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Attachment Styles: The Key to Understanding Your Relationships

Daniel Binus K'dee Elsen
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In this episode, Dr. Daniel Binus and Dr. K'dee Elsen provide an overview of attachment styles. Knowing your own attachment style or the attachment style of someone else is key to better understanding the way we relate to one another.


  • September 20, 2021
    5:00 PM
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A tie. I'm dr. Daniel binary. I'm amanda. I'm jonathan and I'm dr. Katie elson. And together we are a group of real practicing mental health professionals. This podcast is a one stop shop for all The to be a freshman in one episode of it's. Are you ready to go with? So attachment styles, one of my favorite topics, actually when I talk about attachment or think about attachment, it's actually been one of the most important things for me to help understand my client and also even understand myself and my relationships. And I don't know about katie, but it really gives me that understanding about like how, how can I help somebody move from maybe a dysfunctional relationship to actually a functional relationship? Oh, definitely. I think it's, if we recognize that we're social beings, right. Connectedness is really the essence to all of our different problems, whether we see it most evidently in relationships or we seen in other aspects of being at work or interacting with a stranger on the street. But really connectedness and attachment. As at the core of who we are. Absolutely. And a lot of people might be wondering ok, attachment. Yeah, I'm attached to things or people or whatever. But what are we talking about when we're talking about attachment style? So what, what does that term even mean? In psychobabble, yes, I think for a lot of us it's something that we're more aware of than even the 5 years ago. People are more interested in that they're reading books about a and there could be a lot of confusion as to the different terms. But I think to simplify a little bit more just to think about 3 main attachments, and so who are attachments to the number one? And then 2 of the insecure might either be anxious, attachment, or avoided attachment. And we'll talk a little bit more about each other and the 4th one which you were talking about earlier. I don't know if you want to mention that one, having a good explanation for people who might be confused as to which one do I actually fit into. Yeah, and that would be really the disorganized attachment style and, and with the disorganized attachment style, people basically vasily between what we call that avoided attachment style and then the anxious or insecure attachment style. You know, one thing when I'm talking with, with some of my patients and also just sharing about attachment style. I think about like basically we're talking about relationship style re like how we relate to one another. And what's interesting is that we actually grow this understanding subconsciously in our mind about how to act in relationships, ray and how to feel about relationships. And that really is what we call then our relationship paradigm which and other word would for that would be attachment style. Right? And so katie, do you have any thoughts about how people actually develop that sort of attachment style or relationship paradigm if you will? Yes, so one of the main factors is really childhood experiences, right? Especially attaching to primary caregivers. So I think about some of the studies that they've done with russian orphans right in which americans were adopting these russian orphans. And they started recognizing a lot of dysfunction and these child's life. And it came from the lack of attachment that they had with primary caregivers, right? They were left often to crying, crying, crying their cribs. So a lack of attachment from primary caregivers can develop into insecure attachments later on. So one of the main factors is really childhood experiences. And whether or not we're able to attach to primary caregivers and receive the needs that we to meet the needs that we have. And that really makes a lot of sense, right? Because when we're 1st born into the world, what do we know about relationships? Nothing, right? We know nothing at all about relationships on our 1st born. And so how do we learn that? Well, we learn that from those people that are around us, our primary caregivers for which, for most of us would be our mother or father. Sometimes it would be a grandparent, but those people there are around us consistently. Now one question I have for you to along those lines is, could it be possible? And I'm not trying to confuse things here too much, but could it be possible that you have a different relationship paradigm for, you know, like a different attachment for your mom versus your dad or as that work? So definitely I think if you think about just personal experiences, right, you have different relationships and you and I think that speaks you, you get your different needs met from different primary caregivers, right? Mother may provide certain emotional nurturing needs that you have a father may provide in different ways. And so it's not that I have to have all my needs met from one person. It's really kind of the, the combination of several people in your lives. But they are, there are typically one or 2 that are the primary above all. And that makes a lot of sense. And it also makes me think that I think there's an advantage there too, because maybe if one individual doesn't know how to nourish, meet all of your needs a be someone else can help make up for that. But I think oftentimes it seems like an attachment problem can develop when there's a certain area of emotional or relationship need in a person's life that really gets neglected by pretty much all of the primary caregivers. And what are some of those basic emotional needs that people actually have in relationships growing up as, as children? So one of the things that I see most of my clients is the ability to self suit. And not often they struggle with really just regulating with their emotions, be able to calm themselves down because the need that they had earlier on, for example, to be sued when they're crying, where they fall, knee, they scrape their need to have somebody to comfort them to teach them how to self soothe, think that one of the need they see most that have been neglected as a child and results and later on, difficulties and adulthood. Absolutely, and it's interesting because if someone