Now that we know about our own Attachment Style, what do we do?
***If you haven’t already, you can take the Attachment Styles Quiz to find out your style.
It’s all well and good to know what this label means, and if we choose to accept ourselves in the face of that, then great! However, if we want to learn more about what we can do to support ourselves with our styles, then we can allow ourselves to grow and live to the best of our abilities. Both options are valuable, and the second is what we’ll focus on now.
While Attachment Theory spawns from how a child is raised, it is important to look at how these aspects can come alive as we grow older and form relationships with others. As we grow up and connect with others in society we build an attachment to other people. How we react to situations and stresses in our life is reflected in how we learned to deal with them from our primary caregiver. While our attachment style is formed with our primary caregiver, it is still possible to have secure and insecure attachments to those in the world around us.
Let’s have a look at what life can typically be like for each attachment style.
Someone with a secure attachment is unlikely to face high levels of challenge or stress in day-to-day situations. While we all experience stress at one point or another, those with secure attachments don’t experience high levels of anxiety in the normal course of their days. They are likely to know their limits and speak their mind when they feel like they are taking on too much. As well as this, they will commonly hold empathy for others and check in with others who may seem challenged. As children, they were offered a space to explore the world, while comfortably knowing that they could return to their primary caregiver for support when needed. Someone with a secure attachment is also unlikely to rely on others to understand their worth. For this reason, those with a secure attachment are often resilient, confident, and assertive.
When it comes to learning how to support ourselves, someone with a secure attachment likely knows how to do this already. Little needs to be said on this because they have already learnt the needed behaviors to successfully process through their emotions when they arise.
In The Workplace
Those with a secure attachment will likely take work as it comes and will be willing to say no to tasks that may be outside of their expertise, or ability. They are hard workers, capable and confident in their career with strong time management skills. People with a secure attachment will rarely experience overwhelming challenges at work as they are willing to speak their mind and work within their comfort and growth zones.
Someone with a secure attachment will likely feel comfortable and confident in a social setting. As said, the securely attached person knows their limits, and so they can confidently step out of environments that they do not want to be a part of or can soothe themselves after being involved in interactions causing high levels of sadness or anger (ie: arguing or being given bad news). Someone with a secure attachment is the kind of friend that is easy to talk to and is good at giving advice. At times, they may not understand the perspective of those with an insecure attachment, however, they are able to hold the needed empathy to support emotional regulation.
When in a relationship with those securely attached it can feel easy to form a strong bond. As we learned from ‘The Strange Situation’ the securely attached feel comfortable exploring the world, knowing they can return to their primary caregiver when needed. A relationship with a partner takes the form of this primary caregiver, and so the securely attached will still feel the comfort and autonomy while keeping the needed closeness to foster a relationship. Different dynamics and attachment style combinations may change this relationship dynamic, the securely attached are usually able to meet their partner where it is needed, and if the bond comes from mutual respect and understanding, this can foster a beautiful relationship.
The main challenges that you are likely to face with an ambivalent attachment style are anxiety and a fear of upsetting others. These qualities can be challenging when faced with society, so we need to know how to work with them. A common sign of an ambivalent attachment style can be the under-regulation of emotion, so finding tools that can help you better regulate these emotions can be of great support. Finding the right strategy for yourself can be important, and here are some suggestions:
- Positive Self Talk – Don’t let negative thoughts take over your mind. It is important to be gentle with yourself at times, and the use of positive self-talk can support changing your outlook. Using phrases like “Everything will be okay”, and “Let’s wait and see what happens”. Times may arise when these phrases are hard to believe, which is when this next tool may be important.
- Peer Support – Understand the importance of interpersonal support from peers. Be clear and honest with others and use your connections at times when you are feeling overwhelmed.
- Within this, also be aware of when connections are not serving you. If a connection with someone is causing anxiety or distress it may be important to check in with yourself, or that person about your feelings.
- Setting Boundaries – Understand your limits and accept them. Create boundaries for yourself and commit to them within your integrity. This can include setting limits within social interactions, not checking your work email after hours, or what choices you make when feeling anxiety or rejection.
