One Little Word We Use, Or Don’t, Can Provide Hints About Our Attachment Style

a black and white photo of a row of escalator with only a single person riding any of them
Image by d26b73 / CC BY

As I’ve written in previous posts, perhaps the biggest lesson of all in child development is that the first year of so of our life is a radically important time for us emotionally. While we continue to learn about trust and social relationships over the course of our life (and experience another notable period of turbulence at puberty), the bulk of how we learn to be in relationships takes root when we’re infants.

The way we come to feel supported or unsupported by our caregivers profoundly shapes the way we feel in all kinds of relationships, whether they’re friendships, romantic, or something in between. This baseline unconscious expectation we develop is called our attachment type.

In their book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller identify 3 basic attachment styles in adults:

  1. Secure
  2. Anxious
  3. Avoidant

Secure

Securely attached people find it fairly easy to connect with others and achieve fulfilling relationships. People with this attachment type typically don’t worry about being alone and are at peace with both intimacy and independence.

Anxious

People with anxious attachment crave closeness to others but often worry that others find them clingy and can feel quite insecure, fearful that their partners don’t reciprocate the strong feelings that they have. Anxious types can become extremely dependent on their partners, viewing themselves as incomplete without that bond.

Avoidant

Avoidant people value independence and autonomy above closeness, and though many want to be close to people, they have a way of keeping people at arm’s length. They don’t open up easily (or at all) to their partners and can come off as quite emotionally distant. They can easily feel smothered by too much intimacy.

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Some other research paradigms have gone on to subdivide avoidant attachment down further into two categories: dismissive avoidant and fearful avoidant, depending on the person’s internal motivations and emotional state.

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If you’re curious about what your attachment style is, you can take a quiz .

Interestingly, however, a recent study revealed that the words people use — or more importantly don’t use — can provide hints at their attachment style.

In particular researchers found that individuals with an avoidant attachment style are less likely to use “we” pronouns when they talk about their love lives and are much more likely to use “I” instead.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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