Which attachment style is most likely to result in the most loneliness?

Attachment styles refer to the type of bond people form with their primary caregivers as infants, which shapes their expectations and behaviors in future relationships. There are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Research shows that those with insecure attachment styles, especially anxious-preoccupied and fearful-avoidant, are more likely to experience loneliness in adulthood compared to those with a secure attachment style.

What are the different attachment styles?

Secure Attachment

Individuals with a secure attachment style generally had caregivers who were consistently responsive to their needs as infants. As adults, they are comfortable with intimacy in relationships and are able to balance independence and interdependence. Securely attached people do not commonly experience intense feelings of loneliness.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment

People with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style likely had inconsistent caregiving as infants. As adults, they desperately seek intimacy but never feel completely soothed or reassured. They tend to experience anxiety about abandonment. Of all the attachment styles, anxious-preoccupied individuals are most prone to loneliness.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment

Those with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style likely had unresponsive or rejecting caregivers in infancy. As adults, they are uncomfortable with intimacy and attempt to minimize the importance of attachments by acting independent and invulnerable. They may experience some loneliness but tend to deny vulnerability.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

Individuals with a fearful-avoidant attachment style likely endured mistreatment or abuse from caregivers as infants. As adults, they intensely fear rejection and yearn for intimacy despite high anxiety. Along with anxious-preoccupied, fearful-avoidant is also strongly linked to chronic loneliness.

How do attachment styles develop?

According to attachment theory pioneered by psychologist John Bowlby, attachment styles form based on early life experiences with primary caregivers, mainly in the first two years of life. Secure attachment develops when caregivers consistently meet an infant’s needs. Insecure attachment forms when caregivers are insensitive, inconsistent, or rejecting of an infant’s needs.

Once established, attachment styles tend to persist from childhood into adult relationships, shaping emotional and behavioral patterns. However, some change is possible later in life due to healing relationships or therapy. Early attachment style is not necessarily destiny.

How do attachment styles relate to loneliness?

Attachment styles influence both how people relate to others and cope with distressing emotions. Insecure attachment is linked to increased loneliness for several key reasons:

Difficulty Developing Intimacy

Both dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant styles involve discomfort with closeness, making it hard to form the deep connections that combat loneliness. Anxious-preoccupied individuals desperately seek intimacy but their neediness often backfires, pushing others away.

Mistrust

Those with insecure attachment, especially fearful-avoidant, are more likely to mistrust others’ intentions and maintain walls for self-protection. This wariness impedes making friends and finding romantic partners who could alleviate loneliness.

Poor Emotion Regulation

Insecure attachment interferes with effectively managing difficult emotions. Those with anxious-preoccupied and fearful-avoidant styles tend to be overwhelmed by distressing feelings instead of coping adaptively, worsening loneliness.

Negative Self-Concept

Insecure attachment breeds negative self-views including low self-worth, self-blame, or feelings of unlovability. Such beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies sabotaging relationships.

Avoidance Coping

Dismissive-avoidant individuals attempt to deny any loneliness and need for others. This avoidance coping prevents them from taking steps to combat isolation.

How is anxious-preoccupied attachment linked to loneliness?

Of the insecure attachment patterns, research indicates anxious-preoccupied style is most strongly associated with loneliness. Anxious-preoccupied individuals possess several traits that exacerbate and perpetuate loneliness:

Extreme Neediness

Their intense craving for intimacy often smothers romantic partners or friends, pushing them away and resulting in rejection.

Mistrust

Their abandonment fears lead them to frequently misinterpret others’ words/actions as signaling disinterest or rejection. This breeds mistrust that corrodes relationships.

Envy

They feel deprived and envious of others who seem to have closer relationships, making it harder to appreciate their own friendships.

Jealousy

Their possessiveness and sometimes irrational jealousy of friends or partners alienates others.

Catastrophizing

They are prone to exaggerating perceived slights into catastrophic rejections or abandonment. This distorts interactions and fuels loneliness.

Rumination

Their tendency to compulsively ruminate on feelings of rejection or loneliness rather than problem-solving perpetuates distress.

Negative Emotionality

They tend to experience more frequent and intense negative emotions like anxiety, anger, or sadness that strain relationships.

Poorer Coping Skills

They often lack effective coping skills to self-soothe emotional pain, turning instead to neediness of others to ease distress.

How is fearful-avoidant attachment linked to loneliness?

Individuals with a fearful-avoidant attachment style also commonly grapple with acute loneliness. Their debilitating mistrust, shame, and hypersensitivity to rejection lead them to both desperately crave yet fear intimacy. Key traits increasing their loneliness risk include:

Social Avoidance

Their dread of rejection causes them to avoid social situations where they may experience rebuff. This impedes making friends.

