How attachment style affects your decisions
Early experiences play an important role in everyone’s personality development and behavior, and also determine choices. It also characterizes attachment styles and patterns. Adults with different attachment styles differ in how they perceive things and make decisions.
Your attachment style and degree of individuation determine your partnership decisions and your relationship satisfaction. The process of individuation—becoming an individual—allows you to find your needs for attachment and autonomy that are necessary for healthy relationships.
It begins in the first year of life when we learn that we are separate from our mother and that we and other people each have our own thoughts, feelings, needs, perceptions, and boundaries.
Margaret Mahler studied mother-child dyads and found how we separate from our earliest caregivers and develop autonomy and identity to become an individual. This is how we can develop our true selves.
Mahler concluded that separation and individualization depended on continued attachment to an approachable caregiver. In this way, a child can develop a stable sense of himself and others by integrating fluctuating internal states, as well as frustrating and pleasurable aspects of another person.
While Mahler was studying the task of separation, John Bowlby was developing attachment theory, which is also based on early childhood development but focuses on how attachment shapes our image of ourselves and others.
The two theories overlap, and attachment is compromised when we have trouble distinguishing ourselves from our first caregiver. Both Bowlby and Mahler agreed that the mother’s consistent and understanding attitude is crucial to the child’s development.
As we grow, other people in the home become important, affecting our sense of security, self-esteem, and later relationships as adults. We achieve autonomy best when the separation from our parents is free of conflict and we experience them as supportive and nurturing. A breakup marked by guilt, resentment, and anxiety is accompanied by insecure attachments.
Object constancy and splitting off
In order to separate from our mother (or earliest caregiver) as infants, we must process conflicting feelings of love and hate toward her and develop a coherent view (“object constancy”) of ourselves and others, which means we have a solid internalize an image of ourselves and our mother.
When parenting is flawed and we are unable to integrate good and bad feelings and aspects of our mother, this is called splitting, a term first coined by Freud. To deal with this, we mentally split the good mother and the bad mother into two opposing representations.
The purpose of the split is to further separate the “good” and loved aspects of our mother from the “bad” and hated aspects. This affects object constancy and our ability to develop full autonomy. The split affects us internally and confuses us. It causes turbulence in close relationships and is associated with an anxious attachment style and fear of abandonment.
For example, splitting affects your ability to remember that you love your partner when you are angry or that your partner is being dishonest when you are feeling close. The split contributes to idealization and devaluation.
Then you react more to your projection than to reality. You might act impulsively by breaking up or cheating while at the same time denying the heartbreak that results from your love and need for your partner. Conversely, if your partner flatters you or apologizes, you can deny or forget the abuse.
After a breakup, you may not be able to remember your partner’s good or bad qualities. When you have an anxious attachment, you can imagine your girlfriend losing interest or your boyfriend flirting.
You feel compelled to text or reassure yourself frequently. Not only is it difficult to remain emotionally attached to your partner when you’re apart, but you can also conjure up negative characterizations that are abusive, unsatisfying, or abandoning that feel very real until you talk or see each other again.
Then you realize it was all just in your mind while you have trouble distinguishing the present from your unhealed past. (To complicate matters further, it may also be true, but the split confuses you.)
Attachment theory states that our everyday interactions with our primary caregiver determine our attachment style and how we relate to other people. If not raised well, a lack of object constancy can lead to a defensive attachment style, low self-esteem, and pseudo-sufficiency to compensate for the lack of attachment with another person. In some cases, a child may develop narcissism or borderline personality disorder.
We are likely to seek a partner who fits our inner models and reflects how we see ourselves and others. Although research cannot fully explain it, some people with dysfunctional early parenting develop secure attachments later in life . Temperament also influences how babies behave that may seem unrelated to caregiving or different from siblings who share the same parents.
