Do you know your attachment style?
Knowing and understanding how you relate to others via your attachment style will help you to create an emotionally safe and healthy relationship for yourself and your partner.
Emotional safety is a foundational and necessary state of being for any successful romantic relationship. When people in relationship feel safe and secure, they are able to be open, vulnerable, and authentic. They are also able to have an honest and deep exchange of emotions, thoughts, and desires.
So just what creates emotional safety and is it something we all can have?
The Beginnings of Emotional Safety
Emotional safety is something we first experience (or not) as babies. When we form a bond with our caregivers and begin to predict that they will be available to us (because they have been so far) we feel nurtured and safe. The ‘good enough’ parent who is able to consistently meet their child’s needs for love and closeness helps their child to develop what we call “secure attachment.”
Insecure attachment develops when a parent is unable to consistently meet their infant’s needs. The child develops feelings of fear and anxiety over the emotional and/or physical absence of their parent. At this stage the developing child is trying to determine if they are loved and whether their environment is safe. If they come to believe that their parent is not going to respond to their needs, they will find adaptive ways to cope such as protesting or withdrawing. These coping skills form the basis of our developing attachment style.
The Four Attachment Styles
The four primary attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant.
Secure Attachment Style
People with a secure attachment style are typically comfortable with intimacy and autonomy. As babies and children they were in a supportive care-giving environment, which allowed them to develop trust in themselves and others. This results in confidence in their worthiness of love, and the reliability of others to provide it.
Securely attached individuals can express their feelings openly and aren’t afraid to depend on others when needed, nor do they have problems having others depend on them. This balance makes is easy for them to form satisfying and long-lasting relationships.
Anxious Attachment Style
Individuals with an anxious attachment style often struggle with feeling unworthy, coupled with a strong desire to be loved by others. They tend to be overly dependent on their partners for validation and often seek high levels of emotional closeness.
Because of their insecurity, they may perceive minor events as signs of rejection or abandonment, resulting in high levels of anxiety. This may lead them to exhibit ‘clingy’ behaviour or become overly controlling, as they continually seek reassurance from their partner.
Avoidant Attachment Style
Those with an avoidant attachment style value their independence above all else. They learned to cope as a child by relying on themselves and not needing others. They often equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
Avoidantly attached people tend to view themselves as self-sufficient and downplay the importance of romantic relationships. Often, they suppress and hide their feelings, and they may tend to ignore or push away those who want to become close to them. However, it’s not that they don’t have a need for attachment; rather, they have difficulty trusting and relying on others.
Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style
People with a fearful-avoidant attachment style exhibit a mix of traits from both the anxious and avoidant styles. They have a strong desire for close relationships but, like avoidants, they fear dependence and intimacy. This can be due to past traumas or experiences that make them view relationships as both emotionally fulfilling and distressing.
Fearful-avoidant individuals often find themselves stuck in a cycle of wanting closeness but also pushing it away due to fear, resulting in a complex pattern of engagement and disengagement in relationships.
Recognize Your Own Attachment Style
Understanding your attachment style is a crucial first step in creating emotional safety. Take an honest look at your patterns in relationships. Do you tend to feel insecure and constantly seek reassurance? You might lean towards an anxious style. Or do you often push people away when they get too close, indicating an avoidant style?
There are various online quizzes and assessments available that can help you identify your attachment style. However, keep in mind that these are simplifications. Real-life human behaviour can be more complex and variable than these categories suggest.
Understand Your Partner’s Attachment Style
Just as you’ve identified your own attachment style, strive to understand your partner’s. Open up a conversation about your early life experiences and how they might influence your current behaviours and expectations in relationships. This conversation can be an excellent way to build empathy and understanding between partners.
Create Emotional Safety
Here’s how the different attachment styles can create emotional safety and security for their partner.
- Secure Attachment: Those with secure attachment styles can foster emotional safety for an insecure partner by being consistently supportive, understanding, and patient. They can reassure anxious partners, and give space when needed to avoidant partners.
- Anxious Attachment: Those with an anxious style can work towards emotional safety by learning to self-soothe, developing strategies to manage their fears of rejection, and communicating their needs clearly rather than through passive-aggressive or clinging behaviors.
- Avoidant Attachment: Individuals with an avoidant style can create emotional safety by learning to be comfortable with intimacy, expressing their feelings honestly, and understanding that depending on others isn’t a sign of weakness.
- Disorganized Attachment: For those with a disorganized attachment style, seeking professional therapy may be the first step towards emotional safety. Over time, they can learn to trust their partners and express their needs without fear of retribution.
No matter your attachment style, open and honest communication is vital in creating and maintaining emotional safety. Regularly check in with each other about your feelings, concerns, and needs. Aim for understanding rather than winning arguments, and ensure that both parties feel heard and validated.
In the quest to foster emotional safety, working on cultivating behaviours related to secure attachment can be highly beneficial. This could mean practicing trust, authenticity, and assurance. Building trust means being dependable and consistent in your actions. Authentic communication involves expressing your feelings and needs openly, and encouraging your partner to do the same. And finally, reassurance goes a long way in making your partner feel safe and loved.
Creating emotional safety in a relationship takes time, patience, and a commitment to understanding. By recognizing and honouring your attachment styles, you and your partner can work together to build a nurturing and safe relationship. Remember, it’s not about changing who you are or who your partner is. It’s about understanding each other better and learning to cater to one another’s emotional needs in a compassionate and empathetic way.