The way we relate to other people and the patterns we hold in a relationship is our attachment style.
According to attachment theory, first developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, attachment style is shaped and developed in early childhood in response to our relationships with our earliest caregivers.
If our caregivers are accessible, responsive, and engaged, much of the time (it doesn’t have to be perfect), we feel securely attached to them and have a sense of safety in our relationships. Conversely, if these are not met, we might create anxious or avoidant strategies to navigate relationships, and we can carry these patterns into adulthood.
We all have secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment styles.
With one likely being our ‘go-to’ for strategies to feel safe and secure in relationships.
If a person is securely attached, and the good news is that more than 50% of people are securely attached, they are likely able to view relationships as an overall positive experience. They have a secure sense of Self and a general sense of safety and security in relationships with others.
According to psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement are the elements needed to create a safe and secure bond within a relationship. People who are securely attached are able to meet these needs for others as well as for themselves. They show up for themselves, they are responsive to their own needs, and they talk to themselves with kindness and respect.
Secure attachment could look like the ability to:
enjoy close relationships while appreciating time alone
empathize with others
be available to their partners and be attuned to their needs
set and hold boundaries
communicate their own needs in relationships
be open/honest with others about how they feel
look for and accept support from others
manage their own emotions
Communicate during conflict (does not avoid conflict)
Handle the many complexities and changes in relationships.
If you want to put this in a more ‘feelings’ way, people with secure attachment can tolerate more ‘stress’ and/or conflict in a relationship without their nervous system going onto high alert. When there is conflict or separation, secure people are able to process their thoughts and feelings more clearly. You might say they have the ability to respond rather than to react from a place of insecurity or feeling unsafe.
Does this mean that a person with a secure attachment style is always perfect? No. Because we all have secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment strategies, so even securely attached people can come up against attachment challenges.
Being in a secure relationship doesn't mean you are happy and feel completely safe and secure all the time.
Relationships are challenging for everyone. But, secure relationships tend to be a little more collaborative and flexible, allowing everyone to show up as their authentic, and sometimes even messy, selves. Conflicts and be resolved through communication, with everyone feeling comfortable expressing their needs and knowing that they can work together to find a solution. They are on each other's team!
Sounds amazing, right?
It is ok if you have not seen much of your own patterns or relationships reflected in this blog post. It is possible to shift our attachment style and move towards being more secure in ourselves and our relationships. We will work towards more security in the next post. It’s always good to have #relationshipgoals and to know what we are working towards!