When someone gets close to you romantically, do you feel suffocated and try to push the person away? If so, you may have an avoidant attachment style.
Or perhaps when you start developing feelings for someone, you experience major anxiety when that person is not around. Not hearing from the apple of your eye brings out your fear of rejection and abandonment, causing you to panic. Sound familiar? Perhaps you have an anxious attachment style.
Many attachment theorists believe that by the age of 5, we develop a primary attachment style that will more or less define the way we emotionally bond and attach to others in our adult lives. There are three primary attachment styles: secure, avoidant and anxious. About half the population falls in the secure attachment style category, meaning they are comfortable with intimacy but are not codependent. Secures do not define their identity or self-esteem on their lover's reinforcement. They don't have great abandonment issues, and can give and receive care comfortably.
People with an avoidant attachment style created a narrative at a very young age that their needs could not be met, so they shut off from intimacy to avoid depending on anyone. They become fiercely independent and subconsciously fear that if they let someone get too close, they will get hurt and disappointed as a result. To them, intimacy equates to a loss of independence, often resulting in a strong desire to retreat into their "cave."
The third attachment style is anxious. Those who fall under this category likely endured inconsistent caregiving. Their primary fear is rejection, and they often worry about their partner's ability to love them back. When triggered, they engage in protest behavior that can be rather destructive. For example, if an anxious doesn't hear from her partner all day, she reacts by punishing him. Like a hurt child, she reacts by not answering his calls or avoiding him completely. Or, she may become frantic, and keep calling or texting him repeatedly. This reaction is deeply ingrained in the subconscious -- the reactionary behavior running on autopilot.
Opposites attract in the case of attachment styles, and anxious types are drawn to avoidants, and vice versa. For anxious types, avoidants validate their abandonment fears about relationships, and an insecurity of not being enough. In turn, avoidants need someone to pursue them to meet their emotional needs that they subconsciously disown.
So what does all this mean for your relationships? If you fall in the anxious or avoidant categories, the goal is to become more secure in the way you emotionally bond. To do this, first you must recognize what your primary attachment style is, what triggers you, and what protest behavior(s) you react with when triggered. Once you are able to identify when you are acting destructively (and recognize these are old habits that are deeply wired from childhood), you can start changing your reaction to a healthier response. Just like how you build bad habits through repetition, you can create new, positive habits through repetition. The more you repeat, the more it sticks.
The root belief of both anxious and avoidant types is the fear of a lack of safety. For me, I have an anxious attachment style. To evolve past this, I do both a mind hack and a body hack. Whenever I am triggered, my nervous system goes into high alert. To calm down and self-soothe, I stop and meditate. I visualize myself as a little girl, with my family surrounding me giving me all the love and resources I need. I create an environment in my mind where I am safe and loved, and try to embrace how that state of being feels. Next, I do a body hack where I will do 10 pushups or jumping jacks. I change my physiology as a way to help my mind to snap out of the negative spiral that it so eagerly wants to fall back to. Both exercises force me to be in the present. I've also stopped taking things personally and turning every "sign" as an indication of rejection or disinterest.
Lastly, it's important to be aware of the types of attachment styles you are typically drawn to, and recognize the red flags before investing emotionally. Dating someone who has a secure attachment style will help you become healthier, where as dating someone with the opposite attachment style will only increase your primary bonding dysfunction. If you want to move away from the emotional roller coaster you've experienced in past relationships, learning about your attachment style is key.