Attachment styles

People talk a lot about “attachment styles.” I’m not, generally, a huge fan of taxonomies – whether astrological or psychological, I think they often enable us to stop thinking, to imagine we know something rather than to continue to be curious about experience. So. That’s a sort of world view for me. My relationship to “attachment styles” illustrates the limitations – and the value – of this particular taxonomy. You can find, on the interwebs, all sorts of “attachment style” tests that purport to tell you your attachment style. The problem is – as with everything – attachment style isn’t that simple.

See, I have at least three different “attachment styles.” I’m capable of what the books refer to as “secure attachment.” I feel this with my father. I feel it with my wife. I feel it with my son. Unquestionably my three most important relationships.

But in other relationships? And especially in newer, primarily sexual relationships? I’m profoundly insecurely attached. And not only insecurely attached, but insecurely attached in two different ways – anxiously and avoidantly. Which form of attachment style characterizes me varies from person to person, and from moment to moment.

One way I understand my dominance is as a sort of response to all of this insecure attachment, an attempt to master my insecurity with structure; to slide out the anxiety and replace it with triumph.

As I was wandering through the cycle of attachment styles recently – and I touched on all three mentioned in this post in the space of less than an hour – I thought it might be interesting to examine the cognitive substrate of each style, the thoughts and feelings I have that inform the different stances. (And “stance” feels to me like a better conceptualization than “style,” as a stance is something you can shift on a dime, whereas a style suggests some permanence, some essential-ness.)

All that said:

When I’m experiencing secure attachment, I have these feelings and thoughts:

  • I am safe
  • I am loved
  • I am good
  • I am warm, comfortable, unafraid
  • I am desirable – and desired

Insecure attachment is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. As I said, my insecurity may manifest as “anxious” attachment, and it may manifest as “avoidant” attachment. When I’m in the zone of anxious attachment, I often find myself thinking these things:

  • You don’t love me (I’m unloved)
  • You don’t want me (I’m unwanted)
  • I’m alone
  • I’m bad
  • I’m weak
  • I’m powerless
  • I’m ugly
  • I’m shameful
  • I’m undesirable
  • I’m unsafe
  • Catastrophe lurks

And when I’m “avoidant”? I think and feel:

  • I can’t bear you
  • My stasis is precarious
  • You threaten me
  • You are not perfect (and your imperfection may annihilate me)
  • Disappointment is inevitable
  • I’m only safe alone
  • You want too much
  • I can’t satisfy you
  • You don’t want ME
  • I’m suffocating
  • I’m harming you
  • I want not to harm you (and if I come close, I will)
  • I’m unsafe

I don’t know that I’m alone in these thoughts and feelings. I imagine they may lie beneath many people’s experience of the various attachment stances. But I found it helpful to delineate them for me, specifically (and, because it’s what I do here, I’m sharing my thoughts with you).

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