How many times have you heard someone say that? Or, “I don’t really need anyone but me,” or, “My partners always suffocate me.” In many cases, these assertions are personal myths—stories people tell themselves that aren’t based on fact, but on perceptions dictated by their attachment style.
To uncover your own personal mythology, please choose which description below fits you the best:
A: I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.
B: I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or won’t want to stay with me. I want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away.
C: I am 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 worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.
D: 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.
Your attachment style is the typical way you view and act on sustained emotional bonds with other people. If this doesn’t seem like a myth per se, you’re right. It’s more a way of being, but a way of being that enormously impacts your relationship-building—or blasting—behavior.
What are the four attachment styles, and how do they affect our adult relationships?
When I first heard about attachment style, I was surprised to find that mine was not A — Secure.
If you’re an A person, you probably feel relaxed about leaning on others and letting them lean in return; you feel basically lovable. You’re good at things like trusting your partner, accepting the intimacy they offer, not blowing problems out of proportion, and responding the way your partner—and your relationship—need you to. You’ve got some great relationship skills, because you’re already inclined to do all the right stuff for long-term happiness.
I’d say you won the lottery, but lottery wins are rare—and Secure attachments turn out to be blessedly common. In various studies, about 60% to 70% of adults and infants are Secure.
But there are three other styles, and all three tend to do stuff that plain makes it tougher to relax and be happy with someone else. People with non-secure styles tend to have high fear about how close they want to get, or how lovable they are, or both. And that affects their behavior profoundly—if they aren’t aware of and working on their style.
For instance, if you chose B, you have the Anxious style. You feelsure of other people’s lovability, but hesitant about your own. This was my style when I first took the questionnaire in my mid-30s. What a surprise to me–and it explained so much!
People with this style say they’d like to merge totally with another person, but they worry they’ll scare others away. Some folks are so worried, they begin protecting against eventual abandonment by doing the one thing that really could get them dumped: having affairs. One woman wrote me that she knew her husband didn’t really love her—so she was having an affair, to get the love she was missing and hedge against the day she’s alone.
In studies, about a fifth of babies and adults are Anxious.
What if you chose C? You have an Avoidant style that is also Fearful. It can be an emotionally rough road, since this style feels push-pull: You are pulled towards involvement, but so fearful of being depended on, you might get pushed into self-protective actions–like sabotaging relationships. Of course, that can derail the longed-for closeness. As one man wrote me: “I like women, but just prefer to keep it light and airy, no strings attached. I’m very personable and accommodating. If something happens, it happens, but I prefer to stay at a distance…”
Finally, if you identified with D, that’s also an Avoidant style—but instead of Fearful, it’s Dismissive. Most folks who feel this way think trust isn’t worth the effort; independence is where it’s at.
If this is you, you might feel safest living life on your own terms, without much real intimacy. I suspect these are the people who not only find long distance relationships tolerable—they prefer them. It’s not just that they don’t rely on others much, nor merely that they don’t want others to rely on them; they truly value independence.
As one woman said: “I am not the long-term relationship type. I have always been able to move on very easily. I guess I don’t let myself get too attached because things always change. My feelings toward the other person tend to be fleeting so I don’t want them to get too attached to me either. I don’t like hurting people….I am very comfortable with my attachment style. It makes transitions much easier. Although, I have been told recently that I am heartless…..”
So now that you know your style, what can you do about it? We’ll cover that in my next post…
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015; this entry is a partial excerpt. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!