It is normal for people to experience conflict within their interpersonal relationships. This is especially true when it comes to intimate partner relationships in adulthood. Without proper conflict resolution, feelings of miscommunication and misunderstanding may become more and more common, while the relationship struggles to find any sort of common ground.
Childhood Attachment and Adult Behaviors
Many people neglect to realize that these miscommunications and misunderstandings rarely occur from a specific instance, but instead, come from deeply-rooted thought and behavior patterns formed in childhood.
Experiences in early childhood set the very foundation upon which your life is built. Your first experiences of love, security, and attachment occurred during these formative years, in interactions with your primary caregiver. Your “attachment style” is shaped by the relationships that you had with your parents or other guardians.
When you experience interpersonal conflict with your partner, friend, or loved one, take the opportunity to look back at the factors that played a part in forming your initial attachment style. Familiarize yourself with the four main styles of attachment that may play a role in your relationships today.
Ambivalent attachment occurs when a child experiences inconsistency with their caregiver during childhood. A caregiver may have been engaged and responsive at times, but unavailable or avoidant during times you might’ve needed their help the most. Inconsistency with parenting is likely to leave a child feeling unstable and anxious about their own needs, especially during adulthood.
In adulthood, ambivalent attachment may surface as being too clingy or needy, when really you are struggling with anxious feelings that were left unresolved during childhood. You may have an ambivalent attachment style if:
- You struggle with trust or experiences of interdependency in your relationships.
- You rely on constant reassurance from your partner.
- You become overly fixated on your romantic partner when you are dating.
- You tend to feel anxious or jealous when you are away from your partner and resort to using manipulative or guilt-driven tactics to keep them close to you.
Avoidant attachment forms when a child has a caregiver that is mentally or emotionally unavailable during their childhood. A caregiver was not able to regularly meet the needs of their child, causing the child to become emotionally distant.
In adulthood, avoidant attachment may show up as having issues and hesitation towards emotional closeness. An avoidant adult may overly value their independence and freedom so much that they want to avoid emotional intimacy entirely, especially in romantic relationships. You may have an avoidant attachment if:
- You consider yourself an independent person and rarely rely on others for support or guidance.
- You get uncomfortable when it comes to reflecting or talking about your emotions.
- You tend to flee when your relationships become too serious or seek out partners that want to be equally independent.
- You tend to disregard or minimize your partner’s feelings and may engage in secretive activity to regain your sense of freedom.
Secure attachment forms when a child has a mostly healthy and balanced relationship with their primary caregiver during childhood. Their caregiver was able to stay engaged with them as an infant, prioritizing their ability to feel safe and secure in their body and their environment. They also learned how to express their wants and needs clearly and effectively through the help of their guardian.
It is unrealistic to think that any parent or caregiver can be perfect or attend to their child 24/7 during their entire childhood. Secure attachment does not result from a parent always being present, instead, it occurs from consistency in communication and consistency in attending to a child’s needs.
In adulthood, secure attachment can be recognized in several ways. You may have a secure attachment style if:
- You can recognize and appreciate your own self-worth and the positive qualities that you can bring into a relationship.
- You can comfortably express your own wants and needs.
- You seek healthy ways to manage conflict within your relationships.
- You are resilient to bounce back from conflict, setbacks, and other experiences of disappointment in your relationships.
Disorganized attachment typically forms when a caregiver is dealing with trauma during a child’s life. A caregiver may have acted as a source of fear but also comfort for a child, contributing to confusion and disorientation experienced regarding relationships during adulthood.
In adulthood, disorganized attachment might cause a person to feel afraid or unsafe in their environment. You may have a disorganized attachment style if:
- You crave feelings of security and safety although you feel unworthy of love.
- Intimate relationships are confusing for you as you experience emotional extremes about your feelings towards your partner.
- You have unresolved abuse, neglect, or other childhood trauma.
- You associate with antisocial behavior.
- You may be insensitive towards the wants and needs of your partner, especially being selfish or controlling.
It is important to understand that a person can experience more than one attachment style at any given time, or overlap in styles based on the type of relationship experienced during childhood. There are benefits and consequences to every style of attachment. It is essential to work with your partner to understand each other’s attachment needs. Recognize what you both can bring to the relationship to make it worthwhile.
Interpersonal conflict can be challenging, especially during adulthood. Although conflict can help us to grow closer with our loved ones, it can also cause greater separation and miscommunication. When you find yourself struggling with relational conflict, reflect back on your and your partner’s childhood attachment styles. Childhood attachment styles frame our adult relationships. By reflecting on how your wants and needs were met by your caregiver, you can understand why the wants and needs you have as an adult are important to you. SoCal Mental Health is a treatment center that offers compassionate mental health treatment for anyone struggling and needing support. We offer several different treatment options to help individualize your treatment experience, ultimately leading you to a better understanding of who you are and what you need to experience greater independence and autonomy. For more about attachment styles, or more about our treatment center, give us a call at (949) 502-2041.