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Early attachment styles and the impact on adult relationships



Early attachment experiences play a vital role in shaping our adult relationships. Attachment theory suggests that the quality of our relationships with primary caregivers during infancy and childhood influences the development of attachment styles, which can have lasting effects on our relationships later in life.


Attachment styles are emotional and behavioural responses formed through interactions with primary caregivers. They shape our beliefs and expectations about relationships, intimacy, and trust. There are four main attachment styles: secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious and insecure disorganised.


Individuals who experience consistent care, love, and responsiveness and learn to develop a sense of security and trust during their childhood will likely secure healthier and more fulfilling adult relationships. They are both comfortable with and able to balance intimacy and independence and effectively communicate with their partners. Individuals with secure attachment styles have been shown through research to be able to support their partners and have longer-lasting healthy relationships.


Individuals with an insecure-avoidant attachment style tend to prioritise independence and self-reliance. At first glance, they seem quite similar to individuals with secure attachments until one forms a closer relationship with them. These individuals may have caregivers who were emotionally distant or dismissive of their needs during childhood. As a result, they learnt to suppress their emotions and have difficulty expressing their needs. Children who grow up with caregivers who are dismissive or avoidant grow up fearing emotional intimacy. They maintain emotional distance in relationships for fear of getting hurt. Because of it, individuals with an insecure-avoidant attachment style are often dismissive and aloof, leading to difficulty in developing emotional connections and intimacy with their partners.


Individuals with an insecure-anxious attachment style fear abandonment and constantly need validation from their partners. These individuals experience inconsistent caregiving during childhood, leading them to live with emotional uncertainty. They are very watchful of their caregiver's reactions and signs of abandonment. As adults, they tend to seek excessive reassurance and experience heightened levels of anxiety, leading them to exhibit clingy or demanding behaviours in relationships.


Individuals with a fearful-avoidant or disorganised insecure-attachment style are highly anxious and also avoidance in their relationships. They desire closeness but reject intimacy for fear of getting hurt. Individuals with fearful-avoidant are usually survivors of trauma or abuse during their childhood, which leads them to grow up with a deep fear of rejection and mistrust in relationships. As adults, they often flip between wanting intimacy and pushing others away. Their extreme fear of being hurt and abandoned sometimes causes them to leave a potentially healthy relationship before it even develops. Because of their conflicting response to emotional intimacy, individuals with fearful-avoidant or disorganised attachment styles have difficulty establishing secure connections and emotional intimacy.


While early attachment styles can significantly impact adult relationships, it is essential to note that attachment patterns are not fixed or unchangeable. Recognising one's attachment style and its influence on relationship dynamics is the first step toward personal healing and growth. Psychotherapy is a helpful resource for processing the painful childhood experience and reorganising one's attachment towards healthier, more fulfilling connections with others. Through counselling, individuals with insecure attachment styles can also learn how to draw boundaries, communicate their needs more effectively, and respond appropriately to others' needs. As individuals work with their insecurity, it opens the path to secure healthy attachment.


Restoring Peace is a private mental health centre providing counselling and psychotherapy services to children, youth, and adults individuals, couples and groups. We journey with people from multiple social, cultural and religious backgrounds who seek therapy for anxiety, depression, trauma, grief and various mental health and relationship challenges. For more information, please visit. www.restoringpeace.com.sg or WhatsApp at +65 8889 1848. For periodic updates, we invite you to join our telegram group, https://t.me/restoringpeace.


Keywords: Attachment styles, parenting, childhood, abuse, trauma, secure, anxious, avoidant, disorganised, insecure, adult, relationships


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