These "mental models" shape the way we regulate our emotions, and they guide our expectations in love relationships, assigning meaning to our partner's actions.
A person's basic attachment style is formed in childhood.
Secure, the optimal attachment style develops naturally when we grow up knowing that we can count on our main caregiver to be accessible and responsive to us.
We learn to reach for closeness when we need it,
trusting that we will be offered comfort and caring much of the time.
This loving contact is a touchstone, helping us to calm ourselves and find our emotional balance. We feel comfortable with closeness and needing others and aren't consumed by worry that we will be betrayed or abandoned. Our behavior says, in essence,
"I know I need you and you need me.
And that is okay. In fact, it's great.
So let's reach out to each other and get close."
Some of us, however, had early caregivers who were unpredictably or inconsistently responsive, neglectful, or even abusive. As a result, we tend to develop one of the two so-called insecure strategies ---anxious or avoidant---
that automatically turn on when we (or our partners) need connection.
If we have an anxious style, our emotions are ramped up; we are inclined to worry that we will be abandoned, and so we habitually seek closeness and ask for proof that we are loved.
It's as if we are saying,
"Are you there? Are you? Show me. I can't be sure. Show me again."
If we have an avoidant style we tend to tramp down our emotions so as to protect ourselves from being vulnerable to, or depend on others. We shut down our attachment longings and try to evade real connection. We are apt to see other people as a source of danger not safety or comfort. Our attitude seems to be, "I don't need you to be there for me. I am fine whatever you do."
Knowing how attachment works means that we are not in foreign territory when we find ourselves estranged from or enraged by the person we were convinced to be "the one" and now we view as a stranger or the enemy.
A loved one can physically be present but emotionally absent.
Both as children and adults, we need a readily accessible and responsive loved one to feel secure in our bond.
This point is captured in a common exchange between lovers:
"I am here, aren't I? Don't I do things for you? "
"Then why do I feel so alone?"
Sue Johnson - Love Sense