What are attachment issues, and how can you know if they are causing you relationship problems?

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory is a school of thought around how we learn to behave and respond in our social relationships. At heart it suggests that--

In order to have healthy relationships as an adult, we needed to have had at least one reliable caretaker as an infant whom we could turn to for physical safety and psychological security. And, ideally, for unconditional love.

Do you have attachment issues?

If you didn't get security, safety, and love as a child and relationships now make you feel hyper-reactive and emotional, or cool and unresponsive? Then yes, you might have attachment issues.

What is your 'attachment style'?

There are different ways of classifying attachment styles, but in general it looks like:

  1. Secure - you have very healthy, or ‘autonomous’ attachments. You can be yourself in relationships and feel calm. You had reliable, loving caregivers.
  2. Anxious - you are ‘preoccupied’, when relating. Relationships become obsessive and anxiety-making for you because you had an inconsistent caregiver. You fear rejection and abandonment.
  3. Avoidant - you are the aloof, ‘dismissive’ sort in relationships who hates talk about emotions or conflict. As a child it felt dangerous to trust as you were let down by unpredictable caregiving.
  4. Disorganised - you are very unstable in relationships and have very few of them. You might have antisocial personality disorder.

The most common forms of attachment issues are 'anxious attachment' and 'avoidant attachment'. You can also have a bit of both and be 'anxious avoidant'.

7 Questions to ask yourself about attachment

Try asking yourself the following questions to know more about your attachment style.

1. How do you feel about letting others close?

  • Secure: happy to be close with others
  • Anxious: crave love and intimacy, more than anything, with dreams of being ‘one’ with someone
  • Avoidant: not comfortable with intimacy, prefer independence.

2. And how do you actually tend to act in relationships?

  • Secure: it’s easy to be in relationships, I feel comfortable
  • Anxious: I feel stressed, always worried the other person doesn’t love me, and worried about rejection and abandonment
  • Avoidant: I am known for being aloof, I need my space.

3. How much do you think about your relationship when in one?

  • Secure: it doesn’t preoccupy me, but I’m happy when I’m with my partner
  • Anxious: I think about the other person all the time
  • Avoidant: I can forget I am in a relationship when I am alone.

4. How do you feel about depending on others?

  • Secure: it’s easy, I depend on others to be there for me
  • Anxious: I want to depend on them and share everything
  • Avoidant: I don’t depend on others, that is stupid.

5. And how do you feel about letting others depend on you?

  • Secure: I am happy to be there for my partner
  • Anxious: I want them to turn to me for everything
  • Avoidant: it makes me feel trapped, people can be too demanding.

6. What do you worry about when in a relationships?

  • Secure: money, health, happiness
  • Anxious: if the other person doesn’t love or value me, or will reject or abandon me
  • Avoidant: I secretly worry I will get hurt if I let someone close.

7. How do you react to conflict?

  • Secure: I know we'll get through it and deal with it.
  • Anxious: I panic I will be abandoned, I want to talk about everything and how I feel.
  • Avoidant: I avoid the other person and wait for things to be over.

Do attachment issues matter?

Not only do issues with attachment leave us lonely, they are linked to things like depression, anxiety disorders, addictions, and eating disorders.

Research suggests that between 70 to 100% of people with eating disorders suffer from insecure attachment.

Am I never going to have a healthy relationship?

If we are always creating the same problem in relationships it can really feel like we can't change.

But we can. We just often need support. A talk therapist can help you understand the ways you learned to relate in childhood, and how you can relate in ways that attract the love and security you want.

Time to face your attachment issues? Find a therapist now, and start talking your way to better relationships.

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