Are you Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? How the science of adult attachment can help you find – and keep – love
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Amir Levine’s Perspective
Amir Levine is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University. His mother was a popular science editor who valued creativity and self-motivation. She allowed Amir to stay home from school whenever he wanted and study what interested him. This sparked a passion for learning. After his compulsory army service, Amir enrolled in medical school at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Here he received many awards. He is now at Columbia University as a Principal Investigator. Levine works together with Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel on a National Institute of Health sponsored research project. He also has a private practice in Manhattan.
Introduction to Attached
Attached investigates the science of love. Understanding your attachment style and your potential partner’s attachment style is key to finding and sustaining love. We have known about attachment styles since the 1950s, but he was investigating them within children. The reality is these attachment styles impact our future relationships too. This book has been translated into 11 languages.
Here are the main points of Attached:
StoryShot #1: Attachment Styles Will Help You Understand Your Romantic Relationships
Partners will often have different reactions to being away from their loved ones. While one partner may be distressed, the other may be unaffected by time apart. These different responses are related to individual attachment styles. The authors describe attachment as the bond between two people which generally lasts for long periods. The most common attachment often spoken about is the mother-child bond. There’s lots of research suggesting that the attachment style we form with our mother has a big impact on our future relationships. The authors use a study to show this. Researchers wanted to investigate the healing potential of strong attachment. So, they placed female participants in stressful situations but let half of the participants hold their partner’s hand. The results showed that the hypothalamus, the brain area that deals with emotional pressure, was less active in holding their partner’s hand. This effect only seems to be the case if you have a strong and secure attachment with your partner. For example, other research has found that spending time with a partner from an unhappy relationship can lead to raised blood pressure and feelings of discomfort.
StoryShot #2: Bowlby’s Research Is the Foundation of Attachment Styles
The author explains that there are three types of attachment. These are avoidant, anxious and secure. Each indicates a different way of understanding intimacy and approaching communication within a relationship. These three attachment styles were developed from research by a psychologist called John Bowlby. He theorized that children have an instinctual need for motherly affection. This theory was based on Monkeys choosing a comforter over food and another psychologist finding large differences between children in how they responded to being separated from their parents for a short period of time.
StoryShot #3: There Are Three Types of Attachment
Here is a basic outline of each of the attachment styles before we delve deeper into each of them:
- Secure – Invite intimacy without anxiety
- Anxious – Worry about relationships and intimacy because they are worried they will lose their partner
- Avoidant – Privately considers an intimate attachment to entail a loss of independence. So, they avoid these attachments.
Levine explains that none of these attachment styles are good or bad. They are just different. Most people will be born with these attachment styles. That said, there is a 25% chance that your attachment style can change every four years.
StoryShot #4: Anxious Attachment
All humans have a strong need for attachment. That said, we do differ in how we think relationships should function. Individuals who are anxiously attached will often be preoccupied with worrying about their relationship. They are worried that their partner does not love them enough. An example of this would be worrying if a partner doesn’t reply quickly to your message.
Anxious attachment styles mean individuals often need access to their partner and take their partner’s behavior very personally. Those who are anxiously attached are best suited to relationships with those who are securely attached. This is because they will provide comfort and intimacy. If you believe you have an anxious attachment style, you should try to avoid jumping to conclusions. Dating around will help push you to avoid an expectation of reassurance from one partner.
StoryShot #5: Avoidant Attachment
Individuals who have an avoidant attachment style will often feel trapped by relationships. They will perceive their partners as too needy and won’t understand people’s obsessions with dependence on one person. These individuals avoid relationships as they feel this will lead to a loss of independence. The authors highlight that there is an important difference between independence and self-reliance. Self-reliance means you cannot let go of what they perceive as independence. This leads to a broken relationship and unhappiness. Independence is the knowledge that you can excel by yourself, but you don’t have to spend life alone. Understanding this difference is key to happiness for those who are avoidantly attached.
If they choose to be in a relationship, they will likely struggle to recognize others’ feelings. So, they struggle to maintain these relationships. They also use distancing strategies like keeping secrets and avoiding physical closeness. One reason for these behaviors is that they could have developed as a defense mechanism due to childhood neglect.
The characteristics of those who are avoidantly attached may seem like they don’t want to form any attachments. The reality is that they still have the same need, but they just express this need differently. They do not settle for less than their perfect partner, which means relationships can also break down when they notice minor problems with a partner.
The authors recommend those who have this attachment style try to view their partners more positively. The best way to do this is to first look at themselves as the source of conflict. Viewing problems from their partner’s perspective will help people who have avoidant attachments from nit-picking problems with their partner.
