As human beings, we are hard-wired for connection. Attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby, is based on the assertion that the need to be in a close relationship is embedded in our genes. This genetic encoding has survival benefits to our species. Our attachment system consists of emotions and behaviors that ensure that we remain safe and protected by staying close to our loved ones. It is also the system that contributes to our intellectual and emotional development. If we feel secure that our attachment figure will take care of us and truly values us, we can be creative, take risks, live fully, and thrive. But if we lack a sense of safety, our development can get stunted.
The most recent research reveals that in the same way we are pre-programmed to bond to a primary caregiver as an infant, we are also programmed to form bonds as adults. Studies demonstrate that when two people form an intimate relationship, they regulate each other’s psychological and emotional well-being. Even as adults, we need that special someone to be a secure base and safe haven for us. Attachment principles teach us that most people are only as needy as their unmet needs.
Adult attachment designates three main “attachment styles”, or manners in which people perceive and respond to intimacy in relationships, which parallel those found in children: Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant. None of the attachment styles is in itself seen as “pathological”. They are simply a way of understanding strategies people develop internally to help obtain emotional safety.
Securely attached people feel comfortable with closeness and needing others and aren’t consumed by worry that they will be betrayed or abandoned. They are typically warm and loving, and can easily depend on others.
Anxiously attached people constantly crave intimacy, but feel that others might not want to get as close as they do. They tend to be emotionally ramped up and may get preoccupied with worrying about their relationship. They constantly need proof that they are loved and are often worried that they will be emotionally abandoned.
People with avoidant attachment styles feel somewhat uncomfortable being close to others. They tend to tamp down their emotions as a strategy to protect themselves from being vulnerable. They tend to shut down attachment longings and are uncomfortable with emotions. These people tend to believe that they don’t really need people. They also tend to find themselves in relationships where their partner is constantly wanting them to be more connected than what they are comfortable with.