Types of attachment and protective strategies in the couple relationship

According to attachment theory, we all develop a style of attachment to others, based on the caregiving experiences we had with our parents (or other primary caregivers) in childhood.

Attachment refers to our desire to seek contact and closenessa human need considered even more vital than food.

    The qualities of attachment

    Attachment involves:

    • protection: know that I am sure of where I am and that they helped me when I asked them.
    • affect: warmth and physical contact, skin to skin, through caresses, hugs (with the consent of the child), but also verbal communication in the form of receiving a verbal response when I call and feeling heard (they do not ignore what I say).

    Human beings have an innate need for attachment and protection because we do not survive alone, let alone children. When a child feels that he is not safe in a place, he seeks to understand the context in his own way and to apply protective strategies, which are behaviors that allow him to reduce his fear by giving him a feeling of control over the situation.

      Attachment in adults

      In adult life, these strategies are not lost, we continue to use the same patterns of behavior in situations familiar to us from childhood. For example, as an adult it is no longer my mother who ignores me when I call her, but I feel ignored when my spouse does not answer the phone and I have the same reactions as a child with my mother: despair, feeling of abandonment, because of what I claim, I insist, parrot, although the situation may not end so much.

      To understand our type of attachment, it helps us record how our needs for protection and acceptance were met in childhood and What are we missing in the pequeños?. Then we can more easily identify the adaptive behaviors that served us in childhood to feel safe, but which often led to problems in adult life.

        Attachment Types

        From Bowlby’s attachment theory, 4 types of attachment are classified.

        1. Anxious or anxious/ambivalent attachment

        An anxious attachment is developed by children who constantly fear being abandoned or left alone, since their main attachment figure is ambivalent or distant, so they cannot believe that they will always have the protection they need . A veces esta ya veces no, nunca se sabe. They feel helpless and need to be rooted in someone to protect them.

        These children are alert and guess what the mother or father wants, so that they can receive affection. They feel they have to earn their love and attention, which they sometimes get and sometimes don’t. In this sense, their behavior can be insistent, they cry easily and become anxious thinking that they do not have the necessary protection or help.

        In adult life, anxious attachment is characterized by overcompensation for the fear of abandonment, always thinking about what else can be done to make my partner or other people around me happy and not don’t abandon me. When the couple is in a bad mood (not necessarily because of him), they get angry, they insist, they want to know what’s going on and it makes them very uncomfortable.

        Protective Strategies for Adults with Anxious Attachment

        Adults with an anxious attachment tend to compensate for their rejection anxiety usually with perfectionism, vanity, and any form of striving to please…just to attract the other person and avoid rejection. Everything they do is with the intention of pleasing, because they have learned that if they don’t please, they will be rejected.

        They strive to avoid conflict and hate confrontation. They prefer to say nothing, or to express their own needs so as not to offend the other party. They idealize and paint beautiful conflict situations and often they feel that they cannot do it alone and therefore yearn to take refuge in the partner from whom they hope to be protected. In extreme cases, they cling, beg and become jealous.

          2. Avoidant Attachment

          An avoidant attachment is usually developed by children since they were very young, they felt that there were a lot of expectations placed on them or those who feel that they have to take care of something important in the family and take on tasks that since childhood are really overwhelming. For example: taking care of younger siblings, taking care of mom after dad leaves her, doing things on their own, because they know caregivers are very busy.

          Those who are seen as the hope of the family, where they are not the protected, but those who must protect. It also develops in children who assume themselves to be a burden or a nuisance, who do not want to be a burden and who ultimately develop autonomy and responsibility very prematurely.

          A child who is afraid of disappointing or disturbing, cannot be himself, cannot be wrong or disapprove of what others see in him, feels that he must constantly meet expectations and for this uses masks that , over time, seem very tight.

          In adulthood this continues, for example, by showing a lot of ambition at work, to be the one who supports, not by pleasure but by feeling of obligation. At the same time, the weight of expectations often makes the adult with avoidant attachment recoil when he anticipates that situations will arise that will require his attention. As he has learned that talking doesn’t work and he doesn’t want to disappoint, he says nothing but falls into a passive-aggressive behavior of “going crazy” to distance himself from his responsibility.

