April 16, 2021

How Understanding Attachment Styles can help us Avoid Self-Sabotaging Behaviors.

No intimate partnership is free of problems—they’re unavoidable.

In fact, any relationship is subject to issues, but it’s even more noticeable in our closest partnerships since that’s where we spend most of our time. 

It’s completely normal to go through the “honeymoon phase”—however short or long that may be—and suddenly you start to see some patterns emerging in your partner that you hadn’t seen before. This may be the point you wonder whether you know the person at all (or they may wonder the same about you), but all of this is normal. Essentially, it all has to do with attachment styles and the way you were raised.

What are attachment styles and what do they have to do with your adult romantic relationships? 

Childhood Shapes Your Life

There are a few different ways to categorize attachment styles, but first, it’s important to remember that everyone has experienced some type of relational challenge in their childhood.

No one is perfect, so you can expect to look at yourself, your past, and your partner and see some type of issue because we’re all human. 

And partnering with someone as an adult will wake up past issues that, maybe, you thought you left behind, but they’re still there because they were ingrained into you. If you spent a minimum of 18 years with your parents or other caregivers, that’s quite a long time to learn from them and adopt what I call the “relational blueprint”—the foundation for any relationships in your life from that point forward. 

With that in mind, understanding attachment styles is key because it will benefit you in relation to your own behavior and emotions, as well as in your relationships.    

Here’s a short video on attachment styles and relationships:

Attachment Styles: Seek and Avoid

To break it down as simply as possible, there are two main insecure attachment styles: the type who seek and the type who avoid.

Seekers would be someone who, as a kid, would go to a parent or even a sibling in times of difficulty to talk or work through a problem. A person who seeks probably experienced a childhood where family relationships were sometimes good and sometimes bad.  

Avoiders would be someone who avoids when under stress because they felt that their relationships were not supportive. Maybe the parent or sibling didn’t want to deal with things, or they chose to leave the child alone to figure stuff out, so that person learned that “going it alone” was the best thing to do.

Attachment Styles: Islands, Anchors, and Waves

Psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author Stan Tatkin has created his own categories for attachment styles, and he discusses three main types:

Islands, which are the avoiders who like to be left alone. Islands process emotions internally and tend to find ways to self-soothe rather than asking for help from others.

Anchors, which are the seekers who look for justice and fairness—most likely because that’s what they experienced in family relationships growing up. Anchors are skilled at tuning in to the other person’s tone and expression.

Waves, which are in between islands and anchors. Waves may have experienced inconsistent attachments in childhood, varying from neglect or complacency to focused attention at times. Waves tend to rely on others for help when they need soothing.  

Attachment in Adult Relationships

Being able to categorize your own attachment style, as well as your partners’, can go a long way in your relationship. It can help you understand the reasons behind actions rather than judging your partner or writing them off as either too needy or withdrawn. 

So, what’s the best way to avoid more sabotaging behaviors?

Understanding attachment styles. Even better news is, once you understand attachment styles, you can create a secure attachment in a relationship when you’re both willing to work on yourselves and your styles. Learning and making an effort in this area will help set you up for a successful relationship and give you a strong relational foundation to build upon.


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