Breaking Free from the Cycle of Heartaches: Understanding Attachment Theory and Changing Your Attachment Style
Take a minute and look back at some of your past relationships. Notice a pattern of repeated mistakes and heartaches? Maybe you’re always falling for emotionally distant partners, psychological manipulators, or people who cheat. Do you have the same old argument in every single one of your relationships? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s a psychological and neurological explanation for your behavior.
You, like all humans, are a creature of habit in all areas of your life: professional, friendships, and romance. This means you end up doing the same thing over and over again without realizing it because it feels comfortable. You tend to avoid the unknown while claiming to search for happiness. According to Alain de Botton, a psycho-emotional philosophical author, we aren’t seeking happiness, but rather familiarity in our personal relationships.
Attachment Theory and Your Relationships
Attachment Theory tells us that your earliest relationships, which were most likely with your parents, set the stage for your future relationships. How your parents acted towards you as a child affects your ability to relate to people as an adult. Those relationships also provided you with a model of how relationships should work.
What does this mean exactly? Well, because you crave familiarity, you unconsciously look for your parents in future romantic relationships. The partner you choose depends on the kind of attachment you developed as a child. People are either securely or insecurely attached. There are two principal types of insecure attachment: avoidant and anxious.
Dr. Cindy Hazan and Dr. Phillip Shaver of the University of Denver conducted research on romantic relationships as a process of attachment. The results of this study showed that 60 percent of people have secure attachment. The other 40 percent were split between avoidant and anxious.
So how does a person become insecurely attached? If, for example, your father or mother wasn’t emotionally available or didn’t provide consistent attention, you might develop anxious or avoidant attachment. This might cause you to search for an emotionally distant partner. If you were abandoned as a child, you might search for relationships where you have to earn the other person’s love.
Anxious Attachment and Your Relationships
As an anxiously attached person, you might need to be with your partner constantly. Or, you might need to be reassured of your partner’s feelings for you and their happiness in the relationship. This need may cause strain on your relationships, leading to arguments, stress, and break-up.
Avoidant Attachment and Your Relationships
As a dismissive avoidant attached person, you might be able to emotionally detach yourself from your relationships. This avoidance type makes you feel independent. Because of the relationship with your parents, you have learned to depend only on yourself. A fearful avoidant person wants a healthy relationship, but is afraid of being hurt and finds it hard to trust others.
Changing Your Attachment Style
Repeating mistakes in your relationships is because of both psychological (discussed above) and neurological issues. Your brain produces neurons that gravitate toward familiar paths which makes it difficult to change your learned behavior. The first step to changing this behavior is recognizing the pattern. Once you have established the pattern in your relationships, take small steps to change. This will be difficult at first, but possible with perseverance. After some time, the new behavior will become the new pattern, resulting in healthier and happier relationships.
To break free from the cycle of heartaches and repeated mistakes in your relationships, you need to understand Attachment Theory and how it affects your choices. The attachment style you developed during childhood experiences can dictate your romantic relationships. Recognizing the pattern of repeated mistakes is the first step towards changing your attachment style. Take small steps towards changing your learned behavior, and with time, you can establish healthier and happier relationships. Remember, it may be a long and difficult journey, but it’s worth it in the end.