Here’s What You Need to Know about Attachment Theory

man and woman near grass field

This post was written by Community Partner Andrea Bertoli, Pleasure Coach & Sex Educator

You’ve probably seen a lot about attachment theory on your social media feeds. It’s become quite the pop psychology buzzword, and with good reason. This is an important framework for understanding ourselves and our partners, and it can really help us build better relationships. In my role as a Sex Coach, I think it’s also a helpful framework to help us make better choices about sex and pleasure. 

The Basics of Attachment Theory

Attachment theory began with the study of child development, and through the decades it has been applied to adult development, relationship configurations, and our experiences of large institutions like media, governments, and our planet at large. Jessica Fern’s book Polysecure is a great overview of the foundations of attachment theory and how we attach to these larger forces in the world.

The foundation of attachment theory is rooted in our earliest years. As infants, we need to attach to our caregivers in order to survive. If we felt secure with our caregivers at the time, we’re likely to develop trust and security with that person, and this makes us more likely to trust others and feel secure in other relationships. But if our caregivers were absent, abusive, avoidant, alcoholic, or otherwise unstable, we would likely develop an insecure attachment. The resulting insecurity might show up as anxious, avoidant, or disorganized (a combination of anxious and avoidant that shows up in different ways). 

While this foundation is set when we’re infants, it makes a big impact on our adult relationships, because we tend to repeat patterns from our childhood attachment wounds. The good news is that attachment style is not fixed. It is contextual depending on the type of relationship (friend, coworker, lovers) and with different people (we might be securely attached to one lover but not to another because of something in them that triggers us a certain way).  

You can learn to build and maintain secure attachment no matter how you’re wired currently, and no matter what type of relationship you’re in. 

Build Your Own Secure Base for Better Relationships

First, we need to know how our attachment style shows up in our relationships. Avoidant attachment might show up if your partner gets too intimate and it makes you want to pull away or act out to push them away. Anxious attachment might show up if you don’t respond to your partners’ bids for connection, and they respond by getting nervous, anxious, fawning, or being clingy. Someone disorganized (like me!) might experience both of these actions. Recognizing what our default patterns are (and what our partners bring up in us) will help us address the patterns directly, learn to respond in a more emotionally intelligent way, and also learn to ask for the reassurance we need so that we can build in corrective emotional experiences to heal the insecurity. 

The other important thing to know about attachment theory is that the goal in adulthood is to be securely attached to (and trusting of) ourselves! By practicing forming safe, secure attachments to other adults we can help build trust for others and ultimately trust for self. 

From this place of self-trust, we can be more curious and open, without fear that our partner will abandon us. When we are clear about our attachment challenges, we can work with our friends, partners, and lovers to create better boundaries, be more clear about our needs, and make better choices about how we want to engage with others. When we have a secure base inside of us, we have more leverage to explore (emotionally, physically, sexually), and we’ll feel less likely to push our boundaries in order to feel (momentarily) more secure.
This article covers just the basics of attachment theory, and hopefully it’s inspired you to want to learn more! My favorite resource is Jessica Fern’s book Polysecure and if you want to learn from social media, Casey Tanner (@queersextherapy) and Dr. Nicole LePera (@theholisticpsychologist) speak and write often about attachment theory.

If you want to learn more in real time, join my Relationship Intelligence: Improve your Love Life with Attachment Theory on August 27. I’m co-facilitating this workshop with my partner, a Certified Sex Therapist, and we’re offering our multi-modal, interactive approach to this work and practice.

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Andrea Devon Bertoli

is a Pleasure Coach and Sex Educator based in Honolulu, Hawaii. In workshops, classes, and coaching, Andrea works with people to help them improve intimate communication, deeply explore their desires, and practice sensual connection. Her approach uses tools from Tantra, mindfulness, and yoga to help people find new ways of relating to their own body and others, and helps people rethink sex and pleasure. She is certified as a practitioner of Urban Tantra, a certified Sex Educator, a student of Somatic Sex Education, and has a Master’s degree in Gender Studies from University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is also a yogi, a surfer, and a plant-based chef.

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