Every one of us has a specific attachment style that is unique to our upbringing and is the key to our behaviour in relationships. Our attachment style dictates how well we bond and feel close with others.
Knowing your attachment style and your teen’s attachment style provides huge clues about the relationship you share.
For example, do you communicate well? Do you always seem at odds with each other? Do you often say things that are getting misinterpreted? Do you wonder why sometimes you make so much effort to show them you love them and yet they still pull away?
Understanding attachment styles is so helpful because it gives you the insight you need into how to improve your closeness and communication with them.
An attachment style is something we develop very early on in life. It is based on the relationship we shared with our caregivers at a young age (which primarily includes family, but can also extend to anyone who had a strong influence in a young person’s life such as a teacher, coach, or other caregiver).
Attachment forms based on how safe we felt around people. Primarily it is based on whether we could trust those in charge of our care, and our emotions, to be there for us, to support us, and to keep us protected – while also allowing proper space for us to grow and develop.
When these conditions are met, people end up with pretty secure attachments. However, when these conditions are not met, we can develop a wariness or a lack of trust in getting close to people.
There are four attachment types and we all fit into one of those four categories.
People with secure attachment feel safe and loved, and are able to trust those around them. They do not avoid affection and connection, and genuinely feel distressed when relationships experience turmoil. They have healthy self-esteem and bond well with others. They are also ok seeking support from others if needed.
If you teen has a secure attachment, chances are your communication and connection are relatively strong and while you may have instances where you disagree or fight, neither of you feels abandoned or hopeless at the end, and you can repair the rift fairly easily.
People with insecure attachment, on the other hand, don’t feel like they matter or belong.They may simultaneously pull away from closeness because they do not trust it, yet they crave closeness and need lots of comfort. Insecure attachment is about protection: People with insecure attachment feel they need to protect themselves by withdrawing because they have been hurt or their trust in their caregivers has been compromised.
If your teen has insecure attachment you may notice she can comes across as needy, anxious, clingy in some relationships, and avoidant in others. She may also become very close to people very quickly (you may describe her relationships as intense), while withdrawing from her support systems when she is in distress.
People with avoidant attachment will not connect with others well at all, and will not seek out connection. They may not open up to people easily and may even display a lack of emotion or reaction to others. They can also dismiss the importance of relationships because they believe relationships are sources or pain and hurt, and as such have trouble seeking help or support when needed.
If your teen is avoidant, they may appear a bit tuned out or “isolated” as they do not share many social relationships. They do not necessarily seem upset or anxious about this – they may even seem quite casual about it and in some cases it can be misinterpreted as them being fiercely independent. But make no mistake, these individuals are not avoidant because of a dislike or disinterest in closeness, but because they have no trust in the security of others and thus feel they must keep a protective barrier up around them at all times.
In rare cases, people display a fearful attachment whereby they actively avoid closeness and pull away at signs of connection or affection. While these individuals have a strong need for connection, when they get it, it triggers painful reminders of past hurt and they may run and avoid.
If your teen has a fearful attachment, it can come across as confusing, disorganised behavior or can come out as anger and active attempts to push people away. Their behaviour may be disruptive or they are labelled “problematic”. But remember, their behaviour is not malicious; these tweens and teens have lost the ability to trust themselves and the safety and security of those around them. They are in a survival mode and unsure what to do or where to go to feel safe (and accepted).
The most important thing you need to know is that no matter your attachment style, or your teens attachment style, there are strategies that can help both of you feel safe, closer and more accepted, thus strengthening your bond immensely.
One of the best ways to create a stronger attachment with your tween or teen is to practice emotional validation.