So if we can agree on the fact that we evolve, adapt and grow throughout our life, we then must be able to see that the way we deal with other people, also changes. Sure enough, we have been taught certain things from Day 1 when it comes to interactions with others. But if we adapt to our surroundings, we will also position ourselves a little different in one relationship compared to the next. Like social psychologist and behaviourists have already shown back in the 50’s and 60’s, we will change our patterns depending on what events we experience. If I’m being treated with generosity, I will be more inclined to do a selfless deed towards my kinsman in the coming interaction.
This brings me to the attachment theory that has been popularised into categorising once again our behaviour down to more or less, three ways of being in a relationship with other people (read romantic, because that’s where the focus seems to be these days). You are either secure, avoidant or anxious. And the disorganised one, that would be over towards the pathological side of the spectrum.
These “styles” were defined by clinicians working with children but also with monkeys. The styles are more a guideline to base oneself on when noticing someone’s behaviour, rather than to define someone’s personality. After all, the very first studies in the matter where made by Konrad Lorenz as he observed ducklings and how they will create an attachment to the first parental figure they encounter. We do that too, for sure. As we are born, we instinctually are drawn to a parental figure for survival. But we are adaptive creatures. We register all through life and adapt to the environment and the people we encounter. This means that we evolve in our way to relate to our surrounding as we age, depending on what other things are going on with us at the time and of course, the type of people we happen to surround ourselves with at that time.
What I’m trying to say is that it is more complex than belonging to one style of attachment, one type of behaviour. Because we all want to belong. Ultimately, we all want to feel loved.
For the simple reason that it is how we survive.
Now, we are influenced by what happens around us. Both social psychologists and behaviourists have amazed us with the results in experiments on human behaviour. We are capable of answering the opposite of what we know to be true if the crowd is united in it. We are also inclined to do good, even if we usually don’t, if good has been done to us just before.
The way we raise children, so the way they learn to attach, will change from one generation to the next but even more so, from what is “the right way” one year and in a country, to the next. It means, we need to be rather clinical in our approach, we need to be more “case by case”. Going general is necessary, have a broader vision to create theories. But when that is turned into “spot your lover’s attachment style in 5 points” from the latest pop psychology magazine, it will not help. Instead, it will limit us more and create separation.
Mostly, when presented with a short descriptive of each style, people will tend to feel they have traits belonging to all of them. Like with personality tests, you might also respond differently depending on the mood you are in, the time of the day and of course, different periods in your life. The social desirability will also play a role when we try to “box ourselves” into an attachment type.
Both when it comes to defining our personality traits and how we deal with other people, the trends we see in pop psychology demands that we have a rather transparent view of ourselves and more so, that we are aware of the hidden intentions behind our actions. If we look at the symptoms of our time, the need of social approval, the pressure of professional success, the existential quest of “standing out”, of being SO unique: they are not proofs of self awareness in my eyes. It is not that we are less capable of self awareness or even that we are less interested in it. It is that we are pushed into an artificial world view. By wanting to be so special, we are alienated from our authentic uniqueness. When yearning for social approval, we become more and more convinced that we need to manipulate ourselves to be accepted = to belong. To be loved.
Now, I’m not questioning years of research and studies and incredible minds like Freud and Jung. Not at all.
There are patterns of behaviour. We are the product of our environment, ie, of our parents. So we develop a way to deal with others from what we are taught and we create strategies for defending ourselves from pain and threats that we will use for as long as it works for us.
What I’m questioning is our extreme need to short-cut and make conclusions based on very little information.