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By Leo Aquino
You might have heard terms like “daddy issues,” “thirsty,” or “dramatic” to describe the behavior of women and femmes who face difficulties with unhealthy relationships and sexual patterns. Attachment theory—the study of how childhood attachment patterns affect how we act in adult relationships—can help explain some of these patterns, no slut-shaming undertone required.
Maybe you’re a serial monogamist trying to see what the wild world of casual dating has to offer. Maybe you find yourself constantly chasing emotionally unavailable people. Maybe you can’t figure out why you can’t stop texting bae 85 times in a row when you’re upset.
When you’re ready to break out of a pattern that no longer serves you, attachment theory can help you make sense of intense emotions and impulses.
Types of attachment
There are three main attachment types: secure, anxious-preoccupied, and avoidant. Avoidants get broken down into two groups: dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant.
Each of these attachment styles are formed in childhood, but they still dictate the way that we act in relationships.
You can also form different attachment styles for different kinds of relationships. For example, you can be securely attached to friends, anxiously attached to a romantic partner and avoidant with your parents.
The good news is that we’re not locked into one attachment style forever. The more willing we are to take an honest look inward, the more secure our attachments.
Securely attached people are the most comfortable setting boundaries and expressing their feelings. They probably had consistent emotional validation from one or two parental figures, which allows them to trust their emotional instincts.
Because they trust their gut instincts, securely attached people are very quick to assess whether or not they are in a safe space and act on that knowledge. Securely attached people know the difference between who they are and what people think of them, which isn’t always the case for the other attachment styles.
Studies show that securely attached people are the most sexually satisfied group of the four attachment styles.
Think of all those cheesy sitcom parent-child heart-to-heart conversations that usually end in hugs and laughter. Securely attached people probably had those for real in their childhoods!
Some people might not have come from the perfect sitcom households, but have done a lot of therapy and healing around their childhood issues to evolve into secure attachments.
You don’t need to be looking for a perfect white-picket-fence uber-domestic relationship to be securely attached. Securely attached people can be good at maintaining all kinds of relationships, situationships, and friendships because of their ability to set boundaries and be honest.
No matter what your relationship goals are, strive for secure attachment.
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Anxiously attached, aka anxious-preoccupied, people want to develop healthy relationships and sex lives but they are more likely to confuse sex for love. And we all know that can cause a lot of problems. They probably received inconsistent emotional validation from their parents, and were taught at a young age that they were responsible for their parents’ needs and emotions.
Ramy Hassan, from the Hulu series Ramy, is the first person that comes to mind when we talk about anxious attachment. He often confuses sex for emotional attraction, and tends to self-sabotage relationships by acting out when he feels insecure. Fiona Gallagher from Shameless is also a good example of someone who displays anxious attachment because she constantly puts others needs before her own.
According to Psychology Today, anxiously attached women are most likely to “give into unwanted sex patterns.”
Anxiously attached people have trouble differentiating between their own needs and the needs of others. In their family of origin, anxiously attached people might have been praised for caretaking abilities that serve the whole unit, but denied validation for activities that brought personal fulfillment.
Anxiously attached people might benefit from waiting a while until they feel safe before having sex — whether casual or intimate. This group is most likely to do things that they don’t want to do in order to get their partner to like them. It’s important to take things slow.
Dismissively attached, aka dismissive-avoidant, people tend to compartmentalize between sex and love. They excel in polyamorous relationships because they can separate emotions from the physical aspects of sex. They were probably raised by parents who didn’t express a lot of emotions. They probably used boundaries to hide their emotions rather than to share them with the family.
The iconic Samantha Jones from Sex and the City is a great example of dismissive attachment. At the first sign of major emotional commitment, she completely shuts down and feels out of control.
Psychology Today states that dismissive-avoidant women are the most likely to have sex out of obligation. Dismissively attached people may quickly lose interest in the love aspect of a relationship because sex becomes tension relief for the discomfort that high emotions cause.
Dismissive-avoidants could benefit from letting their guard down emotionally so that they can communicate and empathize with others’ needs.
Fearfully attached, aka fearful-avoidant, people want strong romantic and sexual relationships, but they fear emotions altogether. They get confused, disoriented and scared when there are too many emotions involved. As children, they might have been completely terrified of their parents, or they might have had parents who were emotionally absent.
This group has the hardest time talking openly about their emotions because it might have caused them harm in their childhood to defend themselves.
The first character that comes to mind is the Vicodin-popping, ultra-avoidant Dr. Gregory House of Fox’s House. All booksmarts and genius, but completely falls apart in intimate relationships.
Fearful-avoidants could benefit from building up foreplay and kissing before jumping into sex. People in this group likely have negative associations with sex. The build-up could establish trust and help the fearful-avoidant stay present.
Class of the attachment styles
When dismissive-avoidant and anxious-preoccupied people get together in a relationship, it can be a match made in hell. The anxious-preoccupied partner might find themselves chasing the dismissive partner, misinterpreting their nonchalant vibes as attraction.
The anxious-preoccupied partner might even consider getting the dismissive partner’s attention as a major win. Meanwhile the dismissive partner is in major cringe-mode from all the emotions that the anxious-preoccupied partner is displaying. When these two get together, prepare for drama.
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The bottom line
Whatever your attachment style may be, it’s important to learn about your emotional patterns. Self-awareness is the best investment we can make when navigating relationships. The more we know about our attachment styles, the more likely we are to make healthy choices that keep us from getting hurt.
Even though secure attachment is the ultimate goal, be sure to thank your body for taking you through every phase of attachment. Insecure attachment styles developed from a need to survive unpredictable environments from our childhoods. Without those survival instincts, where would we be?
When it comes to outdated survival mechanisms, practice the KonMari method. Acknowledge that an attachment style or behavioral pattern no longer sparks joy, show gratitude for what they’ve done for you, and let it go when it no longer serves you.
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