Counterdependency

They strive to appear strong and independent so as not to need anyone. This prevents emotional intimacy.

Mixed Signals

Their craving for closeness wars with their fear of attachment, causing them to send mixed signals that confuse relationship partners.

Hypersensitivity

They readily perceive neutral comments or behaviors as criticism/rejection due to childhood mistreatment, distorting interactions.

Negative Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Their childhood emotional neglect leads them to feel unworthy and expect rejection. They may act hostile which elicits the very rejection they fear.

Lack of Assertiveness

Their fear of displeasing others prevents asserting their needs. Friends and partners are unaware when they feel lonely or want connection.

Distrust

They expect betrayal from those they care about. This fatalism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy destroying relationships and perpetuating loneliness.

Are dismissive-avoidant individuals prone to loneliness?

People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style generally avoid relationships and intimacy altogether rather than grapple with chronic loneliness. Key characteristics of dismissive-avoidants that protect them from loneliness include:

Self-Reliance

They take pride in their independence and ability to handle problems alone. Their autonomy helps mitigate any lack of relationships.

Emotional Cutoff

Their tendency to deny/repress vulnerability and emotions in general helps shield them from conscious feelings of loneliness.

Relationship Devaluing

They think relationships are relatively unimportant which helps mute any pain from lack of closeness to others.

Avoidance Coping

When loneliness encroaches their consciousness, they use busyness, distractions, or solitude to avoid the feeling rather than addressing relationship issues.

Defensive Self-Esteem

They protect their self-esteem by invalidating others who express needs. This rationalizes their lack of intimate friendships.

Self-Reliance Narrative

They take pride in a heroic narrative of themselves as totally self-sufficient. This helps neutralize shame from social deficits.

Weak Affectivity

Their weaker emotionality means they do not suffer intense loneliness when relationships are lacking like those with anxious-preoccupied attachment might.

What causes some insecure attachment styles to be lonelier?

Overall, research indicates those with anxious-preoccupied or fearful-avoidant attachment styles are most vulnerable to intense, chronic loneliness in adulthood. Dismissive-avoidants’ repression of attachment needs protects them from conscious loneliness. Several factors contribute to the heightened loneliness of anxious-preoccupied and fearful-avoidants:

Childhood Emotional Neglect

Both styles suffered parental emotional unavailability and dismissal of their attachment needs as infants. The absence of a safe haven breeds intense loneliness.

Negative Internal Working Models

Both tend to develop a cognitive framework of others as unreliable and themselves as unworthy of love due to childhood neglect. This hampers forming corrective relationships as an adult.

Idealization of Relationships

Both styles have intense unmet attachment needs that fuel idealizing fantasies of relationships satisfying all their needs. Reality always disappoints.

Poor Emotion Regulation

Neither style effectively self-soothes emotional distress. Instead they rely on others to relieve negative feelings, which strains relationships.

Fear of Rejection

Both styles dread rejection which makes them either cling to others desperately or avoid intimacy altogether. Either way, fear impedes secure connections.

Low Self-Worth

Both tend to struggle with chronic self-loathing and feelings of unlovability stemming from childhood. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lack of Assertiveness

Neither style asserts their need for closeness. Anxious-preoccupieds become aggressively dependent, while fearful-avoidants fail to ask for support.

Can insecure attachment styles become more secure?

The good news is that while attachment styles are fairly stable, some change is possible through corrective life experiences and therapeutic work. Those with insecure styles can develop earned secure attachment later in life. Some key factors promoting this include:

Healing Relationships

Developing friendships or romantic partnerships with reliably supportive people helps rebuild trust and self-worth.

Increased Self-Awareness

Recognizing one’s maladaptive attachment patterns helps motivate change. Journaling, assessment tools, and psychotherapy can boost insight.

Emotion Regulation Skills

Learning to identify emotions, self-soothe distress, tolerate discomfort, and express needs assertively facilitates security.

Mindfulness Practice

Meditation and mindfulness help develop ability to observe thoughts/feelings non-judgmentally. This reduces clinging, avoidance, anxiety.

Cognitive Reframing

Therapy teaches how to reframe negative self-beliefs into more positive, functional attitudes that support relating.

Attachment-Focused Therapy

Modalities like Emotionally Focused Therapy directly target attachment injuries and patterns of relating using interventions tailored to the individual’s attachment style.

Earned Security

With commitment over time, those with insecure attachment can develop earned security later in adulthood.

Conclusion

In summary, anxious-preoccupied and fearful-avoidant attachment styles appear most strongly linked to loneliness in adulthood due to their intense relationship anxiety and avoidance. Dismissive-avoidant individuals may be better protected due to repressing attachment needs. The good news is insecure attachment patterns can be shifted toward earned security through corrective life experiences and therapeutic work, potentially mitigating loneliness.

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