Relationship change: When different attachment types get together

Firstly, it is important to say that our romantic relationships mimic our early attachment styles to our parents or our caregivers. We are wired to be attached - it is linked to our survival and our fundamental primary needs.


As we move into adulthood, these attachment styles remain our pattern of behaviour. For those of us who are not 'securely attached', we can develop styles of attachment that cause us to make repeated mistakes in our relationships that we cannot fathom or understand, and also pick the very same inter-relational dynamic that mimics our early core wounds and our early fears.

As children, we are very attuned to our parents emotions as we are not sufficiently developed to be using our minds and reasoning, yet, so much is about our instincts. So, the child personalises everything.

When we become aware of not only what ours and others attachment styles are and also the why, and causes, we can learn to respond in an entirely different way. It is very hard for change to take place without awareness. Being aware of your attachment style as well as of those close to you (especially in your romantic relationships) can make a huge difference in whom you allow to become close to you.

Here are some attachment styles explained. Different attachment styles have different insecurities. For example:

  • Anxious attachment - Abandonment is the key fear here as if being connected and staying close is all about what you can do, and not who you are. There is much more about this further on in this article.
  • Dismissive avoidant - Feeling shamed or criticised, like they have something wrong with them.
  • Fearful avoidant - That the trust will be broken and that it is inevitable in relationships leading to betrayal and/or feeling betrayed. There is also a lot of self imposed pressure to be perfect and somehow through their perfection they are then loveable they are rarely safe after the “honeymoon” stage.

Dismissive avoidant

This style usually comes from a strong childhood background of emotional neglect.

It could be for a lot of different reasons here, and not purposeful neglect. For example, through an early caregiver's struggle with depression, or because they too had no nurture emotionally from their early childhood where the focus might have been on achievement through sport and education. Or the parent or primary caregiver had addiction issues, or poverty and financial struggles. If there was no tuning into you and how your day was, or how you were feeling, asking questions about your day that focused on you within whatever was going on.

Noticing is also important – the parent/s being aware of how you are behaving or acting, putting an arm around you, being emotionally connected and there and attuned to you.

If the attention to your emotional state was not enquired about, emotions feel unsafe and the child will learn to suppress them and to not want to emotionally connect with others. This is because they learn that they are not going to get their emotional needs met by other people. So, they use other conduits like books or films or nature, but not connecting with people because they don’t want to go down the same road of having their emotions rejected again.

They often deny they even have them – there are stored negative associations connected with the emotional connection of and with others. However, fundamentally we are wired for attachment and also belonging. A dismissive avoidant person will be drawn through the conduit of that primal need. It is, however, where all their core wounds and triggers exist that make them feel bad.

This also usually surfaces when the “honeymoon” period between a couple ends and/or it might even make this period shorter because of the surfacing of what is uncomfortable for them. So it can leave the other person bewildered and feel like it doesn’t make any sense as it seems like such a turnaround.

Anxious attachment

Someone with this attachment style usually had a parent or both parents available and emotionally supportive, so the glow of connection and belonging would have been felt and experienced. However, this style of attachment comes with a level of in-congruency. Maybe one parent was more available yet always busy and had their focus drawn away from the child, or there were lots of other children in the family so maintaining individual focus would be very diluted. There are so many different reasons.

This produces a fear of abandonment as the focus is intermittent and non consistent, so the child feels unworthy of keeping their parents' attention. They think if they could try harder, do more, or give more, then they would be loveable in a more consistent way. If only they were more, more, more of everything. They become pleasers.

This trauma is about emotion and repeated experience. Unlike when it is related to a specific event, this is ongoing and not linked or co-morbidly associated or related to a one time experience, it becomes the rhythm of their understanding and relating patterns in close relationships. It is a constant low level experiencing of pain and suffering during their entire childhood. This, although in different ways, is the commonality of all the attachment styles.

Therefore, there is so much stored pain as well as anxiety when they see or feel someone pulling away.

Self-soothing is foreign to anxiously attached people. There is also a lack of relationship to yourself because early hypervigilance to maintain and keep close within a relationship becomes the focus. It is always on the other person, never the self and so stability, boundaries, and their own inner world is fundamentally unknown to them in lieu of “being” with the other person.

It is really important for anxiously attached people in healing to be conscious and intentional as this does not come naturally to them and so much healing can take place within the re-focusing on self and the self-awareness of one's own needs.

So, although these attachment styles appear very different, they are united in that they are about dealing with what is actually the same wound. And neither one is healthy for want of a better word here.

Secure attachment

This occurs when and where our early helplessness was nurtured, connected to. Where the parent/s or caregivers own emotional status was in balance, the connection was two way and positive, and felt safe and good, so we learn we are deserving and worthy of love and it’s connection. This is then what we take in within the world. These people feel open and flexible and don’t feel that things are personal. They feel balanced to be around and there is a consistency to all levels of knowing them and relating with them.

