Tuesday, January 29, 2013

With or Without BPD - Attachment Styles: Adults

Yesterday we talked about Attachment Style in children. I also talked about the Secure Attachment of both children and adults that is the goal for Healthy relationship attachment yesterday. So let’s take a look at where those styles can lead to when we become adults.

Adult Insecure Attachment Styles

Anxious–Preoccupied Attachment

People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to agree with the following statements: "I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don't value me as much as I value them." People with this style of attachment seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent on their partners—a condition colloquially termed clinginess. Compared to securely attached people, people who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to have less positive views about themselves. They often doubt their worth as a partner and blame themselves for their partners' lack of responsiveness. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships.

Dismissive–Avoidant Attachment

People with a dismissive style of avoidant attachment tend to agree with these statements: "I am comfortable without close emotional relationships.", "It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient", and "I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me." People with this attachment style desire a high level of independence. The desire for independence often appears as an attempt to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to others. They often deny needing close relationships. Some may even view close relationships as relatively unimportant. Not surprisingly, they seek less intimacy with relationship partners, whom they often view less positively than they view themselves. Investigators commonly note the defensive character of this attachment style. People with a dismissive–avoidant attachment style tend to suppress and hide their feelings, and they tend to deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the sources of rejection (i.e., their relationship partners).

While it is actually very important for me to feel independent and self-sufficient, I’m starting to realize you can do this, while also enjoying someone else in a close intimate relationship. It doesn’t necessarily negate independence or self-sufficiency. That said, this was the attitude I wanted people to believe about me for a long time. Whether I felt it or not, it was what I showed, and I believed it to be safer.

Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment

As adults, those with an ambivalent attachment style often feel reluctant about becoming close to others and worry that their partner does not reciprocate their feelings. This leads to frequent breakups, often because the relationship feels cold and distant. These individuals feel especially distraught after the end of a relationship. Cassidy and Berlin described another pathological pattern where ambivalently attached adults cling to young children as a source of security (1994).

I definitely relate to this. It’s not even that I’m reluctant; I mean clearly I am, but it’s not a conscious decision. I don’t sit there and say, “I’m going to hesitate about this emotional intimacy,”… it’s usually sparked by feelings of anxiousness and uncertainty that make me hesitate or pull back. 

Fearful–Avoidant Attachment

People with losses or sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence often develop this type of attachment and tend to agree with the following statements: "I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others." People with this attachment style have mixed feelings about close relationships. On the one hand, they desire to have emotionally close relationships. On the other hand, they tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. These mixed feelings are combined with, sometimes unconscious, negative views about themselves and their partners. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness from their partners, and they don't trust the intentions of their partners. Similarly to the dismissive–avoidant attachment style, people with a fearful–avoidant attachment style seek less intimacy from partners and frequently suppress and deny their feelings. Instead, they are much less comfortable initially expressing affection.

I relate to this one too. It’s almost scary. Even if a partner tells me exactly how they feel and it’s very positive, I have a very difficult time believing they mean it, or understanding why they would mean it. All of this feels very true for me.

Are you starting to recognize yourself in any of these attachment styles? I certainly see characteristics of myself in most of these but even stronger in one or two in particular. Tomorrow I’ll give you an interactive tool to help you determine just where you fall on the spectrum (because you don’t have to be only one or another). 


  1. Heya, another great blog as my therapist was always talking about attachment theory and it's importance. I definitely relate to the description of fearful-avoident attachment, I find I'm quite emotionally distant to people no matter how close they are to me. I would say that it's only been since I had children of my own that I've felt comfortable in letting my self feel strong feelings of love. My newborn son has rekindled those feelings that I'm not really used to. Must read more.

  2. Another interesting post - cant wait for the next installment. Thanks!

  3. Really interesting post. Thanks:)

  4. I can relate to the secure attachment style and am highly interested in how the other attachment styles can affect relationships. It reminded me of a related article I read recently...


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