4 Attachment Styles: A Basic Overview

Are you looking for a soul-shaking, passionate partnership, but find yourself trapped in roller-coaster relationships with unhealthy partners that you hate to love?

Perhaps you have acquired a lot of skills, tips, techniques or “red flags,” to help you make better decisions in love, but no matter what you do, no amount of insight seems to help you break free from unhealthy patterns, or stop feeling attracted to the “wrong” kind of partner.  If this sounds familiar, you are in the right place. 

My name is Briana MacWilliam, and I am a licensed and board-certified creative arts therapist, author, and educator. And I use a psycho-spiritual approach to attachment styles (which are 4 unique blueprints for how you give and receive love), to help insecure lovers go from self-doubting to self-sovereign, and call in those soul-shaking, passionate partnerships they want, without having to talk in circles around their feelings for hours or even years on end, with no tangible result.

But what are attachment styles exactly? Let’s find out…

What are attachment styles?

As an overview, attachment styles are 4 unique blueprints for how you’ve learned to give and receive love in your childhood, but also through your adult romantic relationships. Your blueprint is often a good indicator of how much closeness or space you desire, when it comes to emotional intimacy.

  • Individuals that want a lot of closeness with a partner, typically have anxious attachment; I call them “Open Hearts.” 
  • Individuals who want more space, usually have avoidant attachment; I call them “Rolling Stones.” 
  • Individuals that both want and fear closeness, are sometimes considered fearful avoidant or disorganized; I call them “Spice of Lifers.”
  • Individuals who are comfortable with closeness and separateness in relationships are considered securely attached; I call them “Cornerstones.”

But often, we will find ourselves experiencing attitudes and behaviors that overlap with different styles. And that is because the degree of anxiety or avoidance you feel is always moving around on a continuum, as exemplified by the x/y axis below.

A common pairing that leads to high levels of conflict, which winds up looking like an “on-again, off-again” relationship, is an anxious and avoidant pairing. This is sometimes referred to as “the anxious-avoidant trap.” Although the same patterns can emerge with a disorganized individual paired with an Open Heart or a Rolling Stone.

On the surface, this may appear to be a case of opposites attract, but truly, its a case of like-sees-like. Avoidant individuals avoid anxiety by withdrawing from others and turning inwards. Anxious individuals avoid anxiety, by reaching for others, in an attempt to find relief. In this way, we can come to understand why partners that appear to have opposite inclinations, are actually operating in a very similar way, it’s just expressed more outwardly, or inwardly. This is why people with insecure attachment styles are often very attracted to one another–its like finding an inverted mirror of yourself! This is also why you can sometimes feel polarized by your partner’s attachment style, becoming increasingly anxious, or avoidant.

Anxious Attachment (“Open Hearts“)

If you’ve been trying hard to impress a partner but wind up walking on eggshells because, no matter what you do it seems to only push them away, it is likely you are an Open Heart. Open Hearts tend to demonstrate behaviors such as…

  • You are accustomed to a lack of love in your romantic relationships, and fall into people-pleasing mode.
  • You tend to give too much, and wait around too long for the reciprocation of loving feelings.
  • You take on more than the Lion’s Share of the responsibility, guilt, and blame in any relationship, because you think if you are responsible for something going wrong, it must be within your power to fix it.
  • You may have critically low self-esteem and struggle with feelings of unworthiness.
  • Deep down, you believe you have to earn love and approval, and so, you are drawn to partners that are “challenging” or “edgy,” that make you work for it.
  • On the other hand, if a partner gives you love and affection too freely, you find them “boring,” or “too nice.”
  • By being over-helpful, you make yourself indispensable to a partner. You think, “If they need me, they won’t leave me.” But this generosity is a double edged sword. Since you have worked so hard to make your partner need you, you always question whether or not they really love you for you…(and you probably struggle with knowing who the “real” you is, too).
  • You tend to get lost in the potential of the relationship, rather than the reality of it.
  • You may also struggle with other forms of addiction, such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, food addictions, shopping addictions, hoarding, gaming addictions, and so on.
  • But the hardest thing for the Open Heart, is that they usually attract other partners with insecure attachment styles, and so they fall into what’s called the anxious-avoidant trap; a circumstance where you typically find yourself in partnership with someone that is emotionally unavailable, thus “proving” your deepest fear: that you are unlovable.

Avoidant Attachment (“Rolling Stones“)

If you are sick of falling headlong into relationships, only to wind up feeling bored, smothered, trapped, or worried about hurting your partner, just when things are supposed to be getting good, it is likely you are a Rolling Stone. Most Rolling Stones demonstrate behaviors such as…

