Attachment Theory: 5 Common Misconceptions According to Psychologists
Lost in translation: Misunderstandings can lead people to believe that they have a 'bad' attachment style - but this is rarely the case. All styles have unique benefits.
Attachment theory is everywhere, and is a core part of what helps us to create great matches here at REDDI.
Originally rooted in developmental psychology, the theory explains how we form and maintain close relationships in order to survive and thrive in the environment we are born into.
But some of the most important features of attachment theory are getting lost in translation. Misunderstandings are leading people to believe they have a 'bad' attachment type and this can damage the confidence of single people - in some cases, it even prevent them from actively seeking the healthy relationship they so deserve.
Here are the five most common misconceptions according to Psychologists:
1. You can only have one Attachment Style
The biggest misconception is that attachment styles are something that's rigid - that you are all one attachment style, and that style is how you show up in all of of your relationships. but this is simply not the case.
The truth is, as with many other parts of us, we are very rarely all one thing. If our parents were inconsistent or the context of our childhood was unpredictable, we can actually develop multiple attachment styles.
If some of the adults involved in our upbringing made us feel safe and attached, and there were others who we had to be anxious or avoidant with, we develop many attachment styles. Then, if we find safety and love later in life, boom! Another style may emerge.
And the context is also so important. The particular relationship we are in affects the attachment style that comes to the surface. When we feel safe, maybe a more vulnerable, secure part of us shows up. When we feel rejected or scared, our anxious part might take over, needing assurance and affirmations.
Additionally, if a partner isn't letting us grow and needs us to the point of codependency, we may become more avoidant. There certainly may be a way you tend to show up in relationships, and it can be helpful to know what that is. But just keep in mind, that may not be the only way you are all of the time.
2. Your parents are to blame
There is such an emphasis on our parents or caregivers when it comes to Attachment Theory. While our childhoods and those that took care of us are certainly impactful, they aren't the only thing that shapes our attachment.
You could have had good (or good enough) caregivers and still be anxious or avoidant in a relationship. Having one of your attachment styles as more insecure doesn't automatically mean your parents were unreliable or abusive. Maybe they were; maybe they weren't. But either way, there are many other things that contribute to your attachment style.
It might include abuse from other people outside your caregivers, bullying, childhood experiences with immigration, sexism, body image, racism, or, losing a parent to death or incarceration…the list goes on.
For example, maybe your parent was incredibly loving and consistent, then they had to be in the hospital for medical treatments, and you didn't get to have them in the home for an extended period of time.
Because of this multifaceted experience, you might develop a more anxious or avoidant attachment on top of the secure one you already had. It's rarely the fault of any one party - it's just how life turned out.
3. Your Attachment Style is 'bad' (because really, it isn't)
It's important not to overestimate your issues. First of all, everyone has problems in their relationships. Nobody is perfect, and nobody’s life circumstances are perfect either. There comes a point in every relationship when you fight with your partner. There’ll be times when you feel misunderstood, under-appreciated, frustrated, or unhappy.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an attachment 'disorder' or an attachment issue. Approximately one in every three people is insecurely attached; don’t jump straight to the assumption that you are that one person.
Remember that no relationship is perfect. Experiencing problems with or within relationships does not necessarily mean that you have an attachment problem.
4. If you have a 'Secure' Attachment Style, you're perfect
It is very rare that anyone would possess a secure attachment system all of the time. Boiling attachment theory down to a handful of attachment styles just doesn't hold the complexity of us or our experiences - and they are likely to flex, just as our lives flex.
So we shouldn't simply 'stand down' and stop making an effort, just because we believe we have a 'good' attachment style - such as secure attachment.
Sometimes we can become complacent in our relationships; without realising it, we can end up underappreciating our loved ones or taking our partner for granted. The honeymoon phase may be over, but rather than the relationship falling into an easy exchange of healthy bids and affection towards each other, the relationship begins to feel empty or stuck.
Being comfortable in a relationship is a good thing – it means we feel settled and secure. Being too comfortable means we are not giving enough thought into keeping that relationship in good working order. In order to keep complacency at bay, we need make sure that we continue to feed the health of the relationship by initiating time spent together, affection, words of endearment, and acts of kindness.
You can read more about this in The Five Love Languages We All Need to Learn.
We should never stop growing, learning and evolving.
5. You can't 'heal' or change your Attachment Style
When we experience safety with someone, when our needs are met at no great cost to our sense of self, and when we are loved and accepted for exactly who we are, we can heal our attachment ruptures and develop more 'secure' relationship habits.
We can also have a different experience to the times where we were rejected or our needs weren't met, and so this shows the youngest parts of ourselves that finally - it's safe, resulting in healing.
Healing your attachment styles takes time. It can take years for us to unlearn old patterns of love that were literally programmed into our brains when we were so little. Be patient with and kind to yourself.
The first step to changing and healing is knowing more and then being kind to yourself. But change is very possible and self-awareness is key to understanding ourselves and others.
5. There aren't any other factors involved
It’s important to understand that attachment is pre-cognitive: it’s set before we, as children, are able to think: it’s a felt sense. Anything after three years of age is cognitive, or thought-based, while anything before that is what you feel inside.
A person who is highly preoccupied or dismissive would act on the basis of feelings that they don’t even know they have.
Attachment lives in the heart, not in the head.
So, if your anxiety – which you anticipate to be an Anxious Attachment style – is based on a flow of thoughts, rather than on a sensation you are not able to explain or understand, then it’s likely that you don’t have a preoccupied attachment style. There might be other factors that account for the anxiety you exhibit.
For example, if you are establishing whether you're compatible with your partner, or not feeling wholly understood - although it could certainly be down to your Attachment Style, it might also be due to differences in Love Language, or how you express or respond to shows of affection.
Attachment is always only part of the bigger picture.
Attachment theory is not a gauge of whether someone has the “wrong” or “right” attachment type. Its purpose is to help people understand what coping strategies they use when the people they are closest to are, or are perceived to be, unavailable or inconsistently responsive.
Curious about your own Attachment Style? You can Discover Your Attachment Style with a Free Test (iamreddi.com) here.
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