You know that feeling you get when you anxiously wait by the phone for days after an amazing first date or the rollercoaster of emotions you go through when your lover didn’t text you “right back?” What if I told you that you’re not completely cuckoo and how you respond in situations like these can be traced back to your childhood? When someone you're interested in doesn’t show up or communicate consistently, it can be triggering AF. We begin to play out all types of scenarios in our heads. These feelings of abandonment can be linked back to our relationship with our parents in our formative years. I present to you: attachment styles.
Attachment styles are characterized by different ways of interacting and behaving in relationships. During early childhood, attachment styles are developed based on how children and parents interact. Many psychologists believe that our adult personalities are unconsciously planted in our childhood experiences. The way we relate to others is believed to have been established in our very first relationships—typically with our parents. Our attachment style is thought to be based on how well our parents met our emotional needs in early life, as a result, we developed social coping habits that determine our interactions. The concept of attachment styles emerged throughout the 1960s and 1970s from the work of John Bowlby, who studied infant responses to their mothers’ leaving and babies’ reactions upon return. The theory suggests that the emotional bonds between mothers and infants influence emotional bonds in adult intimate relationships.
In adulthood, attachment styles are used to describe patterns of attachment in romantic relationships. Understanding the push and pull of the dating world is made a million times easier once we understand how we relate or "attach" to others. Attachment styles can be a useful tool in helping us understand why we feel and act the way we do in relationships. There are four attachment styles (secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant/disorganized) that predict how we show up in relationships.
Understanding our attachment styles can also be extremely beneficial in predicting how we show up in our sex lives as well.
Individuals with the anxious attachment style are fear driven. They are the ones who worry about their partner leaving, falling out of love, or finding someone “better.” They also tend to seek approval and make decisions based on making the other person happy as a perceived way of keeping them from leaving. Anxious types usually have lower self-esteem and carry a fear of abandonment with them into many of their relationships. This low self-esteem often translates to the bedroom as well.
Anxious types often overthink their partner’s actions and sometimes get caught in obsessive thoughts, so sex can actually be overwhelming for them. Even though anxious types crave intimacy and fear abandonment, they often struggle to actually reach true intimacy because they rarely show their authentic selves. They are so preoccupied with trying to please the other person that they struggle to let who they are shine through. These individuals are also more at risk for STIs, sexual assault, romantic obsession, and compromises in their sexuality, such as allowing people to cross previously set boundaries, or not being clear about their need for self-protection.
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Unlike those with anxious attachment, avoidant types have higher self-esteem and don’t look for outward approval, but have difficulty trusting people or asking for help. Avoidant attachment folks are uncomfortable with opening up out of fear of becoming emotionally close to people, especially romantic partners. They avoid intimacy and therefore tend to pull away from people who want to be intimate with them. Because the avoidant type finds intimacy uncomfortable, they are great at compartmentalizing sex as something that is purely physical.
Avoidant attachment individuals also use sex as a way of avoiding conflict or emotional conversation within a relationship. One study found this attachment style to have poor communication when it comes to discussing sex with a partner. Having conversations about sex requires a level of vulnerability and emotional intimacy and they avoid that at all costs. Avoidant attachment types are less interested in long-term relationships and may act impulsively when it comes to sex. They are more likely to seek casual sex out of fear of intimacy.
Fearful-avoidant, or disorganized, attachment is the combination of anxious and avoidant attachments so they basically have a hard time trusting partners and operate out of fear in their relationships. Similarly to anxious attachment, fearful-avoidant types long for intimacy but fear it. They fear abandonment and rejection from their partners, but their fear causes them to sometimes pull away or close themselves off. When it comes to sex, this group struggles with low self-esteem and sometimes doesn’t feel they’re deserving of love and intimacy. This can lead to a back and forth of wanting to keep a partner from abandoning them, but then pushing them away if they ask for intimacy because of the belief they aren’t deserving of it.
They often look to sex to meet their needs of feeling loved, but they may seek out sex that lacks emotional intimacy as a way of avoiding it. This type longs for sex within the context of a long-term relationship, but their negative beliefs of themselves often keep them from pursuing this. Individuals are less likely to connect on an intimate level. They may steer clear of demonstrating affection or responding to a partner’s needs. Sex, therefore, is more of a transactional experience, removed of its emotional intimacy, and serving personal needs such as stress relief.
People with secure attachment have the healthiest levels of trust within relationships and find peace in being intimate with those they trust. They often have high levels of self-esteem and a high sense of self-worth. They can appreciate affirmations and assurance from their partners, but they don’t feel the need to use this validation as the foundation for how they feel about themselves.
When it comes to sex, securely attached people feel comfortable in who they are and can enjoy sex in the present moment. They don’t find their minds becoming as preoccupied with trying to keep their partner interested, and they feel as though they can pursue intimacy comfortably. Whether they’re engaging in sex in a committed relationship or casually, secure types feel a strong sense of who they are that allows them to fully enjoy the moment and communicate with themselves and those they have sex with.
It’s easy for people with secure attachment to obtain intimacy. They can respond to a partner’s sexual preferences without compromising on their own needs and desires. They often have a confident approach to sexuality, allowing for exploration and play that fosters longevity in a relationship. Their secure sense of self allows them to express their emotions with others and facilitates emotional bonding.
How to Develop a Secure Attachment Style as an Adult
Not everyone is secure with themselves or in the bedroom, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop a secure attachment over time. Even if you didn't have an upbringing that fostered a secure attachment style and you have an anxious or avoidant attachment style, it's still possible to develop a secure one as an adult. Access your current attachment style and its effects on your current relationships and develop emotional awareness of how you feel about yourself.
The first step to having a secure attachment style is to actively work on the relationship you have with yourself. Work on healing from past traumas or negative experiences in therapy. Therapy can assist with helping to purge toxic relationships and build healthy habits that will give you the necessary tools to help you be more secure in relationships.
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