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What is attachment theory?

Attachment styles and attachment theory

Attachment theory is the joint work of John Bowlby (1907-1991) and Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999). According to attachment theory our style of connecting with other people is a direct reflection of our earliest experiences with our caregivers. There are 4 main attachment styles. Secure, anxious, dismissive avoidant and fearful avoidant.


Adults who are securely attached tend to have high self esteem, enjoying long term intimate relationships.

A securely attached adult is able to express their feelings and emotions to others.

In relationships a securely attached adult feels understood, validated and cared for by their partner during conversations.

Securely attached partners have more trust, connection and confidence in their relationships.

Adults with secure attachments have independence and allow their partner to have independence.

Those with secure attachments are able to express when they need support and are also able to support their partners when they are distressed.

Secure adults are more flexible and navigate through relationship conflict with greater ease.

Secure adults tend to be more satisfied in their romantic relationships.


Anxious adults are afraid to spend time on their own.

An adult with anxious attachments seek intimacy and closeness and are highly emotional and dependent on others.

Anxious attached individuals have a sensitive nervous system

Those with anxious attachments are likely to feel more insecure and worried in their relationships

Anxiously attached adults are perceived to be "needy" or "clingy." Always seeking closeness that never feels enough.

An anxious individual is 'hyper vigilant' where they are on high alert, sensing the slightest change in their partner, whether that being their mood or tone of voice.

Anxiously attached partners tend to be more "triggered" becoming easily flooded with fear worrying their partner will reject or abandon them.

In relationships anxious adults worry when their partner isn't around.

Dismissive Avoidant

Dismissive avoidants have apparently high self-esteem and low assessments of others in a relationship.

Dismissive avoidant people avoid emotional closeness in relationships.

A dismissive avoidant tends to shut down, withdraw and copes with difficult situations alone.

Those with the dismissive avoidant attachment styles prefer to not have emotional closeness and prefer to not depend on others.

Dismissive avoidants suppress their emotions.

People who are dismissive avoidant are perceived to not have the desire to form strong emotional bonds and they don't appear to value close relationships.

Dismissive avoidant people have a protective shield/wall built as a coping mechanism

A dismissive avoidant has "ultra independence" and prefers to go through things alone. They have a harder time opening up to friends, partners, family members and struggle to maintain long term committed relationships.

Fearful Avoidant

People with a fearful avoidant style respond poorly or inappropriately to negative emotions.

A fearful avoidant is prone to stormy, highly emotional outbursts in their relationships.

A fearful avoidant person may actively seek out relationships but when their partner wants greater intimacy or if things become too serious they will withdraw from the relationship completely.

A person with a fearful avoidant attachment style will shut off communication entirely should they feel pushed to share their emotions and intimate thoughts.

Fearful avoidants don't know how to get their needs met or they may not even know what their needs are until they become too overwhelming.

Fearful avoidants have great difficulty regulating their emotions in relationships.

attachment theory
According to attachment theory, our style of connecting with other people is a direct reflection of our earliest experiences with our caregivers, as well as other influential relationships in our life. There are three main adult attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. But there’s also a fourth attachment style that’s much more rare and thus hardly talked about: fearful-avoidant attachment.