Maintaining friendships as an adult can sometimes feel like running a three-ring circus. One minute everything feels exciting and fun, while the next, things can feel challenging and exhausting. The good news is this might not be entirely your fault. According to Positive Psychology, attachment theory, which was first mentioned by John Bowlby, is a set of behavioral pattern styles which, according to this theory, is developed through the ways a child interacts with their primary caregivers. This, in turn, dictates how they choose their romantic partners and maintain and engage with their relationships and friendships as adults. Being aware of what your attachment style is may help you not only have a better understanding of the way you react and respond to others, but it may give you a comprehensive look into your loved ones’ attachment styles too. “It is important to know your attachment style so that you can make sure that your assessments of the other people to whom you are attached, and the relationships you share, are based on what is actually happening, and not some misconstrued interpretation of the facts based on years of pre-built trauma,” relationship expert Laurel Steinberg, PhD, said. “It’s particularly important to understand your attachment style in friendships, because in order to enjoy success in the personal, community, and professional areas of life, you typically need to have many friendship relationships go really, really well.” But is it possible to change your attachment style over time, especially if the subconscious behavior is no longer serving you? “Many seek therapy to do this while others find that being in a relationship with somebody who is securely attached leads to them becoming closer to securely attached themselves,” Sarah Schewitz, a licensed clinical psychologist, told me. While the attachment theory is mostly used to see how one develops and maintains a relationship with a romantic partner, it can also be used to help aid in adult friendships.
If you’re unsure of what your attachment style is, take this quiz to help you find out, and scroll below to find out how you choose to love and what you expect from your friendships, based on your style.
Having a secure attachment style means you recognize your value, as well as your friends’. “An individual with a Secure Attachment style is capable of nurturing friendships and working through conflicts that might arise,” a trauma therapist and the author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, Shannon Thomas, said. Schewitz also said that people with this attachment style don’t take things personally when their friends cancel last-minute because they don’t worry about the stability of the friendship. Because of this, they choose to show love by “reaching out to connect, but also respecting boundaries,” Schewitz continued.
“Dismissive-Avoidant attachers typically have a positive view of themselves and a more cautious, or even negative view of others,” Dr. Steinberg said. “As a result, they’re typically not forthcoming about how they feel, a behavior likely rooted in the desire to protect themselves from being hurt or rejected.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that they don’t like to care for their friends. Steinberg explained that when they do show affection for their well-vetted friends, they “often do so in an ultra-reserved fashion, that is a lot less demonstrative (both emotionally and/or physically) than a more secure attacher.” However, keep in mind that things might look a little different at the beginning of a new friendship. Thomas explained that people with Dismissive Avoidant attachment styles want to shower new people with attention and are often the life of the party. “Challenges arise once the newness wears off for the Dismissive-Avoidant person,” Thomas continued. “They easily distance themselves with previously close friends and typically do not feel remorse or guilt for isolating themselves.”
According to Schewitz, “Someone with an Anxious-Preoccupied attachment style reaches out to their friends more than others and wants to hang out more frequently. They seek closeness and connection and validation from their friendships.” This tends to happen because they typically have a more positive view of others in comparison to themselves. They’ve learned this style through their caregivers sometimes being nurturing and attuned to their distress, while other times being insensitive or emotionally unavailable, according to Psych Alive. “As a result, they seek high levels of approval and connection with others. They are commonly very effusive by lavishing others with praise and too-frequent communication, often to the point of being overwhelming,” Dr. Steinberg said. “When the friendships are going well, Anxious Preoccupied attachers enjoy all of the benefits of their friendships — in addition to the benefit of having the success of the relationship be a major source in maintaining their feelings of self-worth.”
An adult who has this attachment style grew up with a parent who didn’t know how to soothe them as a distressed child, according to Psychology Today. Their parent or parents were emotionally unavailable and could have even caused the child’s distressed in the first place. “Fearful-Avoidant individuals long for close attachments, but internally doubt they are worthy of authentic acceptance and love,” Thomas said. “They can easily appear as needy or become emotionally overwhelming to their friends.” Ideally, for Fearful-Avoidant adults to maintain healthy boundaries, they need to watch for unrealistic expectations that they place on their friends because they’re most afraid of rejection. If not, they could preemptively start fights or cut their friends off, according to Schewitz. However, when they do show care and affection toward their friend, they do it by through “kind words and acts of service in their friendships,” Thomas explained. “The Fearful-Avoidant person longs to experience the love they crave.” While this should bring you awareness as to how you’ll show affection to your friends based on your attachment style, just know that this doesn’t mean you’ll always have this specific style. “Many seek therapy to [alter their attachment style], while others find that being in a relationship with somebody who is securely attached leads to them becoming closer to securely attached themselves,” according to Schewitz. Either way, developing and maintaining a healthy friendship with someone might not be easy to do, but hopefully knowing your attachment style will make things just a tad bit easier.