Attachment styles refer to the emotions and actions related to the important relationships in your life. These attachment styles develop as young children in your relationship with your parents but trauma, life experiences, and therapy can alter these styles over time. Your attachment style later affects the type of attachment you will have with romantic partners. This article briefly explains attachment theory and zeroes in on the fearful avoidant vs. anxious preoccupied attachment style.
What Is Attachment Theory?
Psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth are credited with establishing and expanding research on attachment theory in the late 1960s.
Attachment refers to an emotional connection with another person. Contrary to the behavioral theories of attachment stating attachment was a learned behavior, Bowlby and others believed that children are born with an innate need to create an attachment with caregivers. He believed attachment to be an outcome of evolutionary processes.
Children who remained close to an attachment figure throughout history were more likely to experience comfort and protection, and as a result, were more likely to survive into adulthood. An attachment-controlling motivational mechanism arose through the process of natural selection. Bowlby demonstrated nurturance and attentiveness to be the primary factors influencing attachment styles.
Mary Ainsworth developed Bowlby’s theories in the 1970s by finding three distinct infant attachment patterns that accounted for both secure and insecure attachment styles.
In 1987, Hazan and Shaver proposed a connection between child and adult attachment styles and introduced a three-category model of adult romantic relationships
Bartholomew and Horowitz presented a four-category model of adult attachment styles in 1990 that included the concept of fearful-avoidant attachment style. Their four-category models were based on the combination of two working models: first, whether or not a person believes they are deserving of love and support; second, whether or not they believe others are reliable and readily available.
Bartholomew and Horowitz’s attachment model includes one secure attachment and three insecure adult attachments: preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.
Fearful Avoidant Attachment Vs. Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Let us compare fearful avoidant attachment vs. anxious preoccupied attachment.
Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Style
It is also simply referred to as a preoccupied attachment style. High anxiety about the connections and relationships in your life characterizes the anxious preoccupied attachment style.
If you have a preoccupied attachment style, you can have a hard time trusting others and have intense rejection anxiety. Despite your desire for close, intimate relationships, your fear of abandonment may make it difficult for you to establish these bonds.
Characteristics of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Style
Preoccupied attachment style individuals typically have low self-esteem and a negative self-perception. They often perceive others as superior to themselves, which can lead to dependency and reliance on relationships. It’s crucial to keep in mind that having a preoccupied attachment style does not imply that you are inferior to others; rather, it just means that you feel that way.
Factors that lead to Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Style
Apart from genetics, stressful or painful situations may cause a child to form an anxious preoccupied attachment style. An infant will become uncertain and anxious about whether their needs will be addressed if they receive inconsistent responses from the caregiver. A child may feel insecure if a parent is sometimes caring and present but absent at other times because the child is unable to understand or anticipate the parent’s actions.
If parents are overprotective, a child may also develop a preoccupied attachment style. The child may develop fears about their safety and the need for protection to prevent damage as they learn to internalize anxiety like their parents.
If an adult experiences this inconsistent behavior from a partner or friend, they may grow elements of this attachment style. Partners who exhibit inconsistent affection or emotionally abusive actions can bring about insecurity and anxiety about attachment.
Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style
Individuals with fearful avoidant attachment don’t trust others to love and accept them because they think they are unlovable. They avoid relationships because they believe others will eventually reject them. However, they also have a great yearning for intimacy since it makes them feel better about themselves when others accept them.
Due to this, their actions may be confusing to close friends and love partners; they may first encourage intimacy before withdrawing emotionally or physically once they begin to feel exposed in the relationship.
Characteristics of Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style
They seek to build solid relationships with others but stay away from real commitment. Even when they develop a close bond, they break it off the moment things become too personal.
Numerous research studies have demonstrated a link between depressive symptoms and fearful-avoidant attachment. Fearful-avoidant attachment leaves people vulnerable to depression, social anxiety, and negative feelings. In general because it fosters a negative opinion of oneself and self-criticism.
According to a different study, fearful-avoidant attachment is associated with more lifetime sexual partners and a higher propensity to consent to sex even when it’s not wanted, in contrast to other attachment styles.
Factors that lead to Fearful Avoidant Attachment Style
Having at least one frightening parent or caregiver as a child is one of the primary factors that lead to the development of a fearful avoidant attachment style. This fearful conduct might range from overt abuse to more covert indications of anxiety or uncertainty.
The parent is unable to comfort the child when they come to them for solace. The child will first want to approach the caregiver for comfort. But will eventually withdraw because the caregiver does not provide a secure basis and might even cause the child distress.
In their interpersonal interactions with friends, spouses, partners, coworkers, and children, adults with a fearful avoidant attachment style will display the same tendency to approach and then withdraw.
The Ending Note
Whether you have a fearful avoidant attachment style or a preoccupied anxious attachment style, it takes a toll on your mental health, and sense of self-worth and affects the quality of romantic relationships, friendships, your relationship with your colleagues, etc.
Fortunately, attachment therapies help address these dysfunctional attachment styles by helping you rebuild trust in your relationships. Some of the coping mechanisms include learning about your attachment style. Developing strong friendships and connections to form a strong support network to whom you can turn when facing difficulties. Participating in self-esteem and confidence-building activities, and investing in self-care.