The four attachment styles of our adult relationships

It's summer, and hopefully, love flows. But does love ever flow as naturally as we wish it would? Or, do you dread the anxiety and fear of messing up?


Suppose you are one of the many with an insecure attachment style. In that case, you might find yourself putting intentional effort into resolving your attachment issues to develop a positive relationship; you might understand the work only too well that is required to create any flow with your other half. Many, however, are still trying to puzzle this relationship problem out in mismatched relationships. Working on your attachment style with a trained professional will improve your relationship and provide better confidence and courage in your life skills.

Perhaps that statement has just made you stop and analyse your behaviour. Have you noticed any regular occurrences in your love life from either side? Do you feel you end up in a repetitive pattern even with the next partner? Suppose you see a familiar way you or your chosen partners develop an unhealthy and emotionally challenging situation reoccurring in all your relationships. In that case, digging deeper might help you understand how to attach to people more beneficially.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Are you wearing yourself down and becoming over-anxious in partner pleasing?
  • Do you feel you would do almost anything for some attention? 
  • Have you been told you are too clingy? 
  • Do you constantly blame yourself for breakups? 

The attachment style we choose in adulthood often originates and reflects our childhood development. How we witness our parents will shape our adult relationships in learned behaviour. We also have a habit of clinging to what we recognise and know. We depend on our parents for support, comfort, and soothing when we are born. If our needs get satisfactorily met, we develop securely. However, if our demands are not met, we grow in misattunement, leading to insecure attachment styles. 

Feelings of safety are provided in creating a safe environment; we receive messages from the outside world that we are cared for in this environment. Scientists estimate that when a child is born, the parents' genetics will determine 20-60% of temperament. Disposition, however, does not have a clear inheritance pattern, and no specific genes confer specific temperamental traits. However, imperfect conditions such as early injury, illness, or trauma don't necessarily determine a child's future. So, the first seven years of life might not mean as much as sometimes stated, but they will likely influence life development. The first seven years don’t determine a child’s level of happiness over a lifetime. However, the rapidly growing brain forms a sturdy foundation for communicating and interacting with the world when processing how they’re being responded to.

An example might be that you experienced a rough childhood. However, as you developed, you became the change you wanted to see. Sometimes, it happens much later in life. The key is that you observe and learn a better way of being. This can happen at any stage of life.

Attachment styles fall into four main types.

  • Anxious, also referred to as preoccupied. 
  • Avoidant, sometimes known as dismissive. 
  • Disorganised - a feeling of fearful avoidance
  • Secure.

We have learned how childhood plays a role in our initial development. We will now progress to look at how these attachment styles play out. You could see parts of you in multiple types, and finding yourself in more than one group is not uncommon.

The four attachment styles


A characteristic of this type is to view their partner as the better half. Any thought of living without a loved one causes tremendous anxiety. Having an enormous amount of respect for others, yet when it comes to self-love, they often suffer from low self-esteem. The anxious attachment adult seeks regular partnership validation, support, and responsiveness. 

From a developmental viewpoint, children who experienced parents who developed on-off attention to the developmental and inconsistent responsiveness to their emotional needs may have unintentionally provided them with anxious preoccupied self-protection. If you have an anxious attachment style, the inconsistency might have made it difficult for you to understand your parent's behaviour and what to expect at any given point by sending out mixed signals. Therefore, as you grew into adulthood, you viewed love as being unpredictable. As a result, you learned to trust yourself and conceal your deeper feelings.

The anxious attachment type views the relationship as essential to life while constantly fearing abandonment and frequently requiring reassurance that everything is OK. Often, they will feel that the other partner is not as invested in the relationship as themselves. Problems that could be experienced include living life as a roller coaster with a big difference between emotional highs and lows and troubled feelings leading to self-doubt and worry.

Without a regular partner, the anxious attachment type becomes preoccupied with finding a suitable partner.


In developmental stages, did your parents appear emotionally distant and unable to support any expression of emotion? You might have been expected to be tough and independent from a very early age.

Often feeling like a lone wolf, the avoidant becomes independent and self-sufficient. This is on an emotional level rather than becoming reclusive. High self-esteem is often present with a positive view of self. Due to fear, the avoidant/dismissive type avoids emotional closeness, hiding or suppressing deeper feelings. 

Avoidant dismissive types do not mind being around but won't let you get close. When things become serious, they are off or looking for a reason to end the relationship, often looking for an excuse to bring an argument about acting as a get-out. Afraid to trust, they stop seeking the relationship and turn it off. There is just no emotional availability.

Working with a counsellor can be beneficial for exploring these feelings and, over time, could lead to change.

Disorganised/fearful avoidant 

Often originating from childhood trauma, disorganised/fearful avoidance grows when the source of safety becomes a source of fear. When parents show inconsistent security and a feeling of fear is present, the child can begin to fear for their own safety. The environment becomes unpredictable. Another reason for fear is that the child witnesses trauma such as domestic violence.

As such, the child grows up to expect and waits for rejection, hurt, and disappointment, often seeking out similar relationships to what they know almost as a self-fulfilling prophecy. They experience trouble believing someone could love them and are constantly on the look for problems themselves, acting in a way that fulfils expectations.  

A combination of desire and fear promotes an unpredictable style of attachment. Trust becomes the main issue. The disorganised seeks a relationship and emotional closeness but finds relationships hard to deal with for fear of being hurt. Therefore, they sometimes regulate their emotions with substance abuse because they fear being hurt.

Secure attachment 

This is the most common attachment style. The previous attachment styles have been insecure. The fourth attachment style is comfortable self-contained, socially outgoing, and able to express feelings in a relationship. This fourth type feels happy and secure and can depend on their partner. 

During developmental stages, needs have been met satisfactorily, and a secure attachment bond is formed where the infant/child feels protected. The chief care provider is protective and warm. While not intrusive or ignoring, the developing child is allowed space and freedom to begin exploring. If they become frightened, they know the caregiver is not far away, and a safe return can be made. The child feels seen and acknowledged. Feeling valued begins in infancy and becomes the route to self-esteem from the experience of feeling supported.

Trust becomes established and nurtured over the years. This enables the child to develop a positive view of both self and others, including romantic relationships. 

If something resonates for you, counselling is an effective way to improve your attachment style. This could promote working through your current attachment style or reconstructing any area where you may have become stuck. You can see which group you predominantly find yourself in by reflecting on current or past relationships.

In seeking healing, I encourage you to take autonomy for yourself. A central belief is that self-love can be developed. In learning self-love, we can learn to self-parent. Ask yourself who you would become if you could choose the parent you needed. It might not be a parent issue. It could be rooted in broken trust somewhere in the past. The question, therefore, is, do you feel ready to explore?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W6 & E14
Written by David Pender, MBACP, Integrative Psychotherapy | Anxiety Specialist
London W6 & E14

David Pender is a mental health advocate/ writer and qualified integrative counsellor registered as a member with the BACP. David has extensive knowledge of anxiety, depression, and trauma. As a coach, David has a range of tools to keep you engaged with promoting your best life. Unsure try a free discovery call from this site.

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