Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen
Our Good Friend, Gretchen Wieners
Who here has seen the 2004 teen comedy, Mean Girls? For those who haven’t, it is about a home schooled teenage girl, Cady Heron, who experiences the culture shock of the high school hierarchy of popularity. On her first day of public school, Cady meets queen bee, Regina George, and her faithful followers Karen Smith and Gretchen Wieners. Gretchen is especially invested in her friendship with Regina and abided by Regina’s every ridiculous request. Watchers can see Gretchen denying her own joy and autonomy (i.e., expensive white gold hoops; “That’s so fetch”) in the many ways she wants to keep her loyalty and friendship to the queen bee. Like we see here, we can notice how different attachment styles not only come up in how we relate to our parents but also in our friendships and significant relationships.
Attachment styles have grown to be a well connected and reliable perspective in understanding relationships. British psychologist and psychiatrist, John Bowlby, has made notable connections in his development of his work pioneering the attachment theory. He believed that the bond that is experienced in early childhood plays a key role in how someone relates and interacts with another. Bolby was especially focused on the mother-child bond. He believed that a child should experience a warm and intimate relationship with his mother or caregiver to find satisfaction and enjoyment. Since then, many others have followed and contributed to his theory which has given us so much insight to what we know today. Thanks to individuals like Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth, we can see that attachment can show a person’s true colors when it comes to dependence, sense of safety, and confidence.
With the work that has been done through the attachment theory, different styles of attachment can be used to explain the ways we connect with others. If you’re curious about your own, there are different online assessments you can take to determine which attachment style you may naturally function in. Through a variety of psychological studies, four recognizable attachment styles have been identified. The four attachment styles are:
Secure: Tends to be comfortable with closeness, has autonomy, is dependable and confident, and resolves conflict constructively. Usually results from a sensitive, warm and caring parent who attended to the child’s needs.
Avoidant: Tends to be emotionally distant in relationships,downplaying the significance of relationships, and is extremely self-reliant. Usually results from an emotionally unavailable parent who was disengaged and detached.
Anxious: Tends to be insecure in relationships, is worried about rejection and abandonment, is highly emotional, and needs ongoing reassurance. Usually results from a parent who was inconsistent in attending to the child’s needs.
Disorganized: Tends to be untrusting of relationships and extremely distant in relationships, is antisocial, is argumentative, and has a lack of empathy due to unresolved experiences and emotions. Results from a parent who showed no tolerance of the child’s needs and may also have unresolved experiences and attachments themselves.
Do any of these relate to you? Maybe you’ve noticed moments in your life where you have felt a certain way that correlates with a specific attachment style. Being able to identify your attachment style and recognize how it plays a role in your relationships can be helpful insight in how you want to strengthen them.
Attachment Styles and Friendship
Now that we have some knowledge on the different attachment styles, let’s talk about how they might show up in friendships. As you read these, ask yourself, “How do I see my attachment style showing up in some of my friendships?”
A secure attachment style might look like a friend who is trusting of the other and who can ask for and offer social support when needed. This person is confident in the friendship and can effectively communicate to resolve any conflicts.
An avoidant attachment style might look like a friend who is satisfied with their alone time. Getting too close or vulnerable with a friend may feel uncomfortable and may even be fear inducing. This person is self-reliant and may often want space away from their friends.
An anxious attachment style might look like a friend who is worried about the other friend’s actions. This person may worry about how others perceive them or when they will hear back from their friend. Sometimes, social anxiety may arise if thoughts come to mind that their friends don’t like them as much as they say. This person may have difficulty communicating emotions when faced with conflict.
A disorganized attachment style might look like a friend whose moods are unpredictable and have an inability to be vulnerable. Similar to the avoidant attachment style, getting too close or vulnerable with a friend may feel extremely uncomfortable and utterly terrifying. This person may often be in conflict with friends, making it difficult to find lasting relationships.
Throughout our lives, we may have friendships that change and maybe even friendships that we grow out of. This thought may vary for others, but I believe that having a support system or knowing who your people are can help in different major moments and life transitions in your life. Especially going into my adult life, I’ve experienced the impact of the relationships that I can depend on and also the relationships to move forward from.
Friendship and Conflict Management
Sometimes, identifying a personality type or behavior style can make people feel like they are in a box, resulting in the feeling that they can’t do anything about it. Guess what? You don’t have to be in a box. There are practical things that can be done! Gradual changes can be made! Growth can be achieved! If you can sense my excitement, it’s because I’ve seen it happen!
When in a conflict, our attachment style can tend to reveal itself. By practicing mindfulness, we can grow awareness of when those tendencies come up. Recognize what is making you upset and if any emotions are coming up regarding the conflict. Effective emotional regulation can validate and also help mediate the tense situation. If you’re having anxious thoughts about whether or not you’re a good friend or if you’re awaiting a text from a friend, say a comforting reminder to yourself about the strengths in the friendship. There are many other ways to engage in practices that can help us open up from our attachment styles and work toward a secure friendship.
If you’re curious about exploring your attachment style deeper and learning practical ways to intentionally build your friendships, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!