The pain prompted me to do some research on relationship insecurity—I had to know what the hell was wrong with me. That’s when I learned about attachment styles and the important role they play in romantic relationships. My fear of abandonment is a classic sign of an anxious attachment.
British psychologist John Bowlby began exploring what he termed attachment theory in the 1960’s, and he conducted further research alongside psychologist Mary Ainsworth throughout the second half of the 20th century. According to Bowlby, the ways in which primary caregivers relate to infants and children greatly influence how they relate to others in their adult lives. Contemporary psychologists have expanded on Bowlby’s theory, many writing about the huge impact our attachment styles have on our romantic relationships and even how we perform at work. There’s also a study underway to determine what role, if any, attachment styles play in opioid addiction.
Attachment theory posits that adults with secure attachment styles—around 50 percent of the population—had parents who were attentive, nurturing, calm, and, most importantly, consistent in this behavior. Those with anxious attachment styles usually had caregivers who were inconsistent, sometimes attentive, loving, and nurturing, and at other times distracted, distant, cold, or unresponsive to the child’s needs. Anxious attachments can also result from having overly-anxious or intrusive caregivers (this is probably how I wound up with an anxious attachment, as my mother often became too worried that something bad might happen to me.) Children who grew up with mostly aloof and detached parents typically wind up with an avoidant attachment style, those who crave intimacy but push it away out of fear.
Unfortunately, people with anxious attachment styles often gravitate to those with avoidant attachment styles, and vice versa, and this causes all sorts of heartache. Those who have secure attachment patterns are often already paired up—they’re the folks who are content in long-term relationships and forging lasting intimate bonds. This explains why spending lots of time on dating apps can sometimes lead to crushed hopes over and over again. If all the healthy folks are already in relationships, what’s left are a lot of people who may have some emotional baggage that begs sorting through.
If you’ve ever attended a SLAA meeting, you’ve probably heard of the “love addict” and the “love avoidant.” In many ways, the love addict mirrors someone with an anxious attachment style—the deep need for connection and intimacy is a quality inherent in both personality types. Naturally, the “love avoidant” described in SLAA mirrors the avoidant attachment style.
According to SLAA philosophy, the antidote to love addiction or love avoidance is the 12 steps, steps that require faith in a power greater than oneself, the admitting of character defects, and turning over one’s will to God as we understand Him. Though I’m not anti-SLAA per se, I do find it interesting that the terms “love addict” and “love avoidant” actually have roots in psychological theory, so the cause of the insecurity may have less to do with character defects and more to do with the way we were parented.
Though an insecure attachment style may sound like a curse for anyone who’s looking for long-term love, there’s good news: anyone can change their insecure attachment style to a secure one through psychodynamic therapy, being in a healthy relationship with a securely-attached partner, and also by becoming a parent.