Health & wellbeing

An introduction to attachment styles

20 Feb 2023 | Written by Jennifer Cromar

Following on from her introduction to love languages, The Joy Club member Jen Cromar provides this comprehensive introduction to another staple in contemporary relationship theory: attachment styles..

“What’s your attachment style?”, a common question on dates these days! I am so pleased to hear such questions asked. In my last blog, I mentioned there are new love languages. Knowing your and your partners attachment style forms part of these. If you have no idea how you would answer the above question then you are not alone! This simple blog explains, so you can pose the question to your next date if one is coming up… or maybe this can help your current relationships. 


This theory originates from John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (good to see a woman named). Their collaboration began in the 1950s (and as a result did not take into account neurodivergence). As a child Bowlby had a nanny, then was sent to boarding school aged nine. He said he “would not send a dog to boarding school at that age”. His argument was that children are damaged by “maternal deprivation”. He did some experiments with monkeys which showed intense need for holding and softness.

Then Ainsworth started studying behaviour of babies aged eight months to eighteen months in the “strange situation test”: the mother leaves her baby after a stressful exit from them, stays away, then returns into the room. An anxious baby would become extremely distressed. When the mother returned the baby would be angry but also relieved, cuddle and push the mother away. It would take a while to settle the child. Secure children would not get upset for long. They seemed to use their mother as a safe base when she was present, then go off and explore their world. 

I find it helpful to use a visual image of a home: if the home (mother) is warm and safe then you feel secure to go out and explore, then return to your sanctuary, resting before emerging again. 

From the research different attachment categories were made. They have slightly different names for child attachment and adults. The descriptions below are for adults.


Secure (“secure” for children): 

  • Positive view of self and others
  • Being warm and loving comes naturally
  • Enjoy being intimate
  • Take romance slowly
  • Don’t get easily upset or worried in relationships
  • Effective communication of needs/feelings to partner
  • Good at reading partner’s emotions and responding to them 
  • Share successes and problems 
  • Apparently about 2/3 people have secure attachment


Anxious (“ambivalent” for children): 

  • Negative view of self
  • Positive of others 
  • BUT fearful of being hurt
  • “Clingy”, “needy” or codependent 
  • Love to be close to partner with great intimacy 
  • Fear that your partner does not wish to be as close as you want them 
  • Relationships can consume you 
  • Very sensitive to small changes in your partner (these senses are often accurate, but sometimes they are not)
  • Take other’s behaviour personally
  • Lots of negative emotion in relationships
  • Can “act out”, say things you regret 
  • If the other person provides a lot of security you have less worry and feel safe


Dismissive avoidant (“avoidant” in children):

  • Positive self view
  • Negative view of others
  • Cold or aloof
  • Can be narcissistic
  • Wary of commitment
  • Need to be independent and self-sufficient
  • Prefer being by yourself to intimate relationships 
  • Uncomfortable with closeness (even though you want to be close at times) so keep partner at arm’s length
  • Don’t spend much time worrying about romantic relationships or rejection
  • Not open with partner, they often complain that you are emotionally distant
  • Wary of signs of control or impingement by your partner


Fearful avoidant or anxious avoidant (“disorganised” for children):

  • Negative view of self
  • Negative view of others
  • Chaotic relationships
  • Internal conflict
  • Desire for and fear of relationships
  • Obsess over AND push away partner
  • Do not want to feel lost in a relationship
  • Hard time putting healthy boundaries in place

There is hope…

…if you fall into the last three sections. A secure attachment to just one person can be a base to build from. Friends can provide secure attachment. If you do not have any relationships, let alone a partner, then a constant, loving God/Universe/etc could be your secure attachment base. Also building your relationship with your self is so important. 

YOU can be your secure attachment. 

Awareness is key, without awareness change can not happen. Try to notice your behaviours, make steps to change them. This can be hard, it can take years, but keep going! You may need to take a look at your past with the help of a therapist for couples or individually, or in a group like CoDA (Codependents Anonymous). Your partner can become more aware of your triggers and can help support. 


So, which one do you think you are? There are quizzes online you can take if you are still not sure. No wonder the question “what is your attachment style?” is asked on dates these days!

Do you have any expertise you’d like to share with The Joy Club community? Get in touch via submissions@thejoyclub.com to share your wisdom!

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