The more psychological and emotional well-being becomes a subject of everyday conversation, the more that specialized vocabulary related to connections has become part of the language, such as interdependence and breadcrumbing. Another instance? Bonding patterns. This is a notion you may not have been aware of five or 10 years ago, but it’s gaining popularity. (Google confirms you all have been researching it extensively.)
While it may not sound as enjoyable and whimsical as deciphering your zodiac sign (gotta appreciate an astrology chart), understanding your bonding pattern can provide you with valuable insight into how you establish connections with others.
Understanding Bonding Patterns
“Bonding patterns are particular ways of relating to others in relationships that stem from the attachments, or absence thereof, that we form during early childhood with our caregivers,” states licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert Rachel Wright, L.M.F.T.
There are four primary bonding patterns; the latter three are all regarded as types of insecure bonding:
- fearful-avoidant (sometimes referred to as disorganized)
So how do you fit into one of these categories? It begins early — like, infancy early. “Bonding patterns typically develop in infancy based on your relationships with your primary caregivers,” explains Wright. “Researchers believe bonding patterns are formed within your first year of life, between seven to 11 months of age,” she states. Nevertheless, experiences in adulthood can still influence your bonding pattern. “We are not invulnerable to trauma as adults,” says Wright.
And for reference, your bonding pattern applies to all relationships, not just romantic ones. However, despite the fact that your bonding pattern manifests in platonic and familial relationships, “most of the literature about relationships is about romantic ones,” notes Wright.
Bonding patterns are not defined in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), as they are behavioral characteristics, not psychiatric disorders. Nonetheless, there are two diagnosis categories related to bonding in the DSM-5, says Wright: reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)
These are frequently recognized in early life but can have long-lasting repercussions, particularly if left untreated. RAD is distinguished by inexplicable retreat, apprehension, melancholy, or testiness, as per the Mayo Clinic. Children who experience DSED do not possess a strong attachment with their caregiver(s) and consequently exhibit excessive comfort around unfamiliar individuals.
Attachment disorders are the psychological outcome of significant social neglect,” clarifies Wright. Essentially, if an individual does not receive enough social and emotional care during their childhood, they are unable to establish connections with most other people, she states.
While those definitions hardly touch the surface of all there is to learn about attachment disorders, the primary focus here will be attachment styles, not disorders. Continue reading for explanations of each attachment style, plus why they are important in the first place.
The Various Attachment Styles and Their Significance
Returning to the different relationship attachment styles: there are two categories (secure and insecure), with the latter divided into three subcategories. To identify which style you are, you can read more and find what you resonate with, and/or consult with a therapist and inquire with them for their thoughts based on an evaluation, recommends Wright.
Also important to note: You can alter your type, asserts Wright. For instance, if you currently identify with the anxious attachment style, you can definitely work on that with the support of a therapist and cultivate a secure attachment style. (And vice versa; You can transition from secure to one of the insecure attachment styles.) Anyone can benefit from achieving a secure attachment style, affirms Wright.
Thankfully, over half of adults possess a secure attachment style, which is characterized as “the ability to form loving and secure relationships with others,” notes Wright. If you perceive yourself as “someone who is securely attached, trusts others, and is trustworthy,” this might be your style, she explains. Individuals with a secure attachment “love others and accept love from others, and can fairly easily get close to others,” continues Wright. “Securely attached individuals are not afraid of intimacy — and they do not panic if their partner(s) need space or time apart. Additionally, they can rely on others without becoming dependent,” she highlights.
Secure attachment typically arises from “good” parenting/caregiving — the caregiver(s) paid attention to the child’s needs, was responsive, and responded to them promptly and positively, states Wright.
This, in simple terms, is “fear of abandonment,” says Wright. Sound familiar? Around 19 percent of adults — according to research referred to by Wright — fall into this category.
Anxious attachment is quite straightforward; you feel anxious about people loving and affirming you. “This manifests as someone feeling insecure about their relationships, craving constant validation as proof that they will not leave. This type of attachment style is connected with neediness or clingy behavior,” says Wright. It is highly likely that your caregiver responded to your needs inconsistently, she explains. Once again, if this describes you, you are definitely not alone.
Perhaps the opposite of the anxious style, “this form of insecure attachment is characterized by a fear of closeness — emotional and/or physical,” says Wright.
People with this attachment pattern encounter some difficulty in forming intimate connections and placing reliance on others, and frequently, relationships have the tendency to induce sensations of being ‘smothered’,” she clarifies. Consequently, “they evade profound relationships, and frequently display inflexibility and aloofness,” includes Wright.
Is your theme song “I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T?” This attachment style may belong to you. “A person with this attachment style prefers to be autonomous and rely solely on themselves as a safeguard against becoming ‘too close,'” says Wright. Approximately 25 percent of adults possess this type of attachment style, and it may stem from caregivers being dismissive, unresponsive, or neglectful of your emotional, physical, and mental needs, she explains.
Fearful-Avoidant, also known as Disorganized Attachment
The fearful-avoidant attachment style is the least common and “develops when the child’s caregivers — the sole source of safety — become a source of fear,” according to the Attachment Project, an education site on attachment styles. This could be due to sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse experienced during childhood and adolescence. Responses such as extreme stress, anger, or neglecting a child’s needs can lead to the development of this attachment style, as outlined by Wright.
“This intricate attachment style is a fusion of the anxious and avoidant attachment styles,” clarifies Wright. “This individual craves affection desperately…but also wants to avoid it. They yearn to be loved by others but hesitate to form close romantic relationships,” she states.
Does this sound familiar? You may also encounter difficulties in other aspects of your life. “Generally, individuals with this attachment style also struggle with emotional regulation,” the process by which individuals influence their emotions, when they experience them, and how they express them, notes Wright. This can be challenging to manage alone, but a therapist can provide assistance.
So, What’s Next?
If you’re reading this and thinking something along the lines of, “Okay, okay, I’m avoidant…now what?” then it will be beneficial to assess your relationships, suggests Wright. “Examine how this attachment style manifests in your life,” she advises. “Does it impact your friendships? Your romantic relationships? Does it prevent you from pursuing a desired relationship due to insecurity?” asks Wright. If you find that you’re thriving in your friendships, romantic relationships, and familial relationships, then congratulations! That’s wonderful.
If you believe that your attachment style impedes your happiness and fulfillment in relationships, you may be able to work through it independently to develop a secure attachment style. However, if you have attempted to do so without much success, it may be an indication to seek support and guidance from a licensed mental health professional, says Wright. “One of the most effective ways to heal attachment wounds is through a healthy attachment, which a therapist can provide,” she adds. (On that note, here’s how to find the best therapist for you.) As mentioned, it is possible to achieve a secure attachment style with a little gentle encouragement in the right direction from a trusted professional.
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