Updated: May 30, 2020
What is an attachment style? When we are children and have big feelings, we turn to our parents for support. If our parent is calm, patient and supportive, we learn that we can regulate or manage our feelings: they shrink in intensity and are tolerable. This is called distress tolerance - when we have high distress tolerance, we can cope with life's challenges and not become overwhelmed and unable to function. In relationships, we develop secure attachment - we feel secure within ourselves and with those we love. We are attracted to people who are reliable, stable, attuned and accessible.
When we have parents who have had trauma, they are unable to manage their own feelings and thus unable to manage ours. We learn that we cannot rely on them in times of distress. We may develop low distress tolerance and become easily knocked out of balance and unable to cope. In relationships, we may develop an anxious style where we can never be sure of our parent or partner to be there for us, and so we feel anxious and have difficulty trusting and relaxing. We may "cling" or protest when we feel them getting distant, and we are hyper aware of any signs that they are (potentially) leaving us. Or we may develop an avoidant style, where we learn to just rely on ourselves and find it very hard to let others close to us. We may even become fearful of letting others close, believing that they are going to take advantage of us or hurt us in some way. Because these experiences are familiar to us from childhood, on an unconscious level we tend to be attracted to people who will replay those early scripts with us even though we may get hurt over and over again.
The cards below explain attachment styles of people who have had childhood trauma, while also providing tools and tips. They were created by Silvy Khoucasian and they are pretty great. If any of these descriptions feel familiar to you, know that you are not alone - anxious and avoidant attachment styles comprise 50% of the population. Yes, you read that right!
It is absolutely possible to move from an anxious or avoidant style to a secure attachment style through good therapy with a warm and nurturing therapist.