What are the different styles of attachment we can develop?
For others, our attachment was more insecure. Acceptance and love was contingent on our behaving in particular ways, and our pleas for attention were either ignored or met inconsistently. The security of our attachment relationships may be characterized by 1 of 4 main attachment styles below that each have implications for the dynamics of our personalities. Each category is a summary and does not fully represent the complexity and nuance reflected in the actual lives of individuals. Although we may best fit into one category, we often experience aspects of multiple categories :
Attachment at the root of problems in relationships
- We can develop a “false self.”  When we have exchanged what we truly want in order to maintain needed connection to another person in our life, we can lose a sense of who we are, what we like, and what we want to do. The self we present to the world becomes a false self, manufactured to maintain connection to others but divorced from our true wants and needs. We may act overly “nice,” be overly accommodating, and dismiss our actual desires and preferences. We may then feel empty and alone even when spending time with others.
- We can struggle with our sense of identity. When we give up our genuine desires, we don’t know who we are, what we want, what we like, and what we don’t like. This can leave us vulnerable to harm and manipulation by others. We become overly reliant on others’ opinions to gain a better sense of ourselves. Being alone may be intolerable since our sense of self is literally dependent on others.
- We can experience low self-esteem and depression. Interacting with others from a false self keeps us from allowing our entire real selves to participate in our relationships. We conclude aspects about us are “bad” and begin to devalue and despise ourselves. If we are the ones to blame, our important relationships may be preserved. Our self-blame and depression can even result in self-harm behaviors in which we deliver the punishment we feel we deserve.
- We can have difficulty standing up for ourselves and setting boundaries. If our sense of stability is overly dependent on others, we will often sacrifice anything that threatens to disrupt these relationships. Since setting boundaries and saying “no” to others can jeopardize these connections, we can often find ourselves biting off more than we can chew and putting up with more than we should. We can agree to do things we would never have thought imaginable in the name of preserving our unconscious ties.
- We can become angry, resentful, and distrustful of others. If we habitually sacrifice aspects of ourselves, we begin believing that others would reject us if they discovered who we really are. We may develop anger and resentment in response to our anticipation of how others would perceive us were they to find out our true thoughts and feelings. Pushing others away through our anger affords us a sense of being in control over being rejected and allows us to preserve the fantasy that we would be accepted if not for the angry rejecting behavior of our own making.
- We can experience overwhelming anxiety and panic. When our sense of worth and value is dependent on others’ responsiveness, we can become frightened by anything that threatens these important ties. We can feel extreme panic and anxiety when confronting others whose responsiveness or neglect has serious consequences on our sense of well-being. We may be in a state of panic about losing our source of “emotional oxygen.”
- We can distract ourselves through unhealthy behaviors. To cope with feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger, anxiety, fear, or shame, we can use substances or engage in excessive activities as a means of distraction. We can reduce our pain by numbing our sensations. Our problems become compounded, however. Drinking, dug use, or excessive activity can diminish the intensity of our feelings, but they often push others away, leaving us feeling even more alone and susceptible to repeating these unhealthy behaviors.
Attachment styles may be modified and transformed (under the right conditions)
The discovery that we may change our attachment style by developing new relationships with securely attached people has monumental implications for the possibility of transformation. If we have an insecure attachment and some awareness of our problem, we can begin choosing more securely attached individuals. Our spouse or a close friend can become a new secure attachment figure with whom we can begin to work on changing our entrenched relational patterns of attachment. If we have an insecure attachment style, however, we tend to gravitate towards other insecurely attached people making it difficult to interrupt the vicious cycle of repetition. Fortunately, there are other avenues for developing an earned secure attachment.
Psychotherapy provides another opportunity for repairing our attachment wounds. By developing a deep relationship with a securely attached therapist (or a therapist with an earned secure attachment), we have the opportunity to modify our own attachment patterns. Our therapist’s attachment style can be transmitted to us in much the same ways a parent transmits attachment patterns to his or her child. Our therapist can recognize hurts we have long dismissed, acknowledge our pain without abandoning us, and confront us gently to help us change in ways that are responsive to our needs. He or she can notice nonverbal indications of our feelings, help us put words to experiences too frightening for us to talk about, and provide a sense of security and comfort when feeling threatened. Since it was within the context of relationships that we learned our problematic ways of being, it’s within the context of relationships where our painful patterns must be modified if any hope for genuine change is to be realized. A therapy relationship with a healthy therapist trained to notice attachment-related wounds provides the right conditions for new patterns of attachment to be developed and cultivated towards genuine transformation.
 Wallin, D.J. (2007). Attachment in Psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.
 Winnicott, D.W. (1965). Ego distortion in terms of true and false self. In D. W. Winnicott (Ed.), The maturational processes and the facilitating environment (pp. 140-152). London: Hogarth Press.
 Main, M., & Goldwyn, R. (1984). Adult attachment scoring and classification system. Unpublished manuscript, University of California at Berkeley.