Unpacking the Four Attachment Styles and What, Exactly, They Say about You

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Ever wonder why you feel the need to text your partner 20 times when they’re just out with friends, or why you always feel like bolting at the first sign of intimacy? Welcome to the world of attachment styles, y’all—your personal emotional blueprint that helps explain how you act in relationships, and why, for better or worse.

“Attachment theory sheds light on how humans form and maintain emotional bonds,” explains relationship and EMDR therapist Ashley Starwood, LCSW. Developed by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the ’50s, this theory centers on the profound impact of our earliest interactions. “It’s these initial connections with our parents or caregivers that set the stage for how we engage with others throughout our lives,” Starwood adds.

She explains that, from birth, we instinctively seek close bonds that offer security and comfort. Those early attachments developed during childhood shape our attachment style—be it secure, anxious, avoidant, or fearful-avoidant—and influence our later relationships.

“Understanding your attachment style is akin to decoding your personal love language. It’s a game-changer for unraveling your relational behaviors and the dynamics you gravitate towards,” says Morgan Anderson, PsyD, an attachment theory expert and author of Love Magnet.

Ready to dive deeper, heal some childhood wounds, and cultivate richer, healthier relationships? We’ve enlisted top therapists and relationship experts to unpack the four primary attachment styles, illustrate how they manifest daily, and help you identify your own. Let’s decode your love life, shall we?

How Are Attachment Styles Formed?

Attachment styles are developed through early childhood experiences. “Your parents’ ability to be attuned to your needs and be emotionally safe caregivers greatly impacts your ability to build secure attachment,” Anderson says. For example, caregivers who consistently and compassionately meet their child’s needs foster a sense of trust. “Conversely, inconsistent, neglectful, or even abusive caregiving can create feelings of insecurity, anxiety, or fear in the child,” adds Starwood.

Now, despite the fact that I’d loooove to blame my parents for all my issues, Anderson says early non-familial relationships can also play a key role in forming your attachment style. In fact according to eharmony’s September 2023 Dating Diaries report, “84 percent of Gen Z singles believe that past heartbreaks have made them ‘more cautious’ about relationships, and 72 percent say it made them ‘less trusting’ in relationships,” notes eharmony relationship expert Laurel House.

Additionally, you might find that you form more secure attachments with some people and are more anxious, avoidant, or even fear-avoidant with others. The attachment type of others can influence your own, as can current circumstances and feelings of self-worth.

The Four Attachment Styles

There are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Read on to learn more about each, including what they look like and how they’re formed.

Secure Attachment

As the name suggests, a person with a secure attachment style feels just that—secure in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Not only do people with the secure attachment style value closeness in their relationships, Anderson explains, but they also know how to set healthy boundaries and communicate their needs effectively. “In securely attached relationships, partners experience ‘interdependence,’ meaning they are able to practice self-soothing simultaneously and can also ask their partner for support and reassurance,” she says.

How it’s formed: Very simply, House says caregivers who are consistently present and responsive to their child’s needs within the first year of life (and beyond!) lead to secure attachments.

Anxious Attachment

While a person with an anxious attachment style might crave closeness with their partner, Starwood says they often harbor a deep-seated fear of abandonment and rejection. These are the ~waiting for the other shoe to drop~ kinda folks. They frequently seek a lot of reassurance from their partners yet struggle to internalize the reassurance when it is given.

“With anxious attachment, there is often coping through excessive communication, becoming a ‘chameleon’ in your relationships, passive expression of needs, and even codependency,” Anderson explains. “Unconsciously, the anxiously attached person is thinking, ‘I will do anything not to be abandoned.’”

How it’s formed: “Emotionally inconsistent and unpredictable caregivers contribute to creating adults with anxious relationships,” says House. Parents who are sometimes available and sometimes distant can lead to children (and eventually, adults) who are anxious about future connections.

Avoidant Attachment

Think of avoidant attachment as the polar opposite of anxious—instead of craving constant reassurance, they value hyper-independence and often feel uncomfortable with closeness. “If you have an avoidant attachment style, you struggle to be vulnerable in your relationships and may find yourself pulling away from people,” Anderson explains. “Avoidantly attached individuals still crave intimacy, but their fear of it outweighs their desire to be close. There is often a lack of emotional awareness with avoidant attachment, meaning these individuals are not connected to their own emotional experience, which in turn makes it nearly impossible for them to connect to the emotional experience of others.”

How it’s formed: Dismissive, disconnected, and distant caregivers shape avoidant adults, House says. Children’s emotional needs aren’t being met within relationships, so they grow up feeling they can generally only depend on themselves.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

The final attachment style is fearful-avoidant (FA), and according to Anderson, it’s often linked to childhood trauma. “An individual with an FA attachment style experiences both anxious and avoidant strategies simultaneously,” she says. “This can manifest as a pendulum swinging from fear of abandonment to desiring complete independence. Those with a fearful-avoidant attachment style have a hard time trusting anyone and struggle to form lasting relationships.”

How it’s formed: This attachment style typically arises from highly unpredictable or abusive environments. “Fearful-avoidant attachment is characterized by inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving experiences,” Starwood explains. “It involves a mix of behaviors, where a child might seek closeness but then become withdrawn or fearful, reflecting the instability they experience at home.”

How to Figure Out Your Attachment Style

Some people might have just had a lightbulb moment after reading about the different attachment styles, but for others, it might take a bit more work and self-reflection to figure out which one makes the most sense. Starwood suggests reflecting on your childhood, experiences with caregivers, and past relationships, noting how each impacts your sense of security and trust.

There are also online tests that can help you uncover your style. Try this popular attachment style quiz from the Attachment Project, or Anderson’s own five-minute attachment style questionnaire. Whichever one you take, Starwood stresses that this is just a starting point on your road to understanding your style.

“A psychotherapist can provide a more in-depth assessment of your attachment style using standardized tools and clinical interviews,” she says. “This can be particularly helpful if you’re interested in a deeper understanding of your attachment patterns and how they might impact your relationships.”

How to Change Your Attachment Style

Good news: You’re not stuck with the emotional patterns you formed as a kid, even if they might be kiiiinda hard to shake on your own. Understanding your attachment style is like hitting the refresh button, says Anderson. “It starts with awareness, followed by actively releasing outdated patterns through emotional regulation and secure relationship skills like assertive communication and setting boundaries.”

Starwood says therapy can be a huge game-changer here. A therapist isn’t just a guide; they’re like your personal relationship coach, helping you to unpack your baggage, swap out your old coping mechanisms, and learn how to (healthily) express your true feelings.

And hey, all this self-work deserves a round of applause. “Celebrate your progress, no matter how small, and be patient with yourself,” Starwood adds. Focus on building trust and connection now, not on the static from your past.

This isn’t just about tweaking a few habits; it’s about transforming how you handle all your relationships moving forward. Kinda major, right? So, give yourself (and your inner child) a little self-compassion, then get ready to embrace a more confident and secure future—for your partners and for yourself.

Headshot of Rachel Varina

Rachel Varina

Rachel Varina is a full-time freelance writer covering everything from the best vibrators (the Lelo Sona) to the best TV shows (The Vampire Diaries). She has over 10 years of editorial experience with bylines at Women’s Health, Elite Daily, Betches, and more. She lives in Tampa, Florida, but did not feed her husband to tigers. When she’s not testing out new sex toys (100+ and counting so far!), she’s likely chilling with her dogs or eating buffalo chicken dip. Ideally at the same time. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter

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