What is my attachment style?

Given our attachment can impact our ability to feel and regulate our emotions, the way we see ourselves, the way we see the world, and our expectations in our relationships, it is probably a good idea to understand your attachment style. While many of us have a “typical” attachment pattern, this can not only change over time, but can also vary depending on the person/relationship you are in.

There are three main patterns of attachment: secure, insecure anxious/ambivalent, insecure avoidant. There is also a fourth style, insecure disorganised, that typically results from chronic relational trauma and is the most recent style to be discovered. Around 50% of us will be securely attached, around 20% will be anxious/ambivalently attached, 25% of us will be avoidantly attached, and the remaining 5% will have a disorganised attachment.

In an initial attempt to see how people would self-select into an attachment style, Hazan and Shaver (1987) asked individuals to select which of these three statements best represented their romantic relationships:

  1. 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. (Secure)
  2. 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. (Ambivalent/anxious)
  3. I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I'm nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, love partners want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being. (Avoidant)

While these three statements may not be perfect, they start to tap into our attachment strategies when your attachment system is activated.Typically, our primary attachment strategy is to seek closeness to an attachment figure to evoke a feeling of security when we feel distressed. For those with a secure attachment, this strategy typically works and helps to soothe. For those with an insecure attachment, they will more often resort to anxiously displaying and drawing attention to their emotional/attachment needs(anxious/ambivalent) or suppressing those needs and trying to rely on themselves (avoidant). Do either of these secondary strategies feel familiar to you? Can you reflect on your likely reaction when faced with an emotionally provocative situation?

You can also get a sense of what your attachment style could be by reflecting on how you expect people to respond to you when you have an emotional need.

If you expect a loved one to be attentive and available to you, you likely have a secure attachment. if you expect people to find you too much or be dismissive, may have anxious/ambivalent attachment. If you feel confused as to why you would go to someone when feeling distressed, you may have an avoidant attachment style.

To be clear, these styles have likely been or continue to be adaptive and useful to you. Having any one particular style does not make you broken or disordered. It likely means you have built a system that has learnt to respond to your environment to best have your needs met or reduce the psycho-emotional harm done to you.

Dr Daniel Brown

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