- Calming Strategies – When times of anxiety present themselves you need to find a way to bring your nerves back to their natural baseline. Deep Breathing and Muscle Relaxation exercises have the ability to do this when needed.
In The Workplace
Someone with an ambivalent attachment style is likely to be the “people pleaser” at work. They are validated by how people view them, so they want to be seen as competent and confident. For this reason, the ambivalently attached are likely to take on extra tasks at work and are less likely to say no (out of fear of disappointing others). This can end in a few different ways:
- All the work gets done at a high standard, the ambivalent person is praised by their colleagues
- All the work gets done but is rushed, the ambivalent person gets told their work is not the desired standard
- All the work gets done to a manageable standard, the ambivalent person is burnt out and not willing to tell anyone
- Not all of the work is completed, the ambivalent person feels like a failure
While the ambivalently attached person is aiming for the first outcome, it is more likely that one of the latter outcomes will occur. Taking too much on can be bad for our mental health, but sometimes the need for validation is too strong for people with an ambivalent attachment to say no.
So, what can we do? It is important for someone with an ambivalent attachment to understand their boundaries and respect them. How can anyone else respect your boundaries if you can’t do it yourself? Consider what would be a realistic workload (both for yourself and your employer) and do your best to stick to it. This includes being willing to say no! Yes, there will be times when you feel unable to say no (e.g. forced overtime, needing to meet a deadline, needing to earn more money), and in these moments do your best to manage self-care and soothe yourself. When it is realistic to say no, do your best to stand your ground!
Someone with an ambivalent attachment is likely to crave a relationship. Without a partner, they have less sense of worth. When in a relationship, they are also likely to move quickly, because the more that person loves them, the more they may be worth. Any joyous moments in a relationship will lift their spirit, and their heart, while the lower moments can potentially crush them. Ambivalent people stereotypically have a low sense of self, and so when their worth is wrapped up in someone else, it is easy to be knocked down if their partner is disappointed in them. Negative feedback can often result in thought processes like ‘they don’t want to be with me’, or ‘they will break up with me’. These insecurities can even be noted when times are good, with potential thought processes like ‘One day they will realize they can do better’, or ‘They will probably cheat on me’. This is why they have ‘anxious’ in their title!
Potential triggers for someone with an ambivalent attachment style would be using ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘we’ statements, as well as the request for alone time. They can also become triggered if they feel that they cannot rely on their partner, or they are concerned about their own neediness/rationality/emotional stability. Typical reactions when triggered can include blaming or complaining, and under-regulated emotions, which can lead to neediness towards others.
This all sounds like doom and gloom, but there is beauty in relationships with those who hold an Insecure-Ambivalent Attachment Style. They are likely hyper attuned to your needs, and will always be there when you need them. When the times are good they can be warm and playful and will offer you their whole heart. They are the most reliable and almost always faithful.
When being in a relationship with someone holding an ambivalent attachment style, the most important thing to remember is attentiveness. They may crave your attention, always want to be in your arms, or want to hear that you love them 100 times per day. While some may see this as overwhelming, it is important to remember that this person is insecure (by name and nature) and this can help them center themselves in your relationship. Meet their requests when possible, and communicate with them when it may not be possible without making it feel like a rejection.
Personal time can be important for ambivalent people, and so prioritizing special events and opportunities can allow them to feel connected and cared for. They will likely want to take up a lot of your time, and so allowing this whenever possible can be helpful too. Being emotionally and physically present with your partner is essential in building strength in your relationship. Empathy is an excellent tool!
When speaking to someone with this style, you will need to avoid belittling their feelings (which is a good choice for anyone as well!). This means connecting with their feelings/anxieties, and not telling them they shouldn’t feel that way. If you are aware of their anxieties, you will also want to avoid using them against your partner, no matter how hurt you feel. Remain present with them, and avoid pushing them away. You will also need to deal with problems as they come up, or it may make them worse in the long run. If they experience any distance from you they may see it as rejection, and build thought processes that you don’t want to see them anymore.
