Have you ever noticed there is always a certain pattern in your relationships? Maybe it’s in the type of partner you’re usually attracted to; maybe it’s in how the relationship tends to end. If you find yourself ending up in similar situations over and over again, odds are this is due to your subconscious programming, also known as your attachment style.
The attachment theory is a psychological theory that can explain how we form relationships and connect to others. In this theory, experiences that happened to us in our childhood provide the base on which we build relationships in adulthood. We develop expectations about how others will behave based upon early attachments to our parents or caregivers. This theory recognizes four different kinds of attachment styles: anxious, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, and secure. The idea is that how we grew up will determine where each of us falls among the categories.
These attachment styles determine how we react to our needs and how we personally get them met. We set ourselves up to search out partners and relationships that confirm our subconscious models created in childhood about our connections with others. As much as these attachment styles affect our romantic relationships, they also affect how we perform at work. They can influence how well we do our work, how we communicate with our bosses, how quickly we get projects done, and if we are a leader or not.
In episode 45 of We Met At Acme, a dating podcast for millennials, Amy Chan explains the different attachment styles and how they might show up in your life. As the founder of Renew Breakup Boot Camp and as a relationship writer, she believes the more aware we are of our attachment styles and the stories we have created in our heads, the more we can work on being our best selves. The goal is to become aware of your attachment style so you can work through either the anxious, dismissive, or fearful attachments to have a secure attachment, which is ultimately the healthiest. This allows you to uncover why you have a hard time getting close to others or having lasting relationships and work towards forming an “earned secure attachment”.
If learning more about your strengths and vulnerabilities in relationships is something of interest to you, here are the four attachment styles and how they might be affecting your love and work lives — and what to do if they are.
Someone who has an anxious attachment style has a core fear that they will be abandoned or rejected at any given time. They may behave in ways that show this fear and can come across as desperate or insecure. This type of attachment stems from some form of inconsistent caregiving as a child. This doesn’t necessarily mean they had bad parents, but at one point when they needed something they were left with their needs unmet. This one moment could have wounded them and created distrust in their parents. The story they have created in their head that they are not going to get their needs met in the future can be seen in their relationships in adulthood.
When someone has an anxious attachment style, they will look for partners to complete or even rescue them. Since they have this fear of not getting their needs met, they will cling to their partner and act in ways that come across demanding or possessive, which eventually ends up pushing their partners away. Examples of this type of behavior that Amy gives can be calling their significant other frequently, or not at all to punish them. If their partner doesn’t make plans at a specific time or if they don’t hear from them, they will act out in unhealthy ways.
What to do: If this sounds like you and you find yourself ending up in codependent relationships often, then you’re already heading in the right direction. The more aware you are of yourself and your actions, the more you can work on yourself to become secure and healthy in your relationships. Amy explains that anxious attachment individuals are usually drawn to avoidant attachment individuals, which creates unhealthy relationships. So instead, try to find a secure person, because in this type of relationship, you are more likely to create a secure attachment style. Be upfront and honest with yourself and your partner on your intimacy issues and you can work through them together.
These individuals often seek approval and fear rejection of their work and disapproval from their superiors. They have a hard time saying no to tasks for fear of upsetting others. They constantly believe that when they receive an email it contains bad news which leads to them checking their email far too often and responding right away.
What to do: The way to overcome this attachment style in the workplace is to practice positive self-talk. Try to change the initial reaction from receiving an email from your boss away from it being negative. Become secure and confident in your work and others will see it too! Also, set clear boundaries with yourself and others on what you feel you can productively get done without overwhelming yourself.
There are two types of avoidant attachments: dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. Individuals with dismissive-avoidant have a fear that their freedom is going to be taken away. This could be due to having dominating parents as children; either their parents were always in their face telling them what to do, or taking away their freedom. Alternatively, maybe this person had an absent parent, so they developed a story line in their head that they are not going to get their needs met, so they might as well be completely independent and do it themselves. As adults, they may seek isolation and come off as focused on themselves.
Someone with a dismissive-avoidant attachment will tend to distance themselves emotionally from their partner. They have the ability to easily detach from them and to shut down emotionally. For example, if their partner threatens to leave them, they will have a passive attitude and act like they don’t care. They tend to be attracted to individuals with an anxious attachment style, as they will reconfirm the story that already have in their heads. Since we don’t like to be wrong, we subconsciously look to fulfill whatever story we have playing in our heads. The anxious individual will behave in possessive ways and the dismissive-avoidant will feel like their freedom is being taken away again. This can be seen not only in romantic relationships, but in friendships as well. They will tend to only have a few good friends.
