Your Attachment Style May Be Affecting Your Friendships

Your attachment style is the way you currently bond with other people based on how you were treated by your caregivers in early infancy. Attachment theory is a concept discovered through the work of psychiatrist John Bowlby, and later, psychologist, Mary Ainsworth. A person's attachment style forms so early in life that it can be observed even while that person is still an infant. Mary Ainsworth developed a test known as the Strange Situation Procedure to measure an infant's responses to the proximity of their mother when exposed to an unfamiliar environment and a stranger. Four distinct attachment styles emerged: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized (via SimplyPsychology).


Attachment styles are often examined through the lens of romantic relationships, but your style affects every human bond in your life, including friendships. If you're unaware of which type you are, you can test yourself for free at The Attachment Project. No particular style is a death sentence for your relationships, but some can be more difficult to maneuver than others. Here is how your attachment style may be affecting your friendships. 

Secure attachment style

A secure attachment style is the result of caregivers who are attuned to your needs in infancy, according to PsychCentral. Two-thirds of the population in the United States is securely attached, which is great news for friendships across the nation. If your attachment style is secure, you show up in the world as the type of friend who is communicative and easy to foster a connection with. You can share your needs and feelings in a healthy way and receive constructive criticism with ease.


A person with a secure attachment style doesn't require constant contact or reassurance from their friends, as detailed by The Attachment Project. They are as content alone as they are in the company of others and use this downtime to work on their independent goals. A securely attached friend is just as comfortable reflecting in their own company as they are basking in mutual emotional vulnerability with others. 

Anxious attachment style

An anxious attachment style is one form of insecure attachment that can form when an infant's caregivers are not in tune with their needs. Specifically, early feelings of abandonment or insecurity can lead to anxious attachment. If you have an anxious attachment style, you might notice that you often feel fearful in your friendships. You worry that your friend might abandon you if you don't perform in a certain way, which can lead to self-abandonment and people-pleasing behavior, according to SimplyPsychology.


An anxiously attached person might be described by their friends as clingy. They assign others more value than themselves and experience deep feelings of unworthiness leading to a need for high levels of contact and reassurance to avoid becoming anxious or depressed (via MedicalNewsToday). This can make friendships with them feel taxing, draining, or even exhausting. As a result, many friendships will end when they fail to measure up to what the anxiously attached friend needs to feel secure. 

Avoidant attachment style

Avoidant attachment is often the result of caregivers who only respond to the physical needs of an infant. The child is likely provided with food, shelter, possessions, and very basic medical care, but their emotional needs go unmet and unacknowledged. They are frequently ignored or punished for crying, according to Web MD. When that child grows into an adult with an avoidant attachment style, they will find themselves struggling to allow intimacy of any kind. If you struggle with avoidant attachment, you may experience a desire for friendship but find it difficult to open up enough to another person to form one.


People with avoidant attachment styles feel threatened when a friend attempts to develop a close bond with them. Another person sharing their feelings or emotional needs feels like an unwelcome burden and sharing their own is such a terrifying prospect that it's not even on the table (via Parenting for Brain). Someone with an avoidant attachment style will often lash out at friends who attempt to emotionally connect with them, calling them clingy or suffocating. 

Disorganized attachment style

A disorganized attachment style is often the result of an infancy and childhood that featured abuse and neglect at the hands of one or more caregivers, as detailed by Help Guide. As a result, the expectation of emotional intimacy that accompanies adult relationships and friendships can trigger intense fear and even rage in these individuals. If you exhibit a disorganized attachment style, you probably struggle deeply with balancing a desire for friendship with severe anxiety or even anti-social behavior surrounding emotional vulnerability.


A person with a disorganized attachment style is more likely to become explosively angry or abusive within a friendship. They may push for connection with a close friend one day and then rally against it the next. They are also more likely to fall victim to substance abuse disorders, aggressive or controlling behavior, and violence. Those who suffer from a disorganized attachment style often require therapy to gain the coping skills they need to develop and maintain lasting friendships (via The Practical Psych). 

How to change your attachment style

The good news — if you've discovered that you have an insecure attachment style — is that your style can evolve. Changing your attachment style isn't easy and can take many years of intentionality. The first step to altering your own attachment style is to pay attention to the style of the people you pursue friendships and relationships with. Being closely involved with a person who exhibits a secure attachment style and following their lead when it comes to assertive communication and vulnerability can help to shift your own attachment style to one that is more secure (via Psychology Today).


Working with a mental health professional, life coach, or yourself to heal childhood wounds can make a major difference in your attachment style as well. The practice of reparenting encourages those with insecure attachments to commit to caring for themselves the way their caregivers failed to care for them in childhood, as explained by The Holistic Psychologist. Learning to accept, acknowledge, honor, and communicate your own emotional needs can, over time, elevate your self-worth and transform your attachment style.