The three basic attachment styles are secure, fearful, and avoidant; the last has two varieties: fearful and hostile. It is estimated that about 50 percent of the population has a secure attachment style, 20 percent anxious, 25 percent avoidant, and 5 percent anxious attachment style.
1. Secure Binding
An attentive caregiver in our early years helps us navigate the individuation and separation process with a secure attachment, healthy self-esteem, and capacity for autonomy and intimacy. This allows us to deal with separations and object constancy. People with secure attachment view themselves and others in a positive light and assume they are reliable, available, and trustworthy.
Therefore, they believe that being in a relationship and relying on other people is easy for them. They don’t divide or idealize their partners, but see them as “whole” people with positive and negative traits.
You are looking for a comfortable relationship rather than an intense one. They are compassionate and responsive to their partner’s communication and needs without responding to requests for more space or intimacy.
2. Anxious attachment
People with an anxious attachment style (also called preoccupied) are overly focused on the relationship. If their mother was emotionally unavailable or inconsistent, they may worry about rejection and abandonment just as they worried as a baby about their mother’s unresponsiveness and/or her comings and goings.
This insecurity sensitizes them to signs that they are about to withdraw or be abandoned and makes them question their partner’s feelings and commitment.
People with an anxious attachment view others positively but see themselves as unworthy and unlovable (most codependents). They internalized the behavior of their early caregivers as shame and concluded that they weren’t good enough, unlovable, or worthless. Her self-esteem suffers as a result.
They feel uncomfortable and less valued when they’re alone, but believe that relationships will validate their kindness and give them the acceptance they lack inside. Breakups are often fraught with guilt, resentment, and anxiety.
In relationships, they are dependent, insecure, and needy, and want total intimacy. Because relationships reflect self-esteem, their strategy doesn’t usually work, because anxious attachment figures often attach to someone who is avoidant and whose attachment style matches that of their parents and childhood experiences.
This only exacerbates their experience of abandonment, increasing their dependency and low self-esteem. This creates a vicious cycle of emotional abandonment.
3. Avoidant attachment
Avoidant attachment develops when the mother is frequently unresponsive or emotionally unavailable . Your child learns to take care of themselves and suppresses vulnerable feelings and attachment needs for love and closeness.
These feelings and needs feel insecure and are experienced as shameful or disappointing. Such a cold mother may also have had this style, expecting her child to be independent before they were emotionally mature enough. (See Sons and Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.)
People who have been abused or neglected often develop an anxious attachment style, also known as disorganized. When children are afraid of their mother, they may develop an anxious-avoidant attachment style that has elements of both anxious and avoidant attachment.
Like anxious attachment figures, they see themselves as unworthy and unlovable and want a close relationship but are afraid of being abandoned. However, because they see other people as unavailable, unreliable, and dismissive, they are afraid of becoming dependent and being hurt. That’s why they avoid relationships to be safe.
People with a dismissive-avoidant style achieve autonomy and have a positive view of themselves. They prefer independence, avoid closeness, and despise people who want intimacy and close relationships. They don’t want to be dependent on other people or make others dependent on them, which protects them from rejection and disappointment.
For addicts, the task of individuation is not successfully accomplished. Much of their suffering stems from incomplete separation—separation that began in infancy and the conflict between needs for maternal attachment and autonomy.
Power issues associated with individuation in childhood and adolescence often carry over into adult relationships. It is difficult to recognize and draw boundaries. Insecure attachments in adult relationships reflect insecure and inconsistent parenting.
The dance of intimacy between a fearful pursuer and an avoidant distancer is often a repeat of earlier mother-child drama. The former seeks more closeness and a secure attachment, while the avoidant partner tries to separate and individualize. In reality, both are interdependent but have adapted in different ways to an insecure parenting style.
The development of object constancy and the attainment of individuation are never complete. Our attachment style is also updated through our relationship experiences as adults. Secure relationships help us grow. Overcoming dependency promotes individuation and secure attachments. Increase your self-esteem and develop self-love.