According to the authors of ‘Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment’, we’ve evolved to need physical, mental, and emotional support, even as fully-grown adults. In recent times, society has come to view adult attachment (“emotional dependence”) as a weakness and a character flaw.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ironically, we currently hold the same attitude towards attachment as we did towards babies in the 1940’s – “don’t coddle your child, it’ll make him/her into a codependent, overly-sensitive, irresponsible adult.” This methodology proved to be very damaging for babies, yet somehow, we’ve continued to apply this logic to ourselves as adults.
Paradoxically, in order to be fully ‘independent’ in the world, people need a secure an ’emotional base’ from which we can extend ourselves. The optimal way to create this base is via romantic relationships.
Adults have 3 basic attachment styles: anxious, avoidant, and secure.
These 3 types have developed as an evolutionary reaction to various life situations:
- moderately dangerous times caused people to cling to their partners for safety (creation the anxious style);
- extremely dangerous times caused people to discard mates, almost immediately, as there was no guarantee for longevity (creating the avoidant style);
- relatively good times allowed people to safely invest their emotions in their relationships and fully expect them to last (creating the secure style).
Anxious types crave intimacy and are constantly seeking to validate the status of their relationship, fearing that they may easily be lost. This often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Avoidant types also need intimacy, however, they will find ways to avoid, self-sabotage, or undermine their relationships in order to remain independent. Because of this, they make up a significant majority of the dating pool. (Not surprisingly, avoidant types rarely date each other, as there is no drive, or ‘glue’, to hold them together.)
Secure types are confident that they will find and keep a fulfilling relationship. They are realistic about expectations and are honest about their needs. They work hard on their relationships for mutual benefit, and generally don’t stay single for very long.
Ironically, anxious types are often attracted to avoidant types, who validate their irrational beliefs that ‘relationships never work out’. Anxious types mistake their emotional peaks when validated (“activated attachment systems”) as love, and become addicted to the roller coaster of emotion. Unfortunately, this means that anxious types often dismiss secure types as possible mates; they do not offer any ‘reward’ of validation – there’s no ‘high’ to chase.
The authors go into much greater detail, and give many more examples. They also offer further explanations of all 3 types, questionnaires to determine your own (and other’s) attachment styles, as well as best practices for your type.
Being a (rare) anxious/avoidant-mix type myself, I read this book hoping to improve my ability to further commit, explore, and enjoy my own relationships.
The book offers great insights for lovers of all types.