learns that they are soused from a caregiver, then they, it seems like that actually helps them to later on be able to see themselves when they are hurts or go through a difficult experience. And one of the other things i've noticed in relationships and in growing up in and it in, in a home and being a child is that it's, it's so important also to be not only super bay but seen paid attention to. Right. And, and so there's this idea of a, you know, some, some children don't even feel seen and that leads to them not feeling valued. And really, that might be a good segue. Why don't we just jump right into the different types of attachment. So like you already mentioned key there, there are 4 main types that the research has really looked at. There's the secure attachment, which would be like a secure relationship style. There's the avoidance type of attachment. There's the anxious or insecure, and then there's the combination of the avoidant and anxious, which is called a disorganized. So let's touch on and on, on those maybe had touched real quick on the secure. And then we could really dive into the, the 2nd to a little bit more. Yeah, so the best way that I have come to learn about these styles is actually through an experiment they did the strain situation in which the child in a room with their mother and then a stranger come, then starts talking with the mother and then distract the kids a little bit distracted and then the mother leaves. And so you see ok. What's the child's reaction? And then also what the child reaction when they come back. And so we secure attach children, they have this good balance between ok moms. There I go out and explore, i feel confident on my own, but I also touched base with mom, make sure you know she still there because I do have that love and connection with her. Right. So that's how I think about secure attachment. So they can kind of explore from the secure base and they want mom, they wouldn't because but they're also comfortable enough to kind of go to go out and explore and go round the corner and look at what's there. But they go back to see mom, a lot of sense. And then, and so, and with that, of course, that the child is essentially if they are having a need and they're speaking up by crying or whatever they're, they're doing, making their meet needs not known. And the parents are consistently available, responding to the needs appropriately. It doesn't mean that the parents perfect, but they're, they're consistently emotionally available. And also of course, for the physical health needs. Then the child starts to help build that sense of security is that when I'm understanding exactly, and if the parent, when the parent leaves and comes back. And let's say that the child was crying because they missed their parent, which is natural. Unhealthy. When the parent actually consoles them, they are able to receive them, right? They don't push the parent away, which is really important later on in the hood. To recognize, do I have a secure attachment of when I have those needs? I'm being able to receive those needs to be met. Oh, that's her. That's a really interesting point because you know, for some of us that when we're heard and someone tries to console us, we might just be like, oh, leave me alone. Right. I just want to you by myself because they don't learn that it's ok to be vulnerable. So that brings us to the subsequent types of attachment issues that people might develop. So let's touch a little bit on the avoidance type of attachment style. What might that look like and how can that develop? Yeah, so continuing with the theme of these children with their, their mother avoid it would be, I don't care that mom is there she leaves, i don't care that she's back. Right. And that can develop often from while mother hasn't been there. And so it's a try of the coping mechanism of if she hasn't been there. And so I developed this, I don't care even though I deeply do care. But it's hurtful to care and mom's non present. Absolutely. So I, I've definitely seen this commonly, with such situations, people where they grow up in a home where the parents may be really busy, like working all the time or something like a workaholic parent or parents. And the child is making bids for attention. They're saying, hey, I'm here, I want to play, i want to do this or that. But the parent is like, sorry, I gotta do this. I gotta do that after a while. The child just basically kind of gives up, right? And because who like, who likes rejection and I don't like rejection. And so after while you just say, you know what, I'm done with this, I'm not, I'm going to just figure life out on, on my own. And I'm going to somehow me meet my own emotional needs in some way, even though obviously it's not in the healthiest ways. And I've had clients who say when I asked them about their childhood, they said all my parents were wonderful. And your parents could be wonderful, but like you mentioned, it could be stress or other factors that get in the way of connecting the way that they want to. So it doesn't mean that your parents are bad if they weren't able to connect with you. Doesn't mean that you, you know, can have a secure attachment because of that, but it's, this is the idea that things can get in the way of the connection that you desire. Yeah, and I really appreciate that because certainly we don't want to paint this picture like, oh, we're just trying to say how bad parents are and they're the cause of all my problems. There's a lot of people that are great people, but because of life situations are stressors, it can, it gets in the way of, of the parent may be giving them what they, they want to the child. Maybe they don't know how to give themselves. And so I think it is important as we think about this whole attachment style situations in our lives that it's not as much an opportunity to say, oh, now I know I can blame my parents for all my relationship problems as an adult. You know, it's more about, Okay, now we can understand ourselves better so that we can not keep repeating the same errors in our adult relationships, right? So speaking of adults, so then when avoiding at avoidance li, attached child grows up. And of course, as, as, as a young person, they've learned then, you know, I, I'm not going to get my emotional needs. Man, I'm just kind of giving up on the idea of intimacy. Right. And they kind of yeah, they say I'm not gonna try to keep being rejected. What it, what can not look like then in adulthood for those avoidance li, attached people. Yeah. Either completely avoiding relationships