Posted On 03 Apr 2010
The topic is interpersonal relationship skills and how to improve them by understanding your attachment style.
The foundation for understanding and improving your interpersonal relationship skills is understanding yourself.
You are important. At least when it comes to important topics, it’s foolish to rely on anyone else to do your thinking for you. When it comes to understanding yourself, since you are unique, it’s not even really possible to rely on anyone else to do your thinking for you.
What is helpful is to learn about general theories of human nature and then to use them as a means of examining and understanding yourself.
In that context, I recommend Daniel Goleman’s Vital Lies, Simple Truths, Emotional Intelligence, and Social Intelligence. With respect to his discussion of attachment styles in Social Intelligence, he follows Phillip Shaver, and I am here following them both. It’s possible to use their ideas to improve your interpersonal relationship skills.
Since our perspectives are, at best, partial and, at worst, erroneous, it’s always wise to keep challenging our own views. Intellectual progress is sparked by the clashing of views.
I think of authors like Goleman as friends who are encouraging and challenging me to think better about my life. The purpose of doing that is not to get stuck thinking: when I am able to think beter about my life, I am sometimes able to use that thinking to improve my life. I’d like to be able to improve my interpersonal relationship skills.
According to Goleman, neuroscientists distinguish seven different neural networks. One of them deals with what psychologists call “attachment style.”
The chief purpose of this post is to encourage you to ask and really think about the answers to the following two questions.
(1) What is your primary attachment style?
(2) What lessons should be drawn concerning improving your interpersonal relationship skills?
In this post, I consider a secure attachment style. In a related post, I consider an insecure attachment style.
(1) Your primary attachment style is the primary way in which you attach yourself to those other people who matter most to you.
You were not born with it. You learned it in infancy and childhood. Since it was learned, it’s possible (in theory) to unlearn it; however, it almost always stays the same throughout life. (It sometimes happens, though, that someone will have different attachment styles with different people.)
Your attachment style is the foundation of all your interpersonal relationships.
Understanding it enables you to have a clearer understanding of all your friendships, love affairs, and familial relationships. Since interpersonal relationships give everyone difficulty, understanding them better is the precondition for improving them.
Psychologists who study attachment styles have different classification systems according to their similarities and differences. The fundamental division is into secure and unsecure attachment styles.
Slightly more than half Americans have a secure attachment style; slightly less than half Americans have an insecure attachment style.
A secure attachment style is the middle way between the two extremes of clinging to others too much and pushing them away. Infants and children who are well nurtured by empathetic parents (or primary caregivers) develop this style. They are able to get close to other people easily and to depend upon them.
Were your parents consistently empathetic?
If your style is secure, you have good self esteem; you think of yourself as valuable, as being worthy of affection and care. You think of others as accessible and reliable, and you have good intentions towards them
(2) Permit me four important evaluative comments for you to consider.
First, it’s better to have a secure attachment style than to have an insecure one. Why? If you have a secure attachment style, all your interpersonal relationships begin with a more secure foundation and, so, are likely to be more successful.
Second, though you learned it, your are not responsible for the attachment style that you learned. If you have a secure attachment style, do not congratulate yourself for it. If you lack a secure attachment style, do not blame yourself for it.
Third, if you were lucky enough to have learned a secure attachment style, it’s important to realize that nearly one out of every two people you encounter learned an insecure attachment style. Nearly half of all people have not enjoyed the kind of secure foundation for interpersonal relationships that you have enjoyed. In this respect, many people are not like you, and, if you fail to realize that, your understanding of many others will be obstructed.
Fourth, if you were lucky enough to have learned a secure attachment style, being compassionate is easier for you than it is for those who learned an insecure attachment style. Since you are in a better position to empathize with others and to help them help themselves, it is easier for you to love others than it is for many people. Since it’s good to be loving, I hope that you’ll challenge yourself to maximize this advantage that you enjoy.