The 4 subconscious ways we form relationships.
Ever wondered if how you were raised affects relationships in your adult life? Probably not. I know I didn't. Luckily, some bloke back in the 60's with the name of John Bowlby was more aware than myself. He studied how the ability to form strong relationships as an adult stemmed from what the adult learned in his childhood from his or her caregiver (one of the parents). John also coined the term "Attachment Theory" which is the Subconscious way we form attachments. There are 4 different attachment types: Anxious, Avoidant, Fearful, and Secure. Read on for information that will change - your - life.
1. Anxious – this type typically stems from the early loss of a caretaker. A caregiver dies or parents get divorced or one of them goes to jail, that kind of thing. Through this early and significant ‘trauma’ the anxious type learns to fear NOT HAVING a connection. And the underdeveloped brain of a child will irrationally believe that they themselves were the real cause of the loss – because they weren’t good enough. Characteristics of this type? They’re people-pleasers. They jump around from relationship to relationship. One of the main ways they keep people from leaving them is by threatening self-harm – or seemingly putting their well-being in the other persons control. Anxious types can look a bit obsessive as they can be relentless in their pursuit to attain and/or keep the relationship. Common phrases to their significant other will sound like, “I can’t live without you” (The Chicago song just came to my brain), or “I feel like I can breath when you’re with me.” SUPER ROMANTIC and SUPER UNHEALTHY. The anxious person has such a low self-esteem that they often don’t see the bad things about the other person. They’re so needy and desperate to be in a relationship that they will transform their OWN characteristics or likes in order to be what they think the other person is wanting. Because of all this invested time and energy, the Anxious Type will be clingy which turns to suspicion which leads to the most problematic (and we’ve hit on quite a few problems!) issue. They have difficulty trusting. Even when they find someone that commits to them, they won’t ‘really’ believe or trust their partner because, who would ‘really’ want to be with them? This behavior ends up driving the other person away and the avoidant type proves that he OR she is correct; that important people in their lives will abandon them. Connection is the most valuable thing in life and it’s also never permanent.
2. Avoidant – This type usually stems from growing up in an environment where parent(s) were physically there but emotionally were absent. They learned that any attempt to connect would result in feeling pain. The result? This person ends up feeling extreme discomfort with even the possibility for emotional connection. To avoid this, they use many strategies – humor being at the top of the list. Ever known anyone to crack jokes or throw out sarcasm at completely inappropriate times? Well, now you know that they do it because they’re trying to avoid connecting emotionally with you. Humor also gives others the illusion that the avoidant person has things under control or don’t have any sad emotions which also gives the impression that they are fine. Sarcasm or jokes at an emotional time is a huge sign that you’re dealing with an avoidant type. Also, look for the avoidance of eye contact during moments where there is a likelihood of connecting emotionally. In relationships this type invests a lot of energy initially. They also utilize the shaming of others who display emotion in an effort to escape their own sensitive feelings and retreat back to a safer place emotionally. Expect a resistance to hugs or kisses initially… and even with a good amount of time. One can also expect the avoidant type to creatively show their desire for the connection WITHOUT them physically being there. Big flowers (delivered). Exciting and fun texts (delivered). Gifts (you’ll find them when he or she’s not around), acts of service (delivered), etc. The avoidant adult will be great at dating but as the relationship moves through the different phases and as time goes by, they will likely start to ‘drop the ball’ or flat out run for the hills because of their subconscious need to avoid deep and meaningful connection. They will also GHOST a promising relationship leaving the other person mystified and confused.
3. Fearful – Probably the rarest of types. This person generally has a background of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Often the child growing up in this environment will feel like they have nobody to protect them or confide in or trust. As a kid, any time they tried to be vulnerable or have an emotional connection, they experienced rejection and/or pain. Wanting acceptance from mother and never being good enough. Wanting love from the father and repeatedly being hit. Being molested or sexually assaulted equates to not feeling protected or safe. Add in the fun occurrence that the child tells the parent and the parent doesn't do anything about it and you've got the perfect storm for developing this type of attachment. Naturally, these types of experiences create a strong relational defense system as adults. In fact, when an adult “Fearful Type” gets close to being vulnerable in a relationship they will subconsciously exhibit many different types of defenses to get away from connection. They are unpredictable and they’ll self-sabotage the things they want the most. The fearful type exhibit avoidance initially in relationships and then go to anxious characteristics when things start becoming serious. Next comes anger and sometimes violence (Fear). And that ball can jump real quick from anxious to anger as they try to keep themselves safe. The fearful type will both crave and be extremely uncomfortable with the connection which allows them to lash out behaviorally much like a cornered badger. Other characteristics of the fearful type include the inability to have a long-term stable relationship. Behaviorally they seem more and more unstable as time and connection with their significant other in the relationship increases.
4. Secure – The most boring type meaning, they're much less exciting than the other three. This attachment type stems from a childhood that was safe emotionally and physically (for the most part). The environment was safe emotionally (ok to talk about feelings or saying/hearing “I love you”) and physically (holding, hugging, kisses). The “Secure” type can feel the other emotions of anxiousness, avoidance and fear BUT they trust in their ability to get through whatever comes which enables feeling secure. They’re happy alone. They’ve learned that some people can be trusted with their emotions which is important because with this foundation, they can focus on finding and keeping quality (safe) relationships in their lives while leaving the bad ones (unsafe/dangerous) in the dust. This is quite a difference from the other types of attachment which either avoid, are anxious about or straight up fear connection and relationships. Also, unlike the others, this attachment type can be be genuine with others. This allows them to experience emotional moments and deep connection which opens the door to true intimacy. Another healthy attribute is that they can have disagreements in a calm manner. While the other types will use behaviors and/or mind-games to control the outcome, the secure individual is able to go with the flow.. They may ‘prefer’ things to go a certain way but they aren't devastated if things don’t. They can face rejection and abandonment as an adult without the need to try and repair the relationship or run back in order to fix things. Feeling secure has the end-result of them believing they will be fine no matter how things play out. Not needy; only secure.
Remember, this is all being played out on an unconscious level meaning, people are not aware that it's going on. Think of wearing glasses -you're seeing/perceiving things through a lens that has been modified and after a while, seeing the world through your glasses becomes your norm. That's the best way I've been able to turn this into an analogy for my clients. Understanding that people behave the way they do for a specific reason and purpose (sometimes unconscious) helps give us a different perspective - insight and awareness helps with understanding and empathy.
Thanks for taking the time to read and if you have any other thoughts or would like to work through your own ill-made prescription lens, please feel free to reach out and contact me through the website at www.meaningtolive.com. Also, be sure to check out and subscribe to the "Jed Says" YouTube channel.
Jed Thorpe, CMHC