Far better to get to a space internally where we can feel safe and comfortable with expressing what our needs are without the anxiety of the anxious attached person or the dismissive and avoidant strategies of the avoidant attachment type, whether it be dismissive or fearful.

Ideally we want to feel safe when we are vulnerable without the expectation that someone is perfect. As well as the dismissive avoidant feeling that it is OK to open up again, which can be tough. But with awareness it is not impossible.

Anxious attachment styles need intimacy and constant connection and connecting, whereas dismissive attachment styles need lots of space and all that goes with that. So you can see where the friction may come in when the intimacy needed by one makes the other feel engulfed. Then when the threat of engulfment is no longer there or an expectation of super belonging and commitment they come back and want the connection.

So how do we fix this?

Firstly, we have to do this individually, whatever our type. We want to aim for resolving not coping.

Anxious attachment styles need to learn to self-soothe which involves self-love and self-care, thus requiring enquiry.

My focus as a therapist with my patients is to help them navigate their own internal emotional landscape and, by awareness, initially knowing what upsets and triggers them and why. What are their needs, as most anxiously attached people put others first. This kind of works because their rationale is, if they can give then they are more likely to get back.

This can backfire because it is doing things the wrong way around.

Setting boundaries is also an important part of this by putting themselves first which is unfamiliar and therefore doesn’t come naturally. The lack of value dynamic is far more likely to continue if they are reaffirming their lack of value by behaving as if they are less worthy and not showing up for themselves. As if your need is not relevant. This is a damaging byproduct 

Consistency is the key to both therapy and also to healing.

Dismissive avoidant styles need to reprogram their beliefs around trust and trusting and emotional expression. They will seem great at their boundaries and knowing what they need momentarily. So their boundaries can sound harsh and brusque sometimes however they are not aware of their deeper needs, they had to be dug into. So, when their own emotional awareness becomes more familiar then emotions begin to seem less unsafe, because they are more familiar. Trying to say how they are feeling to others expressing and noticing that others respond well without the stored memories or disinterest from the past. Then relying on others is safe and has a positive outcome and can be really nice. This is oppositional thought. It feels good to give and allow.

Seeing the truth behind the actions you are judging or the filter of your own wounds. Seeing the truth.

This allows each type to respond and not react as it feeling “personal”.

The avoidant in early childhood had consistent experience of not getting their needs met. Either physically, emotionally or both. I will make a note here by saying that what can throw off being able to clearly identify this neglect is that even the word neglect contours up images of extreme circumstance.

Even the impact of the words both of neglect and trauma are associated and recognised in their extreme state most often, but both trauma and neglect can be as damaging and insidious in their more subtle versions. This can be especially true if either one or both parents are narcissistic due to their own childhood history which can be due to both the extremes of over focus or lack of focus.

Then there is an assumed state of rejection, whether physical or emotional. This is a coping reaction developed by fear of history repeating itself if they allow others to get close. Bearing in mind that as before mentioned, we are wired for connection, this push me, pull me exchange can prove bewildering to others relating with them whether in friendship or romantically and this really hurts!

Healthy communication tips

A really important tip here is to communicate with them from a general space rather than an emotionally reactive space. The avoidant will also expect and assume that others are self reliant too, not understanding or relating to neediness of any kind.

Basically for relationships to work both aspects need to be maximised by expressing and understanding your own needs and also being rooted in your own sense of identity. Without a trade off.

Emotions for the avoidant can also be reviewed and considered as a weakness as they learned that their emotions didn’t bring them anything except rejection.

Criticism is a real trigger for avoidant people as it re-ignites their shame for the longing of unmet needs. Even discussion for them can be perceived through their filtering as criticism.

So communicate from a feeling place rather than a you did this to me kind of space explain by owning rather than accusing avoid blame and be clear.

Healthy relationships are built through the healing of being able to be your real and true self, not the coping, false, version of you and/or how you survived and navigated the lack of connection that wounded you which created a false self and made you ditch your authenticity.

There is an initial feeling of risk involved in being your authentic self, and of course this can feel uncomfortable. 

Being in the care of a good therapist can help enormously to pave the road to recovery and genuine change.

A relationship to yourself, your beliefs, this needs to be nourished so that thriving within that can take place and replace old misconceptions.

I am running a course on all these relational dynamics, which will bring a deeper awareness of your own attachment style and those you are in relationships with.

What you will learn will change your relationships for the better forever,and also your relationship with yourself. You will have:

  • less anxiety 
  • make better choices
  • really experience self-worth and understanding 
  • new awareness which will prevent disillusionment 
  • less repeated mistakes 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, N8
Written by Gail Berry, Emotional and Relationship Coach
London, N8

Written by Gail Berry Emotional Coach - both a therapist and an alternative medical practitioner who works with healing people’s core wounds and uses Bach Flower Remedies alongside talking and behavioural therapy to make real change and transformation possible.

07771 715072
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