Attachment Styles: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

by Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

attachment

What is Attachment?

Attachment styles are characterized by different ways of interacting and behaving in relationships. During early childhood, these attachment styles are centered on how children and parents interact. In adulthood, attachment styles are used to describe patterns of attachment in romantic relationships. The concept of attachment styles grew out the attachment theory and research that emerged throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The three main types of attachment-

There are three main patterns of attachment- Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant. More recently, Dr. Stan Takin, a clinician and developer of A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT), gave these patterns names that are more relatable. He created the terms Anchor (Secure), Waves (Anxious), and Islands (Avoidant) to describe the attachment patterns.

Some common characteristics-

Anchors (Secure)

anchor
  • come from a family where there was an emphasis on relationship
  • have experienced justice, fairness and sensitivity in their family
  • love to collaborate and work with others
  • read faces, voices and deal with difficult people well

Waves (Anxious)

wave
  • feel a great deal with their emotions
  • have strong attachments in childhood, but they were inconsistent
  • have helped soothe a parent or both parents who were overwhelmed
  • have felt rejected or turned away by one or both parents
  • focus on external regulation- asking others to help them soothe them
  • find it hard to shift from interacting to being alone
  • over -express and like to talk about all the details
  •  stay in close physical contact to others
  • often think they are too much and nobody can tolerate them

Islands (Avoidant)

Island
  • like to be alone, enjoy their own space
  •  have been raised to be self-sufficient and tend to avoid people
  • learn early on not to depend on people
  • often feel crowded in intimate relationships
  • be in a world of their own
  • self-soothe and self-stimulate
  • not turn to others for soothing or stimulation
  • find it hard to shift from being alone to interacting
  • under express their thoughts and feelings
  • process a lot internally

From these descriptions, you can probably see the difficulty that might arise if a Wave and an Island get together. While the Island will need space to feel safe, the Wave will need togetherness. Both parties can end up feeling hurt and misunderstood, leading to frequent conflict.

However, if both partners clearly understand each other’s needs, then good communication can be a lifeboat to bring Islands and Waves together.

Do you know whether you are an Anchor, an Island, or a Wave? How about your partner?

Take the Attachment Styles Quiz

attachment quiz

If these differences are leading to problems in your relationship, contact us and we can help you overcome the struggles you and your partner are experiencing.

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas. Carlene can help you turn your differences with your partner into strengths that give your relationship a stronger foundation. To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.