Oct 05

“Attached”: Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant Styles

Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving; anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back; avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, Attached

In Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love (2010), psychiatrist/neuroscientist Amir Levine and social psychologist Rachel Heller address how our attachment styles in adulthood are hard-wired into our brains from our early experiences with our parents.

Kirkus Reviews offers further explanation regarding attachment theory, the crux of Attached:

Adult attachment theory, which was pioneered in the 1950s by British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, posits that human beings are genetically predisposed toward coupling, and that a secure partnership is essential to our emotional and physical well-being…The authors suggest that human beings are by nature social creatures, and that even when we crave independence, it’s the presence of a secure partner that allows us to explore the world on our own—this is called the ‘dependency paradox.’ The other two attachment styles, ‘anxious’ and ‘avoidant,’ are the major focus of this book.

A little over half the population have a secure attachment style, while about 21% have an anxious style and 25% an avoidant style. Men and women have similar enough incidence rates in all categories.

(There’s an additional style, by the way, that’s considerably rarer and is linked with trauma: the disorganized, or anxious-avoidant, style.)

Mating in adulthood with a more secure partner than oneself is the ideal, as this can eventually contribute to increasing one’s own level of security. “Change occurs mostly when you get into a relationship that really shakes your beliefs about love,” Levine and Heller state on their website (Q & A).

The authors also say that when dating “the most important thing to look out for is this: Is this person able to make my well-being a priority?” Furthermore, the date should not be about “’did they like me or not’ but ‘do they have what it takes to be a good partner for me’?”

A few additional quotes from Attached:

The worse you feel about yourself, the more you’ll want to go back to the false safety of the bad relationship you were in. Your attachment system gets activated more when you feel bad about yourself.

If you’re avoidant, you connect with romantic partners but always maintain some mental distance and an escape route.

Other studies have found that faced with a stressful life event…avoidants’ defenses are quick to break down and they then appear and behave just like people with an anxious attachment style.

Other tips the Attached authors provide on their site:

  1. Have a clear idea of what it means to be in a relationship and what kind of person has the capacity to make you happy in a relationship.
  2. Know what attachment styles are and practice figuring out your date’s attachment style.
  3. Use effective communication—stating your aspirations and needs early on.
  4. Determine if you have an anxious or avoidant attachment style. There are specific things that you should/should not do and they differ significantly. For instance, if you’re anxious, you might benefit from dating several people at the same time; if you’re avoidant, it’s better to give one person a chance for a longer period.
  5. Learn to appreciate the Secures of this world. When you find someone secure, don’t dismiss them as boring. Stick around—you may uncover a hidden treasure that will be yours for life.

Short of reading the book, the Romantic Attachment Quiz at Psych Central could provide you a helpful self-assessment, as it focuses on the same top three styles presented in Attached.

In addition, free quizzes are also available on the website of Dr. Diane Poole Heller, who lists the adult attachment styles as Secure, Avoidant, Ambivalent, and Disorganized.