The Atlantic

Attachment Style Isn’t Destiny

Our past experiences do shape our relationships. But we’re not doomed to repeat unhealthy patterns forever.
Source: Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty

The panic set in at the same point every semester: Whenever Ximena Arriaga, a psychology professor at Purdue University, got to attachment theory in her course on close relationships, the classroom grew tense. When she described how people who are anxiously attached can sometimes be demanding and vigilant—and that can drive their partners away—certain students looked disturbed. “I could just see in their face: I’m so screwed,” Arriaga told me. When she explained how avoidantly attached people might feel overwhelmed by emotional intimacy, other students seemed so uncomfortable that they physically shrank back. Some would approach her after class and ask: “Is there any hope for me?”

These students were likely misinterpreting attachment theory in a way that experts told me they see all the time. The theory posits that there are three main attachment styles: securely attached people are trusting, and believe that

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