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Your Attachment Style Determines the Quality of Your Connections

The gist: The quality of your relationships is highly connected to your attachment style. You built yours long ago without knowing it, but it’s never too late to improve it.


When it comes to making friends and connections, I can be a tough nut to crack. As an introvert, I keep others at arm’s length. For a long time, I forced myself into a paradox where I’m both loyal to those I’m close with but extraordinarily hard to get close to.

I’d assume anyone who wanted to get to know me must just want something, that they were in it for themselves and I had to protect myself. Unless I already knew who you were, I wasn’t going to let you into my circle.

“It’s not my fault,” I’d say. “It’s just how I am. Everyone should just deal with it. They would if they really cared.” For years, I missed out on making a lot of connections and, honestly, I felt lonely.

Eventually, I got tired of that. Not tired, so much, of my attitude, but tired of the results of it. I started to learn more and more about introversion. What it means. How it works. Why I am the way I am.

What did I learn? That my approach to building connections had nothing to do with my introversion. Instead, it had to do with a flaw in the way I thought about relationships and the people around me.

Once I fixed it (and no, it wasn’t easy or done in 3 simple steps), my life started to fill up with new, meaningful connections. I met new business partners, made new friends, met my wife, etc. etc.

Here’s what it was, and what you can do if you’ve been in the same place.

Make friends now.

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Attachment Style: All Your Relationships Depend on It

Scientists have studied how people relate to each other for as long as there have been scientists and people to study. What we’ve learned is that how you think about yourself and the people around you is a story you spend your entire life creating.

You meet new people, you create a new story. You think about yourself, you create a new story. You interact with others… you get the picture. Who you are in your relationship is the sum of all these stories.

This starts from the moment you’re born and happens over and over until the stories begin to sum together and you develop what’s called your attachment style.

Attachment style: The way you relate to others based on how you perceive yourself and the people around you.

If you get the right support and feedback from your family, friends, relatives, and schoolmates—and mix that with a bit of luck—you’ll get to adulthood with a perfectly healthy view of yourself and others, ready to conquer the world and make a lot of friends doing it.

But how often do things go perfectly? For most of us, growing up means, at some point, being betrayed, failing, feeling left out, being unhappy, processing loneliness and a multitude of other unsavory experiences that crop up along the freeway to adulthood.

If each of those things aren’t dealt with just right when they come up, you can end up like I did—with a less than ideal personality for building deep connections. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just how things turn out.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Attachment Theory: Are You Wired to Make Healthy Connections?

Decades of research into interpersonal relationships have allowed psychologists to categorize your attachment style into one of two categories: secure or insecure.1

With a secure attachment style, you’re just as comfortable relying on others as you are having others rely on you. You don’t really worry about being lonely or if people accept you, and being connected to others is as important as maintaining your independence. If that’s you, congrats you win at life! You can stop reading now.

But if it isn’t, you’ll want to know about the three other sub-styles that fall under the insecure spectrum.

Before you go any further, though, remember this: there’s no judgment here. We’re all doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. What we have in common is we recognize our weaknesses and we’re willing to work on them to make ourselves better and stronger.

attachment-style

Anxious-Preoccupied

This could be you if you often feel like you give more to relationships than you get back. You might be uncomfortable without very close relationships or worry others don’t value you as much as you value them.

Being very emotionally expressive is also a characteristic of the anxious-preoccupied type. That means you like to show people, though actions and attitude, the value you place on them, but you might overdo it.

This attachment style prevents deep connections because it puts you on a lower playing field than the people you connect with. Like the title, it makes you anxious, and that’s not attractive to secure people because they don’t actually see you as less valuable and wonder why you behave that way.

When you have this attachment style, you may be more likely to build relationships with other anxious-preoccupied people because you both work hard to make sure each other know how much you value them. It can work, but it’s not the best.

And it can be frustrating and scary to build connections with others who have an avoidant attachment style because the more your stress shows through, the more you will be rejected by them.

Dismissive-Avoidant

If you place extreme value on your independence and tend to think less of others than you do yourself, you might be the dismissive-avoidant type. These types also tend to carefully guard their emotions and distance themselves from rejection.

The way you express yourself is completely different from the anxious-preoccupied type. And the reaction you get from your connections will look different. But the result is the same.

People with a secure attachment style will be confused about why you treat them as if they are on a different playing field because, from their viewpoint, you’re equals.

What that means is that you’re more likely to connect with people who express the anxious-preoccupied type because they’re more likely to accept the power imbalance.

This dynamic does not lead to the healthiest or strong relationships. It makes you seem aloof and uninterested in connecting with people who could be very valuable to you.

Fearful-Avoidant

Just like the dismissive-avoidant, you’re an independent person, but for another reason. Instead of being a little too into yourself, you struggle to trust others and fear that people you let close to you will hurt you.

This attachment style keeps you from connecting with strong, secure people because you seem detached and distrustful, even though it only comes from a place of fear.

When you can’t allow yourself to be vulnerable with people who’ve been vulnerable with you, it strains the relationship, which makes it hard to have valuable, long-term connections with secure types.

What Does a Secure Attachment Style Look Like?

If you identified with any of the descriptions above, congratulations. You’re now a little more self-aware. You know what might be hold you back from connecting with people as well as you’d like to.

You want to be more secure, but what does a secure attachment style look like?

Someone with a secure attachment style will display these three traits.

They’re comfortable being vulnerable.

They don’t have fear about relying on other people. They don’t worry about being taken advantage of.

They also don’t shy away from others who are equally vulnerable with them, and they calmly accept the responsibility of being relied on (in exchange for being to rely on others).

They have a strong sense of self.

They know who they are and they are comfortable in their own skin. They don’t concern themselves with whether or not they’ll be accepted because, if they aren’t, they know that they will be acceptable elsewhere and pursue those people instead.

For the same reasons, they don’t fear loneliness or fight to avoid it. Instead, they focus their energy to find the people who are the best fit for them without changing themselves knowing that, by developing those relationships, they won’t be lonely.

They balance reliance and independence.

Like mentioned earlier, secure-types are not afraid to rely on others, but they also balance that with a strong sense of independence.

They are well-adapted to take care of themselves when necessary and also to offload some of their burdens when others make themselves available for it.

Attachment Style Transformation: Do This Now

Whichever one of these buckets you fall into is unimportant. What matters is that you recognize your own tendencies and commit to changing that ingrained pattern when you recognize yourself behaving in a way that doesn’t match the secure style.

Just as carefully as science has divided us into different categories, it’s also carefully observed that they are not pre-determined. That means you were not born with the attachment style you have today—you developed it over time.

That’s important because it means it can be changed.2 It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, but it is possible. How? With persistent work.  Here’s what works for me:

Each time I catch my brain chattering either about myself or someone I know, I force myself to slow down and answer two questions:

  1. Am I thinking the way a secure person with strong relationships would? If not, then…
  2. How would that person think about this?

With my answers, there’s only one thing left to do: be that person.

Make friends now.

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Footnotes

  1. Source: Attachment in adults
  2. Here’s a good article with more ideas and exercises for adapting your attachment style.