Attachment styles and their connection to depression in relationships
This article reviews one of the major causes of depression in relationships, which is called ‘attachment styles’.
In the first article of this series on depression, we discussed depression, in general, and the many factors that can trigger depression in relationships, some of which include relationship history, infidelity, etc.
We also discussed how depression is not an illness that just anyone can self-diagnose and why it is advisable to seek help from a professional psychotherapist if you feel like something is wrong or you can identify some of the symptoms.
This article seeks to hone in on one of the major causes of depression in relationships, which is a concept called attachment styles.
What are Attachment Styles?
Attachment styles refer to how people form, maintain and perceive relationships.
This can be traced back to childhood, and are formed by how the primary caregivers (often parents) show affection, care and attention. These attachment styles are formed by how children perceive that their emotional needs are met, how their distress is handled and managed, and generally how much attention they are given or how caring the environment is in which they are raised.
Four major attachment styles have been identified below, with characteristics that define each of them. For some people with certain attachment styles, depression in relationships can easily occur because of the way they form attachments to their partners.
Types of Attachment Styles
Psychologists typically identify four main attachment styles. They are dismissive-avoidant, anxious-pre-occupied, fearful-avoidant and secure. All the forms that are not secure are also known as insecure attachment styles.
Avoidant attachment styles are characterized by a fear of intimacy, and the inability to get close to people. People with avoidant attachment styles typically have a problem getting close to people. They tend to suppress or hide their feelings in emotional situations or do not let people form emotional bonds with them.
Anxious attachment styles are low on avoidance and high on anxiety. People with this attachment style typically have low self-esteem, and a huge fear of being abandoned, both emotionally and physically. Therefore, they tend to be clingy and needy, wanting to be as close to their partners as possible which in turn drives them (the partner) away.
Fearful-avoidant attachment is characterized by a combination of the anxious and avoidant attachment styles. This means that even though people with this style desperately crave intimacy and attention, they are fearful of getting too close and being hurt by their partners. They have trouble trusting others and are emotionally unstable, increasing their risk of violence, and the likelihood to end up in abusive relationships. (*2)
People with secure attachment styles can form healthy relationships with low anxiety and low avoidance. This means that they have no fear of abandonment and have no problems forming intimacy and closeness in relationships. This is the healthiest form of attachment and is developed in childhood, with caregivers that are attentive and attuned to their child’s needs.
How insecure attachment styles can cause depression in relationships
Now that we know different forms of attachment styles, it is easy to see why insecure attachment styles can be a reason for depression to develop in relationships. Studies have shown a connection between these attachment styles and mental illnesses.
A study on depression and attachment styles reveals that “… patients with higher levels of avoidant or anxious attachment establish a more self-critical interaction style, which translates into a greater presence of depressive symptomatology.”
In simpler terms, studies have shown that avoidant and anxious attachment styles can lead to depressive episodes and even increase the chances of depression and loneliness in relationships. If a person has traits of an anxious attachment style and seeks constant validation or attention from their partner, it is inevitable that there will be times when they feel like they aren’t getting enough of it, and this might invariably affect their mental health.
On the other hand, people who seek closeness and intimacy from a partner who has the avoidant attachment style will only get withdrawal in response, which can also cause a steady decline in the relationship and/or the person’s mental health.
It is therefore imperative that as adults, we seek to fully understand our attachment styles (most people have a combination of more than one), do the work needed to develop healthy and secure attachment habits before we seek companionship with other people.
Getting help from professional mental health practitioners can enable one to accurately identify attachment styles, get a diagnosis (in the case of depression) and also figure out a treatment and recovery method.
Depression affects a lot of people, and so it is not far-fetched that different people get depressed for various reasons. One of the reasons for depression in relationships is the influence of attachment styles, which affect the way we interact with other people and how we form relationships.
It is important to know and understand your attachment style, work on improving it to a secure type (if you aren’t already) – this can mean seeking help from professionals, before attempting to form a meaningful relationship with another person. With time and effort, it is possible to develop a healthy attachment style and build healthy relationships with other people.
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