The attachment theory attests that who we’re attracted to is often down on our experiences growing up. But, can we break that cycle?
Can a person change their attachment style? Is a person’s attachment style the same in all of their romantic relationships, and is their attachment style the same throughout the duration of their relationship?
All are very good questions, and thanks to data from studies such as the Open Source Psychometrics Project, we can now understand a whole lot more about adult attachment theory, and whether we can change our attachment style in our adult relationships.
Attachment theory is one of the most researched theories and is widely accepted by the psychological community. It is based on the idea that the way in which we bonded with our primary caregivers (usually our mother and father) impacts our relationships as adults. Our earliest interactions and the emotional environment that we grew up in act as a blueprint of sorts, that determines which of the four attachment styles we develop.
If your childhood caregiver was available and responded appropriately to your needs, you would likely have developed a secure attachment style in your adult relationships. You would feel free to trust others and be comfortable relying on those with whom you share a close bond. The flip side of this is, where a caregiver has failed to meet the needs of a child, that child will likely develop an insecure attachment, either anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant or fearful-avoidant, in their adult relationships.
The theory seems to imply that your adult attachment styles are fixed, however, this isn’t entirely accurate. We now have access to data which shows that as we age, our attachments styles often move more towards “secure”.
The data collected shows that how we feel and behave in relationships can change depending on our phase in life. We can feel less or more secure in our relationships depending on our age and who we are in a relationship with. For young lovers, their inexperience in relationships often leads to feelings of uncertainty and causes them to feel quite anxious. It is also worth remembering that in our early dating life, our prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain responsible for helping us to think rationally) is not fully developed, and will not be so until around the age of 25.
With age comes greater understanding and increased security in our relationships, yet this is only one factor. With a little bit of insight into oneself, we can begin to shift our attachment styles and insecurities.
One of the benefits of this kind of research is the data that it provides bolsters what the psychological community has long thought. Attachment theory has its place and purpose for explaining behaviours in our relationships, however, it is simply a tool to be used for self-awareness and self-growth, not a set of rules that govern or restrict our ability to have healthy and fulfilling relationships.
We know that with age comes greater understanding and increased security in our relationships, yet this is only one factor that can help to shift an attachment style. Your choice of partner can also greatly impact how secure or anxious your attachment is in your adult relationships. We know that attachment style affects not only how we behave in a relationship but also how we find a partner.
Understanding your attachment style is a beneficial and worthwhile exercise as we often recreate unhealthy relationship patterns from childhood in our adult life. Though these patterns are often distressing, they also provide a sense of familiarity and a strange sense of comfort.
With a little bit of insight into oneself, we can begin to shift our attachment styles and insecurities.
Choosing a partner with a secure attachment style is a good move as they will be able to model secure attachment for you, while you work on developing that for yourself. By looking inwards and challenging our thoughts about ourselves and our fears or insecurities in relationships, we create space to grow and build a new style of attachment that is necessary for long-term happiness and satisfaction in our adult relationships.