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  • Jacqui Snooks

Attachment styles explained!

Have you ever wondered why you are constantly stressed and worried about your relationships? Or maybe you have the opposite problem? Do you find it hard to connect to the ones closest to you? Or, perhaps you don’t have a single position in relationships? You yearn to feel more connected, but push people away when they get too close?

If these questions resonate with you, you may be struggling with an attachment style that’s preventing you from having the safe and happy relationships you deserve.

Dismissive Attachment: “No problem, I can get along fine without them”.

Someone who has a dismissive attachment style commonly appears competent, independent, self-sufficient and strong, but they are often detached from relationships and emotional closeness. They are not friends with intimacy. This does not mean that they fail to form relationships, it’s just that if they do form relationships, they find ways of staying distant in that relationship. This is especially so when it comes to conflict and emotional expression. For a dismissive, showing vulnerability and need – even when privately experiencing distress in response to highly stressful circumstances – is unacceptable. They are high in avoidance and low in anxiety. That is, even though they tend to avoid their own and others’ emotional needs, they do not tend to get overly anxious when presented with real problems.

Preoccupied Attachment: “I just can't get them out of my head!”

Someone who has a preoccupied attachment style tends to be consumed by angry, idealising, or worrisome preoccupations about others in current and past relationships. They also tend to show excessive worry about the closeness of relationships. They are overly concerned with rejection and being abandoned, even when there are no signs of this occurring. People who have preoccupied attachment are usually strong, compulsive caretakers who will readily forgo their own needs for the sake of another’s. They are low in avoidance of intimacy in relationships, but high in anxiety. That is, although they do not avoid their emotional connection, they can become anxious and worried if they turn towards others with their problems.  

Disorganised Attachment: “There’s something wrong with me”.

People with disorganised attachment tend to find relationships hard. They do not have a stable attachment style as they swing between the poles of a preoccupied style and a dismissive. For example, they can be remarkably dismissing one moment and then, in the same relationship, become remarkably clingy and demanding. They constantly show instability and upheaval in their intimate relationships and can quite often have impaired self-agency. Someone with disorganised attachment is generally high in both avoidance and anxiety. This means that they fear both connection and differentiation in relationships and are anxious a lot of the time.

So, what is secure attachment and how do we get it?

Secure individuals are comfortable with intimacy, yet they are also comfortable with their independence. If you are securely attached, it is likely that you have had your essential attachment needs met from an early age. You generally have a sense of yourself as being worthy of care and affection and are therefore more flexible and capable of dealing with stress. In intimate relationships, secure individuals actively seek emotional support when needed and are able to recognise the cues for emotional support when their partners need it too.

How to get help.

If you are worried that you may have one the insecure attachment styles, the good news, secure attachment can be earned.

And is worth the effort. In her book, Attachment Theory in Practice: EFT with Individuals, Couples, and Families, Susan Johnson examines how secure attachment is linked to almost every positive aspect of mental health and general well-being. On the other hand, insecurely attached people are more vulnerable to depression and various forms of stress and anxiety disorders.

You can get assessed by a therapist who works with attachment to discover which attachment style you predominantly use. A course of therapy can help you learn more flexible interpersonal coping skills and gain a greater feeling of security within yourself. Suffice to say, if you learn the skills to become more securely attached, your sense of well-being increases, and your relationships are given the opportunity to thrive.

Jacqui Snooks is a registered counsellor and psychotherapist and director of Haven Counselling and Psychotherapy in Mornington. For more information please click here.


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