  • You are accustomed to partners demanding too much of you, so you are sensitive to even benign requests.
  • You view generosity as a form of manipulation, obligating you to reciprocate more than you are comfortable giving.
  • You you anticipate being blamed for when things go wrong in a relationship, and may head it off by avoiding too much responsibility or commitment. 
  • You might be described as having a fear of commitment, but often that is only because you take commitment quite seriously, when and if you finally decide to commit to something.
  • You might be considered aloof or emotionally distant, but when you do feel things, you feel them very intensely (so much, it might scare you). It might be hard to identify the feeling, let alone express it, and so you try your best to shut it down.
  • You may struggle with perfectionism and fears of failure, but act just the opposite so as to avoid appearing too weak or vulnerable.
  • Deep down, you believe you have to earn love and approval, and so, you are drawn to partners that are “challenging” or “edgy,” that make you work for it.
  • On the other hand, if a partner gives you love and affection too freely, you find them “boring,” or “too nice” and question your ability to make them happy.
  • You tend to fall into relationships quickly, but around 3 months, it’s like a light switch flips, and all you can focus on are the flaws in the relationship, and the missed opportunities still out there.
  • If your partner flirts with someone else or expresses a need for space, you may feel a sense of relief, at first, followed by a need to test them.
  • You may also struggle with other forms of addiction, such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, food addictions, shopping addictions, hoarding, gaming addictions, and so on.
  • But the hardest thing for the Rolling Stone, is that they usually attract other partners with insecure attachment styles, and so they fall into what’s called the anxious-avoidant trap; a circumstance where you typically find yourself in partnership with someone that is emotionally dependent on you, thus “proving” your pessimistic perspective on love: that it comes at the cost of personal freedom.

Disorganized Attachment or Fearful Avoidance (“Spice of Lifer“)

If you feel your partner is a combination of the behaviors of both the Open Heart and the Rolling Stone attachment styles, they are likely a Spice of Lifer. Sometimes this is harder to determine because their attachment style might lean more towards anxious or avoidant, depending on their partner’s attachment style, and their contexts. It’s important to realize a Rolling Stone or Open Heart might lean in the opposing direction from time to time as well, but a Spice of Lifer experiences this in the extreme, which makes their presentation qualitatively different. Spice of Lifers tend to…

  • Behave in frightened or frightening ways  in moments of distress, including demonstrating hostile or aggressive behaviors
  • Demonstrating unpredictable, confusing or erratic behavior, sometimes with no apparent trigger
  • They often can’t make sense of their experiences, and have trouble remembering and/or forming coherent narratives about their past
  • If they’ve suffered abuse, they may offer unusual explanations or justifications for their abuser’s behavior 
  • When they’re asked to convey details of their relationship with their parents, their stories are fragmented, and they have difficulty expressing themselves clearly.
  • They may struggle to self-soothe, and have difficulty allowing others to help them co-regulate their emotions.
  • It may be difficult for them to open up to others or to seek out help.
  • They often have difficulty trusting people.
  • They may struggle in their relationships or friendships or when parenting their own children. 
  • Find it difficult to form and sustain solid relationships. 
  • View the world as an unsafe place, and have pessimistic beliefs about the possibilities for love.
  • In conflict, they tend to vilify their partners and assume their partners have malicious intent towards them.
  • They are prone to severe black and white thinking, and cannot sustain ambiguous feelings for very long without taking action to find relief, which might look like acting out in various ways, including sexual infidelity, ending a relationship on a whim, or picking up an addiction, for example.
  • They tend to overgeneralize minor issues, assuming even the smallest disagreement is a sign the entire relationship is flawed and never going to work.
  • The assertion of personal boundaries is received as a criticism or a threat to the relationship security, and so they may treat their partners with hostility, or emotional withdrawal, if a partner attempts to assert their boundaries.
  • But the hardest thing for the Spice of Lifer, is that they usually attract other partners with insecure attachment styles, and so each partner is constantly feeling triggered, because for the Spice of Lifer, their attachment figures are considered a source of both comfort and threat. Thus, it feels like there is no way to relax into a partnership easefully, or regard any contrasts in the relationship as opportunities for deepening intimacy. And because no healthy relationship can be sustained like this, for the  Spice of Lifer, it proves their deepest fear, which is that they are inherently helpless and unworthy, and relationships are really just a game of power dynamics; control, or be controlled.

Secure Attachment (“Cornerstones“)

In contrast to the presentation of insecure attachment styles, secure Cornerstones may demonstrate the following…

  • Cornerstones generally are comfortable with intimacy in a relationship.
  • They assume their partner means well and so they are quick to forgive in an argument, or when their partner makes a mistake.
  • A Cornerstone might ask for space, but they will let you know when you can expect to hear from them again.
  • A Cornerstone might raise their voice, but they will not attack your character. 
  • And even in the heat of the moment, Cornerstones make bids to reconnect emotionally.
  • Like cracking a joke, or referencing a shared experience, or making physical contact. 
  • Sex is usually emotionally intimate with a Cornerstone because they don’t need to create distance in the relationship by treating sex and intimacy as two seperate things.
  • They are also secure in their power to make changes in a relationship because they don’t think compromise requires sacrificing all of themselves.
  • They believe there is plenty of time and opportunities to find love.
  • They are open to romantic relationships, but don’t desperately need or reject them. 
  • They are not typically jealous, and trust a partner will voice a problem when they have it.
  • The also tend to be friends with their exes.

Based on these descriptions, do you think you might have an insecure attachment style? If you’re not exactly sure, or simply want confirmation, take this attachment styles quiz, and find out how you can start feeling more secure, today!

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