When your partner is triggered it is important to be present and sit with them in their experience. When emotions are under-regulated someone is needed to listen and help make sense of thoughts, so it is important to listen rather than explain things or defend yourself. Explore the feelings that can come up, and validate their emotions. They may not understand or accept their emotions, so this validation is key. Ultimately they need to feel heard, so reflect what they are saying back onto them through this validation so they know you are there for/with them.
Overall, someone with an ambivalent attachment style wants to know that someone is there and that they won’t leave. Using ‘we’ statements, and speaking about future plans together can acknowledge your presence with them. Offering appreciation for their positive qualities/actions can also allow them to see their positive qualities in a way that tells them why you are around.
Those with an avoidant attachment style prefer the solace of being by themselves, and so in daily life, this can involve pushing others away to foster this space. When at work, this may look like the thought process that they know more (or are better) than others, so they do not need their help. This thought process comes from the mistrust of others, as they are unlikely to be reliant. This mistrust can create challenges in interpersonal relationships as well.
To counteract these challenges, the key is to acknowledge the contributions of others in our lives. It is easy to push people away because they are not what we want them to be (a classic Avoidant thought process), and can we accept them for being exactly who they are? You may not understand their choices, or think they are ‘stupid’, but it is important to remember that they are autonomous and are likely acting in a way that is best for them. What does pushing them away offer us? When focusing in this vein, it can be helpful to look at your own emotional intelligence, and recognize when an idea is different from yours without feeling threatened.
In The Workplace
Those with an avoidant attachment will likely believe that they are good at their job, while others may be incompetent, or not at their level. They will do what they think is best without considering what may be best for their workplace, which can easily create conflict and mistrust. This can include missing deadlines or not completing certain tasks, which usually means they are micromanaged by others on the job. Someone with an avoidant attachment is unlikely to know their growth zones, and will rarely consider others in decisions that affect those around them.
The most important thing to consider in this situation is that others may have a point as well. Those with an avoidant attachment need to do their best to work as a team and consider the perspectives of all involved. Listening to others and receiving feedback are tasks that do not need to be taken personally, and so it is important to remember that the workplace is often a team setting, and so everyone needs to be considered in this vein.
As previously discussed, someone with an Avoidant Attachment is likely to be challenged in creating interpersonal relationships. They are likely to have a small group of close-knit friends and feel content in that. It can also be common to push others away that do not meet their standard, which is most people. This can be seen strongly in romantic relationships.
A common misconception with the Avoidant attachment style is that they are not interested in being open with their emotions. This is not always the case, as most people with this attachment style do not know how to be vulnerable or open with their feelings, which can largely come from a distrust in others holding their vulnerable thoughts. When in challenging situations with their partner it can be common to feel that they are not enough, or feel overwhelmed by emotion. Due to the over-regulation of emotions for those with an avoidant attachment style, it can be a challenge for them to process what comes up, and so the desire for space occurs which can push a partner away.
When in a relationship with someone holding an avoidant attachment style, it is important to go slow. Forming relationships is not a common endeavor for them, and their distrustful nature will make them resistant to connect. Follow their lead and avoid making commitments too soon, or speaking about the future in the early stages. Within this, you don’t want to be distant, or they may think you are uninterested. The key is to respect their autonomy and be there when the time is right. Following their lead may be appropriate.
Some potentially triggering moments can be when they feel like they can’t rely on someone, or if a moment arises that creates anxiety or negative emotions. While their initial reaction is to push others away, this comes from the distrust of others, and any negative emotions felt in this time are usually pushed away as the person with the avoidant attachment style does not know how to manage them. This can create a withdrawal or complete shutdown.
When someone with an avoidant attachment style is in this withdrawn space, they are potentially craving a safe space to be vulnerable. They are holding on to a great deal of negative energy that they are unable to manage, so it has caused them to shut down. Alleviating these negative emotions can likely ground them and bring them back to their center. To do this, it is important to listen to and accept their experience. If they are willing to talk, reflect the exact phrases they are saying so they know they are heard. Validate what they are saying and ask them questions that can allow them to more deeply explore their emotions. There might be a lack of emotional intelligence, so simple questions may be important in the beginning.
