I’ve written quite a few times on this website about attachment styles. As I’ve written in those 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:
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.
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 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.
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.
If you’re curious about what your attachment style is, you can take a quiz .
Attachment Style Can Change
So that’s it, huh? You develop your attachment style in childhood, then you’re stuck with it for life, are you?
Well, not so fast. As it turns out, your attachment style can change. It’s not a completely fixed quality.
One longitudinal study of people’s attachment styles by Lee Kirpatrick and Cindy Hazan found that 70 remained stable.
So the majority were the same — but 30 percent actually changed.
Why Does Attachment Style Change?
So when attachment style changes, why is that?
Another group of researchers later dug deeper into this and found that your susceptibility to change in general seemed to play a role in whether or not your attachment style would change. Makes sense. Some people tend to be more flexible than others, more apt to change in a variety of ways, including regarding attachment and their expectations of interpersonal relationships.
Researchers in that same study also found that life-altering events such as major traumas also have the potential to disrupt stable attachment patterns.
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.