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Attachment Styles and Their Influence on Relationship Dynamics

Author: Olivia Li

Editors: Eric Lin, Ruoxi Lin

Artist: Jade Li

Intimacy is a deep and sincere connection between two people. Of course, different people have different levels of need for intimacy. Some people can be completely self-sufficient without intimacy with others. Other people need intimate relationships and to be close to other people, but this often can create many problems that manifest in various relationships, such as habitual fear, anxiety, doubt, and so on. They long for love, but cannot believe they can be loved, and might close their hearts off to eliminate the risk of getting hurt. However, this results in them shutting out good people who could provide the sunshine they need to thrive. Most often they find it difficult to stop wanting love, and can only temporarily repress their want. 

Attachment patterns are how we connect with others and affect not only intimate relationships, but also familial relationships, friendships, and interaction with strangers. It generally affects our emotional expressiveness, coping strategies, and ways we want to receive and give support.

Our attachment patterns are established in infancy and determined by how our parents interact with us. It is relatively stable, but not unchangeable; The manner we interact with people heavily depends on our expectation of a response, and whether or not we expect to be rejected holds us back from making such a request in the future. Our expectations of others are initially based on our parents' responses. The idea that our parents' selective acceptance or rejection of our requests shapes the way we interact with others came from Mary Ainsworth’s “Strange Situation” experiment. A mother and her 12-month-old baby would be placed in a happy room full of toys for twenty minutes, and every three minutes, the baby either spent time with the mother, was left alone, reunited with her, or met a stranger alone. Ainsworth categorized the infant's interpersonal behavior pattern into four types according to the observation of the infant's behavior performance : secure attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, anxious-ambivalent attachment, and disorganized/disoriented attachment.

People with secure attachments tend to be emotionally close to and comfortable with depending on others. They do not experience intense anxiety about being alone or not being accepted, and are comfortable in intimate and independent situations. People with avoidant attachment have a stronger need for intimate relationships, but at the same time worry that the other person does not care about them as much as they do. They will have self-blaming and self-deprecating thoughts because the other person doesn’t respond as quickly or is as overrelient on them. These people express themselves strongly in intimate relationships, showing signs of anxiety and reckless impulsiveness. People with anxious-ambivalent attachment don’t like dependency from either end. Independence and self-sufficiency are essential to them, and they often reject the need for intimate relationships. They may have a strong defense mechanism, and repress their feelings in the face of rejection by alienating and distancing themselves. People with disorganized attachment feel uncomfortable when they are close to others. They crave intimacy but find it difficult to trust or rely on others fully, and fear that intimacy will hurt them. They often suppress or deny their feelings and are not used to expressing their emotions.

Caregivers' neglect of our needs during infancy can lead to the development of insecure attachment patterns. Traumatic experiences can cause our attachment patterns to shift from secure to insecure. If we turn to our caregivers or significant others for help when we face pain and helplessness, but are ignored or rejected, we feel more pain and despair. To avoid this scenario, some learn not to ask and rely on others, suppressing their feelings and pursuing emotional independence. In addition, subsequent, even insignificant experiences of rejection and indifference may be subconsciously associated with a significant injury, evoking deep inside pain and making us more inclined to avoid it.

People with insecure attachment styles often feel that commitment in an intimate relationship means loss of control and freedom. The truth is that devotion does not mean the loss of freedom, but instead the possession of liberty. Choosing to sacrifice still means that you have the will to leave at any time, and that you are exercising your freedom, not losing it.

 

Citations:

Dunbar, R. I. M. (1998). The social brain hypothesis. Evolutionary Anthropology, 6, 178-

190.Sable, Pat (2008). "What is Adult Attachment?". Clin Soc Work J. 36: 21–30.

doi:10.1007/s10615-007-0110-8.

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