What Are the Different Attachment Styles and Why Are They Important?

A mother kissing her smiling baby girl and forming a secure attachment style

Attachment theory is the idea that we develop an “attachment style” from our formative relationships – both with our parents as babies, and the relationships we go on to develop as adults

Key takeaways:

  • Attachment is an emotional bond with someone.

  • There are four attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

  • While the commonly held belief is that attachment styles are formed by our relationships with our parents as babies, any formative relationship is likely to influence your attachment style.

  • It’s possible to change your style with intention, patience, and time.

Attachment is an emotional bond between two people. British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who is credited as the father of attachment theory, described attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Bowlby strongly believed that early childhood experiences are foundational in development, and can impact behaviors later in life.

Attachment theory has revealed how our attachment style with our parents or primary caregivers as babies can impact our relationships as adults. It can help predict our behavior in relationships, some say. We explain the four different attachment styles and how they might be impacting your relationships.

The characteristics of attachment

Bowlby proposed that there was an evolutionary component at play with attachment. He believed that it’s an adaptive trait necessary for survival, as well as human nature. He defined four characteristics of attachment:

  • Proximity maintenance: This is the desire for closeness with the attachment figure.

  • Safe haven: The attachment figure is where we retreat for comfort and safety when presented with a threat.

  • Secure base: The attachment figure is our “home base,” a place of security from which we can explore the world around us.

  • Separation distress: Separation distress is commonly known as “separation anxiety,” referring to the anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure.