I got my Master’s in social work nine years ago. I enjoyed almost everything about the program–although there is no way I came out of it with any business going into private practice. I ended up going back to teaching, but I’m still very interested in psychology…and I think that, if nothing else, that experience helped clarify who I am as a teacher.
I go through periods of interest in various aspects of group and individual human behavior, and attachment style has been in my mind over the last few months. I’m less interested in what causes or shapes someone’s attachment style and more interested in coping with one’s attachment style as an adult. I’ve become especially curious about the capacity for adults to change attachment styles. My attachment style was decidedly insecure, but I have seen a shift in the last couple of years because (1) in some ways, it was a shift that was essential to my ability to thrive post-loss, and (2) I want to have a secure attachment style. It’s more than that, really. I have to believe that it’s possible to go from one of the other three styles to securely attached. I mean, I wanted to be a therapist. My best friend is a therapist. It’s human work. To do it with a core feeling that it’s a hopeless battle would become unbearable at a certain point…well, either unsustainable, or no longer human/humane work.
Let me back up and talk about attachment styles. There are two scales–low anxiety to high anxiety, and low avoidance to high avoidance–that form four quadrants, or attachment styles:
SECURE (low avoidance / low anxiety) – Obviously, this is the “healthiest” style. There is relatively low worry, but securely attached people are comfortable getting close to others. They’re also comfortable letting others in.
PREOCCUPIED (low avoidance / high anxiety) – This is a high-worry, dependent kind of attachment. They worry about abandonment, but they’re also very dependent. Relationships with others take up much more emotional energy than it does in “securely” attached people, because there is a fear of abandonment. I believe codependency overlaps with this attachment style
FEARFUL (high avoidance / high anxiety) – These people desire intimacy, and there is a strong fear of rejection/abandonment but, unlike preoccupied people, this fear inhibits them from pursuing intimate relationships and relying on others. They desire closeness, but the fear of rejection overrides their dependency.
DISMISSIVE (low avoidance / low anxiety) – These people get the least attached, and they crave attachment the least…or, at least, they’ve successfully convinced themselves that no expectations are the best way to deal with the turmoil and hassle of becoming close to someone.
Preoccupied people can be very strongly drawn to dismissive people, because No Exit isn’t so far off from reality–especially for romantic relationships.
If you’re curious about your attachment style, here’s a decent tool for assessing it in romantic relationships: Attachment Style Quiz . This one is even better, because it plots your attachment style on the avoidance/anxiety continua. Or better yet, this one does the same, but for relationships with parents, friends, and romantic partners.
Obviously, the goal is to be securely attached in all relationships. If you’re not, however, how do you change that? I started thinking about that when a friend told me that he used to get very attached very quickly…and now he’s very slow to attach. I assumed that he used to be preoccupied-insecure based on what I know about his last serious relationship, although it’s possible he was securely attached. I never was able to find out by probing or asking him to take one of the tests (I totally would have if we hadn’t lost touch), so I wasn’t able to pinpoint him as dismissive or avoidant. The point is, however, that people can change attachment style.
I think I’ve changed attachment style. I used to be clearly preoccupied, but that became unsustainable. (There’s a certain amount of “feeling entitled” that goes along with an anxious/insecure attachment style, and I don’t feel entitled to much). This is what that last assessment has to say:
Now, I have characteristics of all four categories: I’m secure much of the time. I can be very slightly dismissive with my parents, but that’s not at all because of lack of feeling for them. I can be preoccupied/insecure early on in friendships with women, because I idealize “girlfriend” relationships. I’m decidedly insecure-avoidant with men. The more I like someone, the more afraid I become of him.
Well, I go back and forth between fearing the guy that I like and thinking “I’ve thrived through so much worse than anything you can throw at me–come at me, bro.” I think I’m made of glass when I have a crush on someone, but I could be totally wrong. I have no idea how obvious my feels are to a guy when I like him, and trying to find that out would give me up.
I wish my blog was interactive. I actually was thinking today how much I wanted to ask people to take this assessment–especially people of which I only see one or two sides, like coworkers or potential dates. Or even my parents. Or students. I’m pretty sure it would be weird/inappropriate to suggest people take it, so I’ll have to save it for people with whom I drink once the alcohol has kicked in.
Here is a collection of links to better attachment-style resources (literally copied and pasted from an email to myself…I’ll clean it up later on when I come back to edit out typos and other errors):
And, because I’m actually a musician and not a therapist: This song was on a vocal trance mix that a former lover made me, and it perfectly sums up many of my relationships since I got out of my last exclusive relationship: