How to support your friends based on their attachment styles, according to experts
Knowing how to be there for your friends isn’t always easy. Some prefer to text every day, while others favor a long phone call every now and then. Some friends are offended if you don’t voice that you miss them, while others don’t need to hear those words to feel appreciated. Every friendship dynamic is different, and now that we’re social distancing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the state of friendships are changing more than ever.
When we’re unable to physically spend time with our friends, it’s easy to lose that sense of closeness. Luckily, there are multiple ways you can better understand your friends: through their zodiac signs, Enneagrams, or attachment styles. Although we’ve lost physical contact during quarantine, we’re still able to nurture our emotional bonds, which is exactly what attachment styles are established on.
The Attachment Theory analyzes how the bond children develop with their caregivers affects their thoughts, feelings, and behavior later in life. The way that we are nurtured as children influences the attachment we feel to other key relationships in our lives, both romantic and platonic.
Friendship is an important thing to cling to during this uncertain time, so we asked experts how we can best support our friends, according to their attachment styles, because everyone is reacting to this loss of human interaction in different ways.
What kind of attachment style do you have?
The best way to start understanding your friends’ attachment styles is by first identifying your own relationship with attachment. Take the attachment style quiz to learn which of the four behavior patterns you identify with: secure, anxious, avoidant, or fearful. Once you’re familiar with your own attachment style and how it affects your behavior, you can notice behavior patterns in your friends, identify their attachment style, and ultimately know how to best support them during times of hardship.
“Each attachment style could act out in unique ways during this stressful time,” Psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University, Dr. Patricia Celan tells HelloGiggles. “Some abandonment fears may become more prominent, or some may pull away more than usual. Reassure your friends that you will be there for them during this difficult time no matter what, whether that involves giving space or being a shoulder to cry on.”
What are the four attachment styles?
We tapped experts to break down the behavior patterns behind each of the four attachment styles so that we can better understand our friends, and be there for them during the coronavirus pandemic. “Someone who wants a lot of space is likely dismissive-avoidant,” Dr. Celan says. “Someone who seeks out more closeness is likely anxiously attached. If someone tends to go back-and-forth, then they’re likely fearful-avoidant. The person who seems like a well-adjusted balance of the others is probably securely attached.”
Below, we break down the four attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious, and fearful.
1. Secure attachment style
As the most common attachment style, those who are securely attached are confident, independent, and can communicate clearly. “These are individuals who tend to be less anxious and are more satisfied with their relationships,” relationship therapist Robin Sutherns says. “They have an easy time making new connections and [rarely] doubt the equality of the relationship.”
But just because these people are generally content with their friendships doesn’t mean they don’t need any attention from you. “You should do the usual things: return text messages, share openly and honestly, and check in once in a while,” assistant professor of rhetorical communication at SUNY Geneseo, Dr. Lee M. Pierce says.
2. Avoidant-attachment style
People with an avoidant-attachment style (also called avoidant-dismissive) are self-reliant, respectful of boundaries and privacy, and struggle with opening up to others. “These individuals take pride in their independence and often view attachment as a weakness,” Sutherns says. “They prefer to process emotions on their own and avoid sharing vulnerabilities with other people. In times of an argument, they tend to shut down emotionally.”
Dr. Pierce says that the best way to support these types of friends is by checking in with them once in a while, and if they don’t respond, don’t make a big deal out of it. “Try showing support in other ways such as liking their social media posts; sending a care package; or joining them in a hobby they like, such as an online game,” she says. Since open communication can be a challenge for these people, focus on using actions rather than words to connect.
“It’s critical to give your friends and family that fit the avoidant-attachment style some space to process your motivations for reaching out to them,” clinical psychologist Dr. Brad Thomas Tyson says. “It may be scary for them to process the idea that they may have to depend on someone other than themselves [during this difficult time]. Let them know that their needs are important and that you’re there for them when they are ready to talk. Patience is key in dealing with people with avoidant-attachment styles, but letting them know you care in a respectful way is a great place to start.”
3. Anxious-attachment style
Those with an anxious-attachment style (also called anxious-preoccupied) are the trickiest to navigate; they tend to be possessive and insecure, and they constantly seek attention from others. These people crave close relationships, but they worry others aren’t interested in the friendship. Looking for consistency and stability, people with an anxious-attachment style tend to act out when anything triggers their sensitivity to abandonment. To ease their worries, assure your friend that they’re valuable to you.
“Friends who are anxious-preoccupied may need more reassurance from you to build their self-esteem in genuine, meaningful ways,” Dr. Tyson says. Telling them that you value their friendship and miss spending time with them is super important.
However, Dr. Pierce recommends setting boundaries with these types of friends so that their reassurance doesn’t become an endless need. “You can’t be available for multiple FaceTime calls every day,” she says. “If you need a break from all the text messages, send your friend a note that you’re tied up doing XYZ today, but you will make sure to call them later. Try to funnel their need for reinforcement into something low-energy, like watching a television show together.” Using the Netflix Party chrome extension is a great way to feel connected with friends when you can’t physically spend time with them, and participating in this will assure your anxious friends that their company is valuable to you.
4. Fearful-attachment style
Finally, the fearful-attachment style (also called disorganized or disoriented) is a mixture of the anxious- and avoidant-attachment styles. People who identify with this style typically have low self-esteem, an indecisive mindset, and issues trusting others. They shift between being afraid to connect with other people to overanalyzing the depth of their friendships.
“Fearful people are in a cycle of being withdrawn because they’re afraid to get close to people. And when they try to get close, they’re so worried about what will happen that they sabotage the relationship and return to being afraid and withdrawn,” Dr. Pierce says.
In order to best support friends with fearful-attachment styes, Dr. Pierce recommends combining the advice for dealing with the anxious- and avoidant-attachment styles. “When your friend is withdrawn, check-in, but don’t overdo it or make a big deal about not getting a response,” Dr. Pierce says. “Opt for low-investment activities like commenting on their social media posts [to get started].”
However, when your fearful friend does make an effort to engage with you, use that moment to validate their friendship and tell them what they mean to you. “They will likely brush it off as corny and unnecessary, but secretly, it’s exactly what they want to hear,” Dr. Pierce says.
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