I always used to consider myself to have an avoidant attachment style, characterised by a tendency to ‘push people away’ when things feel like they’re getting serious. That was, until I met someone who was also avoidant, and then I went completely the other way- the good ol’ avoidant to anxious pipeline…
Apparently I’m not alone in ‘switching sides’ either, having done a quick Google search before writing this piece, there are countless forums of people saying exactly this- that their relationship, or moreover, that the breakdown of their relationship, has led to their attachment style changing as a result. Today’s post then is a look into that, hopefully providing you with some insight into why you might have found your own attachment style having shifted post breakup…
First of all, what is the difference between an anxious attachment style and an avoidant attachment style? I wrote a post last week on attachment styles where I go into this in more depth (read it here), but the basic definition is:
Avoidant: a type of insecure attachment style characterised by a tendency to avoid emotional closeness and dismiss the importance of intimate relationships. About 30% of people have an avoidant attachment style.
These are not the only attachment styles, there is an alternative (and much preferred) one, secure attachment, but, in thinking about the negative impact that attachment styles can have on a relationship, I will just be focusing on anxious and avoidant today.
Can Attachment Styles Change In Adulthood?
Although attachment styles are formed in childhood based on the model of love we were shown by our primary caregivers, they can change as we experience new relationships, whether for better or worse. For example, if you have an insecure attachment style, but enter into a relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style and is really self-aware, then it’s completely feasible that, through being in that healthy relationship, you end up becoming more securely attached yourself.
However, on the other hand, if you have an insecure attachment style- avoidant, and enter into a relationship with someone who also has an insecure attachment style- also avoidant- then, in that relationship you might find that you become more anxious leaning as a direct result, craving the validation that you don’t feel you’re being given.
And vice versa…
If you have an anxious attachment style and enter into a relationship with someone who also has an anxious attachment style, then you might become more avoidant leaning as the pressure to constantly be a source of reassurance and validation for your partner becomes overwhelming, thus leading you to push them away and become more avoidant leaning as a result…
Avoidant + Anxious / Anxious + Avoidant
Problems can arise when two people with the same insecure attachment style enter into a relationship, as highlighted in the paragraph above, but so too (and, I would argue, to an even greater extent), where two people with opposite attachment styles enter into a relationship…
Getting into a relationship with someone who has the opposite insecure attachment style to you- anxious with avoidant or avoidant with anxious- this can cause you to become more anxious, or more avoidant, as your opposite attachment styles trigger each others insecurities… For example, the avoidant partner might make the anxious partner more anxious with their avoidant tendencies, and the anxious partner might make the avoidant partner more avoidant with their anxious tendencies…
In cases where the differing attachment styles become too much and the relationship breaks down, this can also be a cause for people to ‘switch sides…’
Insecure Attachment = Perceived ‘Protection…’
When an insecure attachment style is, in many ways a coping mechanism, a way for us to feel safe and like we are protecting ourselves, (even if we are in fact contributing to us feeling even worse in the process), going through a break up, which is arguably one of the most painful things to go through, can see our attachment style changing as a sort of ‘defence mechanism.’ If we had an anxious attachment style before and feel like we pushed people away with that, we might close in on ourselves, becoming avoidant so as to avoid that happening again.
It’s Not All Doom & Gloom!
Despite the obvious challenges that can, and do, exist in relationships with people who are insecurely attached, there are loads of couples with insecure attachment styles who do manage to make it work. It requires a lot of self-awareness and trust and, perhaps most notably, the ability to communicate with each other, but it is very much possible.
Very much possible, and very beautiful, proving to the anxious that they’re not ‘too much’, and to the avoidant that they are ‘enough.’
Proving that love finds a way,
– beautiful –