Language can be important when connecting with someone holding an avoidant attachment style. Empathy and acceptance can offer a secure space that will potentially allow them to open up. Reassuring them of the safe space with phrases like ‘You can tell me anything’, and ‘I won’t judge you’, can help open this space, as well as the reflections already discussed. Using ‘I’ statements rather than ‘we’ can also emphasize their autonomy, and allow you to express your own emotions without guilt or shame.
When offering the above it is important to remember that if the avoidant person is requesting space, that this space is respected. If this person truly chooses not to be open and vulnerable, this is okay and we need to honor their request.
The largest challenge with a Disorganised Attachment is the reaction to times of anxiety. They likely have a natural fear response when anxiety arises, and this can make it near impossible to act. These fear responses can often be frequent and can make it hard to move out of your comfort zone. There is also likely a pessimistic nature, and they would rather give up on something than feel challenged. Difficult emotions can easily bring overwhelm, and so triggering situations are likely avoided when possible. When thinking of the ‘flight/fight/freeze’ response those with a disorganized attachment will almost always freeze rather than stepping into their fear.
For times like this, there are two ways you can support yourself. The first is to focus on reducing your own fear response. This can be a huge challenge, and so you will need to rely heavily on calming strategies like deep breathing and muscle relaxation. The positive self-talk discussed in the ambivalent section can also be supportive. By being kind and gentle to yourself it can allow the more optimistic sides of you to present themselves, which can, in turn, calm any nerves. Speaking to colleagues or friends as a sounding board can also help hear a perspective outside of your own mind. If these deliver no result, then potentially seeing a health care professional can support this reduction.
Being gentle with yourself is the key to supporting a disorganized attachment, and so setting personal goals can be a great way to step out of your comfort zone. These goals need to be realistic, and so it is important not to stretch yourself too far in any capacity. Goals could be simple things like answering one scary email each day (perhaps from work or perceived bad news) or spend 15 minutes doing something you have avoided. There is that old saying “Do one that thing scares you each day”. This can be great advice, as long as the person has mastered their calming strategies and chooses realistic goals. Small levels of progress are still progress, and can allow the person to realize that they are capable of success in the long run!
In The Workplace
The best way to describe someone with a disorganized attachment in the workforce would be “avoidant” and “fearful”. The thought of opening a work email with a stern title can be overwhelming for them, as their lack of confidence will have them believe the worst-case scenario. With a disorganized attachment, there is a constant search for some kind of safety, and the unpredictability of the workforce can cause constant triggers. There will likely be tasks that do not get done as the thought of completing them is way too dangerous. There is also a constant overwhelming feeling while they are at work.
The best way to manage these responses (without therapy) is to find self-soothing strategies that work. This could be music, breathing, an exercise ritual, or something else completely. Taking a break and self-soothing when overwhelming feelings arise will support someone with a disorganized attachment to recentre themselves and meet the needed tasks. As previously said, positive self-talk and setting small goals will also be of great success.
If the ambivalent attachment style is a puppy dog desperate for love, consider the disorganized style as a fearful cat stuck up a tree. They are scared and really want your help (in connecting with them), but the idea of trusting someone is so scary. Their previous experience of close relationships has caused them to relate love and closeness with fear and pain, however, there is a common reliance or craving for a close connection with others. This whirlwind spins loud and fast and can cause the person with a disorganized attachment to freeze or flee with great ease.
Those with disorganized attachment commonly believe that romantic partners are scary, and the idea of trusting anyone is dangerous. Holding someone at a distance is safer, as there is a great deal of fear and confusion when in a romantic relationship. This sounds a lot like the avoidant attachment, and while there are commonalities the disorganized attachment runs on a fear threatening their safety, while the avoidant attachment runs more of resistance to being vulnerable with their emotions. Someone with a disorganized attachment has stereotypically experienced trauma in relation to the early formation of their attachment style, and so their understanding of a relationship is skewed, and something to fear.
If the person with a disorganized attachment chooses to enter a relationship there will likely be challenges because of their desire for intimacy fighting with their fear of closeness. Relationships can be difficult to navigate, but it is possible. Check out the advice on the next page, which covers relationships with multiple attachment styles.