          Protective strategies in adults with avoidant attachment

          People with an avoidant attachment they tend to fight for control, just so they don’t invade your freedom that has been so violated. They fight not to lose in an argument, they seek to follow their own plans, they find it difficult to compromise and decide on a relationship.

          They are also demanding of themselves and seek to control their time, food, weight, etc. Linked to the fear of falling into a situation of inferiority or of being seen as bad or foolish, they use rationalization, a means of blocking feelings of “weakness” and covering up vulnerabilities in order to always remain on an objective level. and analysis of the situation. But this in turn prevents establishing a real connection with the couple.

          They become defensive, refuse or erect a wall of access to protect their autonomy. In extreme cases, they may defend their autonomy even using physical or verbal aggression, devaluing the other who is unconsciously perceived as a threat to their freedom.

          3. Secure fixing

          A secure attachment develops among boys or girls whose needs for affection and protection were mostly satisfied, and means no more than 30%. That is, if as a child you felt protected and loved by your primary caregivers, not all the time, but in the most needed times, you are likely to have a secure attachment.

          This basically means that as an adult, social situations or emotional relationships do not cause you more anxiety, but you are able to separate your needs from those of your partner and thus naturally take responsibility for that. who matches you in your relationship. You also identify that some of your partner’s behaviors have nothing to do with you. In this sense, you do not need specific protection mechanisms because, just as you felt safe as a child, you will feel safe as an adult in front of other adults.

          Strategies for protecting adults with secure attachment

          As I mentioned, the adult with a secure attachment does not have very striking defensive mechanisms, but in the end, no one is 100% secure. As social beings with need recognition and acceptance, we all have some insecurities, because no mother or father has been perfect. so that fixing types can be used as reference poles.

          Surely you have felt identified with parts of one type and others of another type, since between the two sides there are many gray scales.

          To understand how in your very personal situation you developed an attachment and what protective strategies you applied as a result, it is helpful to work through this with a therapist.

          4. Disorganized attachment and its protective strategies

          A fourth type of attachment, disorganized attachment, represents a smaller portion of the population, and it thrives in children whose primary caregivers have proven to be a threat to them, rather than figures of protection and stability. Mothers or fathers with very impulsive or aggressive behaviors, physically and emotionally or who have some kind of addiction and need to care for themselves so that they could not take care of their children.

          When the attachment figure gives fear, deep confusion occurs in children, who on the one hand ask for affection and at the same time feel terror and threat. These children often fail to develop protective strategies, they do not have an internal plan or model to support them in this situation, and they exhibit seemingly inconsistent behaviors, such as physical or mental blocks, catatonic movements or stereotyped.

          In adulthood, disorganized attachment is associated with mental disorderssuch as borderline personality disorder.

          Attachment and the couple

          We must keep in mind that we all have some type of attachment. Although you are not 100% on one side or the other, you most likely find yourself on a scale between anxious and avoidant more on one side than the other.

          What does this mean for your relationship?

          Your Partner Can’t Cure Your Attachment Stylecan accompany you in your healing process, but since he has his own attachment style to lead with, the responsibility lies with you.

          Your protective strategies are outdated, they served you in your childhood, but when you grow up, they cause more problems, because they literally cause you to act like a boy or a girl in situations that do not justify it.

          Example: When your boyfriend doesn’t answer the phone and you immediately think he’s cheating on you, you insist and call again and again. As a child/daughter, when mom didn’t come to your room because she was busy and crying helped you get her presence.

          In every relationship, we have a responsibility to take care of our childhood patterns. If you find yourself exhibiting any of the behaviors described in this article and feel strongly identified with any of the attachment types mentioned, it is likely to also affect your relationship with a partner or how you choose a partner.

          Opposite poles attract

          People with an anxious/ambivalent attachment often attach to someone who is an avoidant type and vice versa, because they represent that while they have known since childhood, they are familiar and they repeat the same dynamic they have known since childhood.

          Individual and couple therapy can help you identify your type of attachment and discover strategies to better support you in your particular situation.

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