What to do: If you find yourself constantly pushing others away and putting an emotional barrier between you and others, first acknowledge that you have a dismissive-avoidant attachment and your inability to connect with people is actually a subconscious habit that you developed in childhood. Get rid of the illusion that you can do it all by yourself, because in reality, we all need connection with others! Make a conscious effort to connect emotionally with others and let them into your life. Realize that just because someone wants to be with you doesn’t mean that they are going to take away your freedom!
In the workplace, since these individuals tend to be self-directed and self-reliant, they may prefer to work alone and believe they can do a better job than others. At the same time, if a project goes wrong they may be quick to blame others. Sometimes, they may even think they are smarter than others, which can lead to conflict in the office.
What to do: Try to overcome this by striving for collaboration at work, or by asking another’s opinion on your work. Do your best to listen to others, realize that they may have great ideas as well, and try to depend on them. If you’re feeling distant from your co-workers, be the one to initiate getting lunch together. This will show them that you are interested in getting to know others!
The second type of avoidant attachment is fearful-avoidant attachment. They are constantly afraid of being too close or too distant from others. Psychology Today claims, “They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to. They can’t just avoid their anxiety or run away from their feelings. Instead, they are overwhelmed by their reactions and often experience emotional storms”. This style is often associated with life experiences such as grief, neglect, and abuse. These individuals want to be close to others to get their needs met but believe if they get too close they will get hurt.
In intimate relationships, they usually want to go to their partner for safety, but are scared to get too close to them. They find themselves in rocky relationships with constant highs and lows. They are constantly juggling the fear of their partner abandoning them and the fear of being trapped when too close. They may even find themselves in abusive relationships.
What to do: Changing this mindset is not easy, but with regular practice you can become more secure in your relationships. Practice giving yourself positive affirmations that you are worthy of someone’s love. Recognize that your emotions and thoughts might not be accurate and that there is an underlying, deeper issue. Get in the habit of setting healthy boundaries and not running away from others. Since you act from an “emotional storm,” take some time before making big decisions. Also, it’s always OK to see a professional if you need to. Lastly, if you are getting into a relationship, be sure it is with someone who is securely attached to provide some stability in your life.
At work, they may experience procrastinating behavior as they are trying to avoid something — such as not opening an email in fear it may be troublesome. Their fear keeps them from taking important actions that need to be taken or getting their work done.
What to do: If you find yourself avoiding emails, set a goal for yourself that you are going to open them within a certain time frame. If you have a project that you are avoiding starting, get yourself to work on it a little bit each day. Once again, begin practicing positive self-talk. Focusing on living a healthy and positive lifestyle will translate over into your career as well!
The individuals with a secure attachment are the most independent. They feel confident in exploring the world because their parents gave them a secure base as a child. They are able to convey their emotions in a healthy and constructive way. Though individuals with this attachment style aren’t perfect, it is the healthiest style to have in relationships.
These individuals have the highest degree of success and satisfaction in their relationships, according to Amy. They feel secure when they are close with their partner and feel secure when they are apart. They’re able to comfort their partners when they are distressed and can ask for emotional support in healthy ways when they need it. When couples are in a securely-attached relationship, they are more likely to be honest and open with each other and allow the other person to be independent outside of the relationship. They have an overall positive view of relationships and connections with others.
What to do: There’s still always room for growth and improvement in secure relationships. Be constantly working on yourself so you can bring more to the relationship, and so it can continue to thrive. Keep working on maintaining honest and open communication with your partner.
At work, these individuals are great at managing their time, prioritizing tasks, addressing issues, and asking for help. They are confident in themselves and in their ability to work hard. They feel comfortable saying “no” when necessary and setting healthy boundaries.
What to do: Keep maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and ask for feedback on work to stay aware of anything that needs improvement. Your security in yourself and your relationships will naturally show up in the workplace.
At the end of the podcast episode, Amy Chan shares her personal quote that she lives by: “You may not be able to change the events of your history, but you can choose to change the story you attach to those events.” If you find yourself in unhealthy situations, it’s important to recognize that there might be something affecting us that we didn’t even realize. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to keep working on being the best version of ourselves that we can be in order to be our best selves in relationships and at work.
If you want to know more about your attachment style, check out Attached. by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. This book is all about building stronger and more fulfilling connections with your partner.