Almost 40 percent of the population (including children and adolescents) have attachment issues or disorders. In fact, in today’s society, in which mental health and emotional development are more visible, it’s logical that dysfunctional attachment styles are also more evident. For instance, those issues that, yesterday, would’ve been seen as ‘defects’ of an individual today, are problems to be solved with the help of therapy. With this in mind, we ask the question, how do you love someone with attachment issues?
If you have a partner with an attachment problem, they’ll probably have a way of speaking and acting that reflects their past experiences. You want to love them, but it isn’t easy. It’s hard to accept their sudden and unexpected angry outburst after months of avoiding a conflict that you wanted to resolve. It’s equally hard to have to repeatedly tell them you love them, yet they still, apparently, don’t believe it.
To build a healthy relationship that helps you both grow, we’re going to give you some tips for loving someone with an unhealthy attachment style. After all, everyone has the right to be loved and, above all, to love and be loved without causing pain.
The different types of attachment
You’ve probably already heard of attachment, as it’s a topic that’s addressed to a great extent today. According to John Bowlby’s theory, attachment is the emotional bond established between a mother and baby. Its function is to ensure the care and psychological development of the infant.
Whichever attachment style is established in childhood will determine certain personality traits and behaviors in adult life.
- Secure attachment. This style is typical of individuals who’ve grown up in environments with close, predictable, and consistent reference figures. Consequently, they’ve learned that social environments aren’t threatening and that others tend to respond to the trust they place in them. They’ve also learned that what they do influences how others feel, so not all forms of communication are appropriate, even if they may ultimately convey the same message.
- Anxious attachment. In this case, the caregivers are inconsistent and, therefore, somewhat unpredictable. Those who grow up in these kinds of social environments tend to carry out actions that are totally unrelated to what happens to them.
- Avoidant attachment. These caregivers don’t meet the infant’s needs, so the infant learns that nothing can be expected from others, even at the most critical moments. People with this type of attachment have internalized the idea that they’re alone in the face of any obstacles and difficulties they might encounter, and that they shouldn’t count on anyone. They’re usually extremely autonomous and prudent. However, at the same time, it’s really difficult to connect with them on an emotional level.
- Disorganized Attachment. This is a mix between the two previous types of attachment. Unlike those with an avoidant attachment pattern, these individuals suffer deeply when they fail to create intimacy with those they’re interested in. They often employ a specific modus operandi. They tend to move away and then complain to their partner that they weren’t there when they needed them. (An individual with an avoidant attachment would also move away but they wouldn’t do it to provoke their partner and increase the distance between them). The emotion that predominates in their lives when it comes to social contact is usually frustration.
There’s another type of attachment that seems to be restricted to childhood. This is reactive attachment. It’s characterized by inhibited and emotionally withdrawn behaviors towards caregivers, along with other social and emotional disorders.
Loving someone with attachment issues
Now that we’ve reviewed the different types of attachment, we’re going to put ourselves in the place of their partners. So if you’ve taken on a relationship with someone who has attachment problems, you can find out how their attachment style will influence your relationship. Also, how you can love them without being hurt yourself.
Loving someone with an anxious attachment style
Whether it’s a partner, friend, or family member, loving someone with anxious attachment issues can be exhausting. No word of love is ever enough for them. You can’t be too committed to them. In fact, if your partner completely takes you over or they’re conflictive, stability is almost impossible.
In this case, it’s best to be clear about the unconditionality of your love and your commitment. You should accentuate positive interactions and gently handle negative ones, but never forget their boundaries. It’ll probably be a long road, but they might end up feeling safe with you.
Loving someone with an avoidant attachment style
As the term implies, individuals with avoidant attachment tend to avoid conflict and withdraw when it comes to expressing their own emotions. Allowing them their right to their own space can be a useful technique to prevent everyday problems from arising.
Therefore, you should respect their autonomy and make it clear that they can trust you. Other techniques include downplaying the problems they tend to magnify, as well as acknowledging the sacrifices and efforts they make. This will automatically reduce their levels of anger and the distance they put between themselves and others.
Loving someone with a disorganized attachment style
This is probably the attachment that causes the most problems in relationships. That’s because the ambivalence between their wishes and their way of establishing links is extremely wide, which causes many problems. They have a volatile kind of humor, are quick to withdraw, and their communication style is dominated by anger and anxiety.
Bear in mind that these people have had a development plagued with serious problems related to their caregivers.
Finally, although in all three cases, it’s useful to have the support of a psychologist, in the case of disorganized attachment it’s virtually a necessity if the relationship is to be functional. That said, any relationship requires effort on both sides. So don’t be afraid to love someone with attachment issues. After all, we all have certain issues we need to work on.
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