So far in this series we have covered an Introduction to Attachment Styles, The Preoccupied Attachment Style, The dismissive Attachment Style, and The Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style. This article is focused on the fourth and final attachment pattern, which is the secure style. I would recommend you go through the other articles so that you can have a better understanding of which category you best fit into, and therefore can identify areas that you can work on/be more aware of. Additionally, it is important to mention that these categories fall on a continuum, so at times we may feel that we could fit into all four. We do in fact have the ability to react in all of these ways in different situations but there is often one style that we default to more commonly than the others, that would be our dominant attachment style.
As a brief refresher, attachment refers to the unique bond that is formed in infancy with a primary caregiver. This attachment has been found to impact how we attach to others in our adult years, especially in our romantic relationships. When we look to understand and categorize adult attachment styles, two important things are taken into consideration: how we perceive and feel about our selves, and how we perceive and feel about other people. When we combine our thoughts towards ourselves with our thoughts toward others, we end up with four different attachment styles as categorized by Kim Bartholomew (Bartholomew, 1991). To give you a visual and a better understanding, a table has been included below:
The secure attachment style is categorized by a positive view of self and a positive view of others. These individuals are described as having a sense of confidence, a positive approach to others, and high intimacy in their relationships. While their relationships may not be perfect, they are able to cope, be flexible, and adapt with what life may throw at them. They can therefore continue to grow and foster intimacy. Securely attached individuals show suitable amounts of emotional expression and vulnerability, and feel safe enough in their relationships to have reasonable levels of disclosure. Furthermore, securely attached individuals are able to depend and count on their partners, but also express an understanding for the need of some autonomy and independence in their relationships. These individuals can step back and objectively make realistic appraisals of their partner and the issues in their relationship, and also have the coping skills and the resilience to work on these issues.
When preparing to write this article this week, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to think of a movie character or public figure that could help illustrate how this attachment style might be embodied. The unfortunate thing is that the more I scanned the media and movies, the faster I came to the awful realization that there are very few examples of securely attached people or relationships in our culture. I guess the truth of the matter is that secure well rounded relationships don’t sell movie tickets, magazines, make headlines, or get thousands of viewers on their edge of their seats. It seems that our perception of what relationships should look and feel like is being heavily skewed by what we see in the media.
I can think of endless examples of characters that help illustrate the other attachment styles, such as Arial from the little mermaid illustrating the preoccupied attachment style; she had a negative view of self and positive view of others, and was so caught up with the prince that she sold her voice in order to become what he wanted. Another great example for the preoccupied style is Bella from twilight; willing to give up her humanity to be with Edward forever. A love story that millions of people have watched and read about, that is unfortunately very codependent and unhealthy. On the other hand, the beast from “Beauty and the Beast” would likely be considered fearful avoidant, which is characterized by a negative view of self and a negative view of others; he locked himself in his house and never interacted with anyone. These are obviously nostalgic or fictional examples of how these patterns are displayed, but they help to provide a better understanding. The disheartening part is that these are the example we are exposed to and that we subconsciously build our ideals around.
Throughout my time working with people and hearing about their relationships, I have uncovered an interesting belief or thought. This belief is that a stable and secure attachment is too boring, and it is almost so still and secure that some find it uncomfortable. My initial reaction was shock, thinking to myself “really?!” But then I began to understand; divorce, parental conflict, unhealthy relationships, and the media have affected many of our lives. Stillness and security is not as familiar to us as painful experiences and disconnection. BUT, for those of you who want this security and sense of connection that I am describing, it is not beyond your reach. It will certainly take some time and effort to reprogram some of our closely held beliefs and way of seeing things, but it can be done. I personally believe that is starts with working on you first. Working towards what I (and my biggest idol Brene Brown) would describe as wholehearted living.
Come back and join me next week when we will discuss some really powerful and life changing keys to living a wholehearted and secure life.
Additionally, I would love it if you could comment and share a securely attached character if you can think of one, or a character you think would fit into any of the other categories. These examples really help us to apply and understand the different patterns of each attachment style.
See you next week.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.