachment style, you’re able to feel close and connected in your friendships while also enjoying your independence,” Kaufman says. “You feel confident that your relationships remain close, even when there is distance or conflict, and can choose to spend time on your own out of desire instead of as an escape from intimacy.”
How knowing your attachment style can better your friendships
Whether you’re a single girlie, in your situationship era, or are in an LTR, learning your attachment style will have an impact on all of your relationships—not just your romantic ones. According to Kaufman, uncovering core moments from your childhood will help you better understand how you interact with others and can shift your friendships. Though, as scary as that sounds, it’s almost never a bad thing. “When it comes to attachment style, knowledge is power,” she says. “If you have a better understanding of your own patterns of connection, you’re able to form deeper bonds and feel close in a way that feels secure to you.”
It can help you relate to others
The first step to becoming a better friend through your attachment style starts with wanting to learn more about yourself and the way you relate to others. From there, Kaufman says that both anxiously and avoidantly attached people can leverage their new knowledge to become better friends. For example, “If you have an avoidant style, you can understand the reason you may need more space than others in friendships and be able to ask for it in a way that doesn’t leave your friends feeling rejected. If you have an anxious style, you can learn and use coping skills to tolerate your anxiety instead of seeking out reassurance from your friends,” she says.
Knowing and working on your attachment style can be particularly useful if you struggle to approach conflict in your friendships. “An anxiously attached person may react to this perceived threat by constantly fixating on the friend wanting to abandon them or being mad at them,” Kaufman says. “By contrast, someone with more of an avoidant style may distance themselves from a conflict so they do not risk getting too close to people or feeling painful emotions.” When you start from a baseline understanding of your own attachment style, you will be better able to face conflict in your friendships in a way that focuses on maintaining the friendship—because we all deserve an abundance of healthy, long-lasting relationships in our lives.