Welcome to Friday Open Thread, you beautiful buttered biscuits! It’s been a whirlwind week for me, truly. There are too many things. Too many deadlines. Too much travel. A few MAJOR LIFE CHANGES to boot. Oh boi, I can’t wait to share more with ya’ll when I can, but ultimately this week is good. In a way that’s like…WOW A LOT.
In a recent Valentine’s Day essay I wrote for this very site that was basically one long back-handed compliment to my partner of 14+ years, a commenter wrote that they felt very seen as someone with an avoidant attachment style. Friend, I did not really know what attachment styles were. Is this like an astrology thing? Or a Myers-Briggs thing? Or an enneagram thing? No, it’s not. Also, yes, kind of.
Of course, I immediately looked it up and felt very attacked/seen because indeed, I do have an avoidant attachment style. Are you curious? I know you are!
The idea behind the currently thrown-around attachment styles starts with the three attachment styles identified by American-Canadian psychologist Mary Ainsworth. (Attachment type theory started with John Bowlby, but the four attachment types you see flying about the internet are actually Ainsworth’s work…of course!) Ainsworth developed the strange situation assessment, which sounds like a self-help book that I definitely would buy, but is actually a scientific study of emotional attachment between caregivers and young children. This study involved a lot of crying non-verbal babies and I would not have been able to handle it. Geez. But it’s interesting!
From her research, Ainsworth postured that there were three attachment styles: secure, resistant, and avoidant. Another psychologist who worked under Ainsworth, Mary Main, added a fourth style, disorganization/disoriented style, which was acknowledged by Ainsworth as an additional possible attachment style. In the 1980’s, two psychologists, Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan, built on the attachment style work and developed a theory that looked at attachment style in relation to romantic relationships in adults. Their definitions and four-type matrix is the most common internet meme/quiz fodder used today: secure, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, and anxious attachment.
It’s worth noting that the sample size for all this research was relatively small and also that the participants in the Ainsworth and Main studies were primarily babies with primary caregivers who were also their gestational carrier/bio moms and these theories really privilege Western, white, middle-class assumptions about parenting. So, like many things, we can get some fun and maybe even some insight out of thinking about attachment type without, like, ignoring that there wasn’t a race or cultural lens on this stuff at all. IMO, none of these styles are inherently better than another. Ainsworth postulated that 70% of the population has a secure attachment style, with insecure/resistant and insecure/avoidant making up 15% each. I’d guess that stat doesn’t hold true when you factor in race, class, sexual orientation, gender, and other marginalized identities and experiences, so, like, no shame in your game if you are, indeed, an “insecure” type (like me!). It’s not so serious!
Wanna know what dismissive-avoidant attachment style is? It’s me!
Avoidant attachment styles are like, super independent, OK? You can put us in committed relationships, but you can’t make us rely on you because we only depend on ourselves. Alright? OK. Glad we cleared that up. Also, an emotional display is like, the thing of nightmares. We don’t have outward emotions because shutting down is easier. I’m fun to date!
There are actually dismissive-avoidant types and fearful-avoidant types. Dismissive-avoidant types are more like, just likely to shut down and detach from loved ones when we get hurt and like to believe we’re completely independent from others. We still get hurt, but we hide that hurt from the world at all costs.
Fearful-avoidant attachment types don’t want anyone to get too close, but are also afraid of losing people. Like, they don’t want to have emotional reactions, but the emotions are overwhelming and then they have BIG emotional outbursts in relationships. They want to be close to people, but are also afraid of getting hurt.
Anxious attachment types, also called insecure or preoccupied (though technically the avoidant types are insecure types, too), are, like super desperate to form a deep bond with someone else in a relationship and can over-romanticize their relationships. They often feel afraid of losing their partners and react by clinging or pulling that person even closer, which ironically can result in pushing them away by emotionally suffocating them. They’re afraid of being left alone and interpret any sign of avoidance or independence as a sign of their worst fears.
Then, of course, you have your secure attachment types. You lucky ducks are satisfied and see your relationships as a secure home base from which you can go about your lives freely as grown-ass adults with independent needs and feelings. Neat!
Notably, you can have more than one style and you can take your natural style and adapt it to be a more secure style by figuring out what your hang-ups are. You can learn a lot about how your natural attachment style helps you show up in different types of relationships, for example, at work or in love, and in our social networks.
For me, I felt really understood when I learned my attachment style. After a lot of work, I think I’ve become more of a secure—not naturally—but in how I choose to approach my closest relationships. I still will always be a person who doesn’t like to cry in front of other people, though, and who runs everything through a filter before sharing it with the world and, like, that’s OK!
Want to know what your attachment style is? Well, I found a few quizzes, but I wasn’t happy with any of them. HAHA. However, you can take this one (which makes you pay for more info, BOO) or this one (which if totally free, but doesn’t match up with the four typical types exactly) or this one (which is pretty close, but also specifically tied to a book promo). Honestly, uh, I think you probably know who you are without a quiz. I see you. You see yourself.
So tell me, what is your attachment style? How has it manifested in your life and relationships? Or, if you’d rather not say, that’s cool, too! What else is good and interesting? Did you get enough sleep last night? Are you making plans for the weekend? What’s the weather like where you are? (We’ve still got snow where I am.) Give me your bits and pieces! I wanna hear from you! Even though I have an anxious-dismissive attachment style, the internet is enough of a buffer for me to get real deep with ya’ll!
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