or if they're in a relationship where you then let's say for relationship may be dating any sign of potential rejection. I don't care, right? Or I, I withdraw or I, you know, and it before they can end it with me. Yeah. And really, you know, in, with cognitive behavioral therapy, we might really almost call that, you know, kind of a, a mind reading or a fortune teller error, like where you already have this sense of like book they're, they're rejecting me. They're going to reject me and subconsciously. That's the rhetoric that's going through the mind, right? Is like, this relationship is, is, is not going to maybe it's going to work on some levels. But I know that I'm not that valuable. Maybe they're saying I am, but the way they're going to act, i know in some, eventually they're going to reject me. And because people really, I think her direction of anything is maybe the most difficult thing psychologically, for anyone to tolerate. Like you say, preemptively, they're going to attend to jump to say, you know what, forget it, I'm, and I'm out of here before you can reject me, right? To protect them. Exactly. And, and so I think, you know, even when we talk about like recognizing that sort of attachment style and doing something about it, it's like, if I have those, a boy in a tendency is it's important to say, you know what, I need to give people a chance right? Instead of just automatically mind reading and being like, oh they really don't want to be close to me or they really are going to reject me saying, you know, I need to give them a chance. Maybe this person really is going to be available emotionally. To me, Yeah. So why don't we go ahead and move right into the 3rd attachment style, which is the anxious or insecure attachment style. So what, how might that develop? Yeah, I'd like to think about it as in like this confusion rate of anxiety is the fear, the unknown. And so a child doesn't know sometimes maybe the parent is there for me. Sometimes they're not. And so I'm not quite sure. And so the exam is constantly there and with they leave may be they, you know, they come back and sometimes they are there for me and they can see me and sometimes they can. Yeah. And that makes a lot of sense. So because you know, when you think about the word anxious are insecure, like the child never knows quite what to expect a. And I think a good example of that might be an alcoholic parent or a parent with just anger problems. Sometimes add that parent might be just totally fine with like the child is doing and maybe the child is like, you know, during their toys on the floor and maybe the parents like Yeah. Ok. You know, I like with a pick this up and helping it really calmly, but maybe the parent, the next day is hung over. And now the how they, even if they make a little peep or say the wrong thing, the parent is flying off the handle. Right. And the child is like, okay, I don't know what parents is going to show up to day. What version of mom or dad and so they always feel like they're walking around on excels like wondering like, ok is today and ok day to be like, you know, kind of rambunctious or do I have to be like, extra careful to that right now it's going to drive a lot of anxiety. Yeah. And a lot of confusion later on in life. Yeah. Because then I don't know what to expect from my partners. That's very true. Yeah. And so what can that look like later on in the relationships later on in life? Yes, I like to think about like the push and pull that happens in relationships of like, ok i'm, I'm really attached to you and things are going great. And then any sign of potential, you know, any potential rejection or fear i pull back. So it's constantly vacillating between we're connected, we're not connected and a lot of confusion, the. Yeah. And sometimes in the literature, they even talk about this as an ambivalent sort of attachment style, right? Because people are vacillating back and forth between that. And we're, and what's interesting to you is, you know, with the avoidance the people there, of course they tend to like, avoid closeness and, and relationships. What I've seen are both in practice and also in the literature, is that the people that have the anxious or insecure attachment style, they actually really think a lot about relationships and they want to, they pursue relationships. But oftentimes they, they not only want to be close, but basically too close. And I think a big part of that is because they, because they have had that unpredictability in childhood. Now as adults, they say, you know what, and of course is on the sub conscious level, right? But they say, how can I be basically handle this relationship in a way that it's more predictable. And so then they try to control. Yeah, we like control, right? Yeah, and what's interesting, of course, is that, Well, I don't think most of us, I don't know about you katie, but I don't like to be controlled, right. Know exactly. And so the other person then in the relationship is going to be like now don't control me. And they're going to like push back, which is interesting because often we see anxious and avoided attachments getting together and relationships. Well, one for stealing the other ones distancing, and you can see then how that cycle just yet itself. And basically it confirms that misconceptions we have about relationships and reinforces those things in a major way. And then you can really see how the problems really just continue and are perpetuated. And one thing that I do often tell people that are struggling with that anxious, insecure attachment style, where you're preoccupied with the relationship and your eyes wondering like, you know, is that person going to be there or not? And you're in, you're feeling insecure. You gotta learn to take a step back and let go of some of that control. It's kinda like a dance. You know, if you get too close to somebody in a dancing you move towards them all the time, the only way direction they have to go back. Right? Exactly. And so in that relationship dance, you kind of got a step back so that it gives them room to step towards go. So when we're thinking about these different attachment styles, and like we said, we're, we're today, we're not going to, to really delve into the disorganized cause really, that's just a combination of the avoidance and the ambivalent are, are anxious, attachment style. But is there hope, you know, can these because of he really Okay, this is my relationship paradigm. I guess I'm just kind of stuck with bad relationships for the rest of my life. Freight is their hope for