StoryShot #6: Secure Attachment
The final attachment style is the secure attachment style. People with this attachment style can effectively communicate their expectations and needs without protest behaviors. An example of a protest behavior would be calling a partner multiple times when they don’t respond immediately. Securely attached individuals are also forgiving, reliable and responsive to a partner’s needs. They are able to read between the lines, so that they can understand their partner’s needs without too much concern (as an anxious person would) or being indifferent (like an avoidant person). The reality is, being in a relationship with a secure partner is the best predictor for a happy and successful relationship.
Secure couples rely on each other for support and are not afraid of intimacy. Their willingness to be intimate is because they are not afraid that these behaviors will take away their independence.
StoryShot #7: Mismatched Attachment Styles
Understanding your partner’s style can help you understand areas where your styles might clash. The authors explain that the most mismatched pair would be an anxious and an avoidant. These individuals would be unable to satisfy each other’s intimacy needs. This type of relationship would be characterized by occasional closeness followed by withdrawal from the avoidant partner. This will then leave the anxious partner feeling betrayed and dissatisfied. That said, these attachment styles can still work together. The relationship problems can be solved through effective communication. Specifically, the anxious partner should express emotional needs. The avoidant partner should express a need for space. When a couple continues to express needs and respond to one another’s bids for intimacy, it becomes easier for one to take some time alone without hurting the other.
StoryShot #8: The Dependency Myth
There is a myth that coddling your child will lead to them becoming overly-dependent on you as they grow up. Specifically, parents worry that coddling their child will mean the child never learns to self-soothe. So, they develop future attachment issues.
The reality is that dependency is actually a paradox. If you place a child in a room with their mother, they will generally feel safe. This safety is based on a dependency on their parents. This dependency is actually what allows the child to explore independently. This argument is supported by what happens when you remove the mother from the room. When this happens the child will often cry and will avoid exploring the room. The reason for this is that they do not have a secure base to depend on, to then allow them to explore independently.
The importance of dependency translates to adulthood. The author describes how studies show that holding the hand of a partner leads to a much reduced stress response. Specifically, women were placed in stressful situations and their brain activity in the hypothalamus was measured. This is the part of the brain associated with stress. The researchers found a significant reduction in hypothalamus activation while holding their partner’s hand when compared to holding a stranger’s hand. This shows that their dependency on their partner allowed them to deal with stressful situations and means we rely on others for our own wellbeing. This dependency leads to couples becoming a single physiological unit, whereby they influence their partner’s blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and hormones. The mirroring shown by couples shows the importance of dependency in relationships.
StoryShot #9: The Two Types of Information
We just spoke about the importance of communication when you have mismatched attachment styles. Effective communication requires you to be open about your emotional needs and demonstrate a desire to know and understand your partner’s attachment needs.
The authors break communication down into two parts. There is content information and relational information. Content information is the stuff that is actually said. Relational information is the signaling that people offer through their tone, body language and other cues. Miscommunication can occur if either of these forms of communication are misinterpreted. This can lead to two partners not sharing the same interpretation of a context.
StoryShot #10: Sharing Intimate Information Is Crucial in Relationships
The key to preventing misinterpretation is sharing intimate information honestly. Doing so can also increase affection and intimacy within the relationship. This reciprocal communication is what researchers describe as what makes a relationship. Levine believes that most disagreements within relationships are not arguments about big mistakes or small inconveniences. Instead, most problems are based on conflicting intimacy needs.
The author uses the example of a dog to explain how your attachment style is more important than the details. Everyone loves their dog despite them pooping constantly, waking you up at night and demanding constant attention. The reason people still love their dog despite all these complications is that they have a secure attachment style and are willing to put the issues behind them.
StoryShot #11: Most Communication Is Nonverbal
Most communication is nonverbal rather than verbal. So, remember that your body language has an impact on the way your partner will perceive your information. Open body language will invite sharing between the two of you. Examples of open body language would be leaning into the conversation or making sure your arms aren’t crossed.
StoryShot #12: How to Disagree In the Right Way
For a relationship to work, it’s not so important how much you disagree with your partner, but how you disagree. One thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t generalize while arguing. So, when you have a disagreement you should only talk about that topic of disagreement. Do not bring previous disagreements or behaviors into the conversation. You should also keep your partner’s wellbeing in mind at all times. You can have an idea of what you want, but you should then also consider your partner’s wellbeing. Considering both viewpoints will allow you to effectively compromise, making decisions that benefit you both. Finally, try to remember that your partner cannot read your mind. Be honest about how you are feeling so that they can fully understand your experiences.
Final Summary and Review of Attached
Attached reinforces the idea that we are all unique. We all have unique attachment styles that are based on our upbringings and biology. That said, all of us will fall under the broad categories of having a secure, anxious or avoidant attachment style. Suppose our partner or we have an anxious or avoidant attachment style. In that case, we must use communication to strengthen the relationship’s connection. Understanding your and your partner’s attachment styles will help you understand how you can make your relationship last.
We rate this book 4.2/5.
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