What’s Your Attachment Style (in Life and on Facebook)?
What Exactly Is Attachment?
Attachment is typically described as a strong emotional connection. Attachment theory is a way of interpreting a bond between an infant and his or her caregiver. The birth of attachment theory is attributed to the work of John Bowlby, and was expanded upon by Mary Ainsworth in the 1950s. It evolved through the observation and study of babies and caregivers and has been further expanded upon by other researchers over the years.
A baby has an innate need to be connected to one “attachment figure.” This can be a parent, grandparent or any caregiver who gives consistent care. The attachment style that begins in infancy can be “secure” or “insecure” and it could be the result of many factors.
Four Main Attachment Styles
Each type of attachment can lead to specific behaviors in adulthood, especially in regard to relationships.
- Secure attachment: This is a bond between a child and caregiver where a parent consistently meets the child’s needs and the child learns to trust and have a healthy dependence on the caregiver. For example, when a mother leaves the room, the child may become minimally distressed. But when the parent returns, the infant seeks comfort and is comforted, so they learn that their caregivers will always come back and meet their needs.
As adults: They are more likely to be comfortable with intimacy and trust a partner’s love because they feel lovable and secure in themselves. They have warmer family relationships.
- Anxious attachment: (Also called anxious-preoccupied). Parents may sometimes be nurturing and attuned to a baby’s needs, but they may at other times be emotionally unavailable or insensitive. If a parent is nurturing one moment and emotionally or physically unavailable the next, it is confusing. As a result, a baby may become desperate for a parent’s attention and yet distrustful of the unpredictable parent. Because these babies are insecure about getting their needs met, they may be clingy and afraid to let the parent out of their sight and distressed when they cannot be with them or near them. This may also happen with peers, sibling and inanimate objects they are attached to.
As adults: They may have heightened insecurity about relationships and crave intimacy and closeness, causing partners to feel suffocated by their needs.
- Avoidant/anxious attachment: (also called fearful-avoidant & dismissive-avoidant) When cries or needs go unheeded on a regular basis, a child knows that communicating with the caregiver will not change things. They stop trying and instead the child will literally avoid the caregiver and show little or no emotion when they leave a room or return. Rather than greet a returning caregiver, they will glance at them and look away or move away. Researchers believe this is a mask for distress. Avoidant behavior is a way to maintain a conditional proximity — close enough to feel protected but distant enough to avoid rejection.
As adults: They may be uncomfortable when a partner (or friend) tries to come too close and will likely value their freedom and independence more than a relationship. They may also avoid social support.
- Disorganized/disoriented attachment: This category is an umbrella term that identifies children who do not fit into the other categories. Often this is a designation for children who have been raised in homes or environments in which they have been abused or mistreated. They are often afraid of the caregiver or multiple caregivers. Researchers describe behavior that includes wandering, confused expressions, freezing, undirected movements, or contradictory patterns of interaction with a caregiver.
As adults: They may be very uncomfortable with intimacy and also very concerned about their partner’s availability due to this combination of anxious and avoidant attachment.
Anxiety, Avoidance and Social Media
Attachment theory and research says there are two fundamental categories: Some people are more anxious and some are more avoidant. For example, people with high attachment-related anxiety will worry about whether they are really liked and fearful of rejection. People high in attachment-related avoidance generally are less comfortable opening up to others.
Although friends and family on social media platforms may not be able to tell the full history of an individual’s childhood challenges and attachment trauma, there may be telltale signs.
“As social media expands or changes, so may attachment style correlation,” says Promises’ therapist England. “For example, some avoidant-style people may prefer social media with more one word answers or emojis. I have also witnessed some anxious-style people frequently fishing for supportive comments from social media friends.”
Learning about the origins of attachment styles can be helpful to people in many ways, particularly in aiding them in understanding themselves and loved ones. It offers insight into their coping strategies and an outline of how they develop and behave in close relationships.