change. The example, the dances of when I use a lot with my couples, just this idea, okay, I learned to dance this way for so long, but I can learn how to take different steps, right? And some people make the argument of maybe you can't change your style completely, but you can start making different steps where you start having a different understanding about people and how they react to you specifically. So if you're anxious as you mentioned, taking that step back and that allows your partner to take a different step as well. And then together, you can find a different pattern or flow of the dance. That's really awesome. And so I'm so happy to hear you talk about that because to me it's so important. Whenever we talk about these challenges and issues that happen, especially if they're deep rooted in childhood, to have hope to have horror says things can improve and change and, and what's really needed is such as even in the experience we see in our with our clients. But the literature actually really supports that people can change their attachment style and, and, and in some lister they even talk about what the, what they term, the 5th attachment style which is earned secure attachment. And I love that because there's a lot to be said for. Yeah, you got to work hard for it and you got to earn it so to speak, but it can change. And one question out how there is, of course, it's that awareness p. But how, how, how can that really change over time? Do you have any thoughts on that? Yeah, so one of the things they recommend the most as to find secure attachments and long lasting attachments. Because if you say, you know, this is a secure attachment and it's a friendship that's very short term. If this attachment that you have has been created over years, is not going to be something some change overnight. And so finding secure attachments that are long lasting, that over time small steps added up really lead to Long term change. And so really important of long lasting secure attachments. And that makes a lot of sense to me because really, if you think about it, if dysfunction occurred in the context of a relationship, then healing also needs to occur in the context of a relationship, right? And so really connecting with people that have a healthy relationship style or a secure attachment, informing those long term relationships to me, it seems like that is the most direct and helpful way to actually develop that secure attachment. And certainly the research also supports that. And I would add to that the importance of connecting with god because people are people and there is no perfect person. And so often i've seen people trying to find completely perfect relationships and people disappoint them. And then they're thinking, well, is there any hope for relationships? There is one person that is always the same constant. His love doesn't change. And while we attach ourselves to him who is the ultimate secure attachment, then that can help our own sense of value identity. Love and connection. That's absolutely correct. I. I've seen that frequently in people's lives. I've seen that in my own life, even, you know, as I've gotten closer to God that that has helped to really address some my own relationship sick. Insecurity is, and you develop as you developed a sense of like, ok, even though their life is hard problems come up. There's the opportunity to have that soothing from god and be seen by god. Be comforted by him in the, in the difficult situations. Having those need supplied, then that security can start to develop. And I think a lot of good can come out not only in our spiritual relationship, but then in our other relationships with other human beings to exactly. So anything you want to add as far as experiences you you'd want to share. While the one experience that I wanted to quickly share is what actually taught me the most about attachment and comes from personal experience of my father story. So my father is an orphan and I remember sitting in a graduate level class and learned about attachment. And basically the teacher saying, once people have these attachments, we can't change. And I thought, well, for my father, he didn't have those attachments at all. Very kind of avoided attachment style, but when he got, when he recognized the love of god and he learned about it, there's a verse that says though an nursing mother may forget her suckling child, I will never forget you says lord. And so my father said whence he read that he recognized. Yes, I may not have an attachment with my mother, but with god I can. And his relationship with god actually taught him about love. So that when he became a husband and father, i would have never expected him to have avoided avoidance tach, my style because he was so loving to us. When I hear the story with my teacher, she's like, I don't believe it because of father who's had those experiences should not be that type of father that is beautiful. And it gives again, so much hope for healing, regardless of where we've come from. Thank you. So much for sharing, so grateful that we got to talk about this topic and there's so much more that we could say, and there's, i'm sure more episodes that we're going to do about attachment because there's so it's so important to understand how we can heal from the past from those wounds that we've all experienced in life, even if we have secure attachment, they're still oftentimes wounds that need to be addressed. And through that really experience, the beauty of healthy relationships can look like. And in summary, i just want to recap a couple of things we talked about today, which basically we've talking about relationship styles or attachment styles. We talked about how they're secure attachment, there's avoidance, and then there is anxious or insecure. And then there's the combination, those to which is the disorganized and the good news here is that attachment styles can change that we can hear from the past. And the best way to do that is to foster healthy relationships with securely attached to individuals. Long term relationships and as part of that fostering that spiritual relationship with god with me. And if you only take one thing away from today's. So remember this is the mental illness as a whole person problem, then it must have a whole person solution. I'm dr. Daniel bonus, i'm dr. Katie elphin, and you've been listening to the brain. Ah, thanks for listening to hear more episodes, find us on social media or supportive financially. Visit the brain people podcast dot com.


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