FRIDAY OPEN THREAD: What’s Your Attachment Style, Cutie Patootie?

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!

It is I, the avoidant attachment otter.

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.

I love you. Don’t look at me. (via Shutterstock)

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.

An avoidant and an anxious attachment style in a long term relationship. (via Shutterstock)

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!

My human mommy is always there for me even though I do probably have abandonment issues but that is neither here nor there! (viaShutterstock)

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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KaeLyn is a 37-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, over-caffeinating herself, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 219 articles for us.

79 Comments

  1. KaeLyn! This has nothing to do with attachment style but I have been meaning to get this to you for awhile and now I am reminded so here you go (and any other people with small children in their orbit): a book recommendation for Remi, Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein.

    The story is cute, the art fits it perfectly, and it’s a lot of fun to read out loud. Especially, I would assume, to a kid known as Baby T-Rex. It’s still in the rota for when my 8-year-old wants to be read to, so you may get some years out of it. :)

    Attachment style…Trending and striving towards secure when in a good relationship, with tendencies for dismissive-avoidant to surface that I have to be alert for (in said good relationship) or double down on (in previous bad one, when I really really needed to get to the point of just being like “nope, this is over. Done now.”).

  2. Dismissive-avoidant high-five! I feel like I’m not actually dismissive or trying to be independent, I’m just terrified of being needy and emotions are overwhelming and so instead of reaching out for reassurance, I slam down a bunch of ice walls until I can be a reasonable human with healthy communication skills again. Or is that being a fearful-avoidant who just has in-bursts instead of outbursts? Are in-bursts a thing? Either way, I recognize that, by slamming down ice walls, I am already not being a reasonable human with healthy communication skills. This article is nifty and thank you for it.

  3. I didn’t even need to read the description for Anxious, I just knew.

    I don’t think I was always like this?

    When I was nine, my father had a heart attack while working in a foreign country and no one would transport him home at first. Then, when he finally got home he couldn’t actually come home—he had to live in a quarantine bunker in another city strapped up to tubes for a while. That’s when I learnt that this wasn’t the first time he’d had a heart attack—he’d also had one while my mum was pregnant with me. So, basically, at nine I learnt that I’d always been close to losing my father and that he would probably not live to see me grow up (he’s still alive, by the way, medicine has come a long way).

    That’s when the real anxiety started. I’d wake up in the night and go check that he was alive. Then I’d have dreams that I woke up to go and check on him, and the house was all quiet, and everyone were in their beds, but when I checked on them they were all dead and decomposed and there were only skeletons left.

    I obviously don’t love being the anxious, clingy, emotionally overwhelmed type, and I’m working on it. My partner is the secure attachment type, with a side of clingy, so that helps ground me as I work on it.

  4. Anxious Attachment in a LTR with an Dismissive-Avoidant. We haven’t spoken for two days because I got upset that she made plans with someone else on the day we already had plans, and decided that I would be free to go out another day. Hasn’t apologised yet. It’s great.

  5. im anxious and of course unsurprised i lOVE quizzes like this

    kaelyn it has been a tIME over here and not in the best way pls send good vibes my way if you can spare them i hope youre doing well and having a good weekend!!!

  6. Looks like I’m the only one here who (mostly) fits the dismissive-avoidant type, with a touch of the anxious kind, particularly when I was younger.

    And this is why I’m in an open relationship where I live by myself. Joking aside, it IS an adaptive thing. I actually don’t mind living a with a partner – I’m not against intimacy – but they have to be super-secure and not display anything that appears like jealousy or controlling behaviour, because that just triggers the RUN AWAY reaction. By the way, controlling behaviour doesn’t have to be (potentially) *violent* – crying because I don’t want to go to a shitty movie with no notice when I’m tired after work counts, as does trying to hold my hand in public when I don’t feel comfortable with it while being surrounded by unknown hets. To pick a couple of real examples.

    At least these days I also manage to tell people that I need to go for a walk or something for a couple of hours if I need a break while we’re having a significant conflict, and that I will be back. In my 20s, I would just leave, maybe sleep in the park. Then not talk about shit – still not great at that – and then break up to get away rather than deal. I’m doing more of the dealing-with these days, though. Not well, but better.

    In terms of evolving enough to a truly secure style, hm, I know where it’s from – shitty childhood. Fixing it, maybe one day. At least I’ve fixed it enough that I’m more selective about who I get involved with, and not perpetuating behaviours that I *know* will hurt people I care about.

    • Oh, and “you can’t rely on us” seems a little much. You can absolutely rely on me for stuff I’ve agreed to. Sometimes we need to spell out exactly what that means, because assuming our needs are the same is a bad idea, in any kind of relationship. (Sorry, but a problem due to bad assumptions doesn’t care what our relationship attachment style is.)

      So no, unfortunately, I am probably not to be relied upon for listening to an hours-long emo dump. I can be relied on to listen to what the actual problem is, what you want me to do about it, and to tell you whether I can do that or what I’d offer instead. You can rely on me to pay the bills and do the chores I’ve agreed to, to be civil to the other people in your life, to treat you with affection and consideration and love, and to prioritise your needs as much as possible (given the scope of our relationship).

      If I’m acting out of selfishness and a lack of consideration, you are perfectly within your rights to pull me up about it. And yep, again when I was younger, I was often clueless and inconsiderate, intentional or not. “Detached” doesn’t have to mean “arsehole”. It might mean having to put work in about defining those boundaries a bit better, which I HATE, but too bad, we all have to work at shit in relationships we’re committed to.

      But yeah, that is all about overcoming the cut-and-run impulse, and sure, if someone keeps doing that to you and can’t be relied upon for *anything*, not even basic consideration and respect, DTMFA. Some of us learn something after we’ve been deservedly dumped multiple times, eventually.

      • I was being a little tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing including “you can’t rely on us” as a fellow dismissive-avoidant! I think the whole point of this attachment style stuff (which I’m just learning about along with ya’ll) is that you can overcome the challenges of your attachment style once you realize what’s going on and how it’s affecting your relationships. But again, I’m no therapist or psychoanalyst. I wouldn’t take it too seriously! Like with all things “type” based, take the useful and leave the rest. :p

        • Oh, duh, obviously my sense-of-humour detector had a momentary fail.

          But totally, like anything personality-wise, it’s not deterministic. And some of us arseholes do grow up a bit eventually (or do some therapy)!

  7. This is, roughly, 76% of what I talk about with my therapist these days. I am absolutely 10000% anxiously attached to most people in my life, and it’s only now, in my mid-30s, that I see all of the signs of it. With some of my closest relationships, I have been able to get closer to a secure attachment style, like with my primary partner and best friends, but with other relationships, I now see how my anxious attachment affects it. I internalize a lot of it, so they may never see how much I panic when they don’t text me back immediately or cancel plans (“I knew it, they hate me!”), but I feel all of it.

    Thank you so much for writing about this in such a digestible way!! And good luck to all of us as we all strive to be a little more secure and a little less anxious/avoidant :)

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