Most psychological measures and scales tend to make us think in black-and-white terms. I like how this adaptation takes the attachment style grid and transforms it into a spectrum for adult attachment.
A spectrum allows space for everyone and for each of our unique experiences. Some of us experience varying degrees of anxiety in relationships with others. We also have varying abilities to manage the difficult parts of being in a relationship. Sometimes, we avoid the intimate parts of relationships altogether. So, instead of having to locate ourselves in 1 of 4 spaces of a quadrant, a spectrum allows for a thousand different individual variations.
Secure Attachment Style
The upper left section is labeled secure. It is located between low avoidance and low anxiety. Secure attachment is marked by these two things: low relational avoidance and low relational anxiety.
Preoccupied Attachment Style
The upper right section is labeled preoccupied. It is located between low avoidance and high anxiety. Being drawn into relationships and desiring intimacy but having a lot of concern about them is characteristic of a preoccupied attachment style.
Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style
The lower right section of the circle is labeled fearful-avoidant. It is located between high anxiety and high avoidance. Having a lot of concern about relationships and tending to avoid relationships because of high anxiety are markers of a fearful-avoidant attachment style.
A person with a fearful avoidant attachment style generally desires intimacy and closeness, but high levels of fear motivate them to remain avoidant of relationships.
Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style
The lower-left section of the circle is labeled dismissing-avoidant. It is located on the circle between low anxiety and high avoidance. Low anxiety about relationships and a general avoidance of close relationships are markers of the dismissive-avoidant attachment style.
Individuals with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style may have better self-esteem than those with a fearful-avoidant attachment style, as the dismissive-avoidant is motivated by a “why bother, why risk” avoidance of intimacy.
Healing Our Attachment Style
Good news: Attachment styles are not permanent! Healthy relationships that weather seasons of rupture and repair (like partnerships with a kind and committed partner or long-term work with a relationally-oriented therapist) can help us create an “earned secure attachment.”
An earned secure attachment is a secure attachment with one particular person, even though our default attachment style might be insecure. Earned secure attachments – often with therapists but sometimes with caregivers, partners, or peers – can help us learn the feeling of secure attachment and grow the capacity to move towards it in other relationships.
Print a PDF Copy of this Attachment Spectrum
Want a copy of this art to use for personal or professional use? Purchase the digital download below.
Or get All-Access as a $5/mo Patron
The 12th or 15th time I explained why I left “disorganized attachment” off my attachment spectrum doodle, this visual jumped out at me. See, a disorganized attachment can’t be plotted in a basic image because, by definition, it *moves,* as I illustrated in this animated GIF below:
People with a disorganized attachment style often grew up in homes where their caregivers gave mixed signals. One moment they were pushing them away, while the next moment, they were drawing them close only to push them away again. As teens and adults, people with a disorganized attachment may repeat this cycle of trying to draw close, panicking, fleeing, then trying to draw near again, often in dramatic or erratic ways.
That’s the key, by the way: ALL OF US HUMANS struggle with the desire to be independent vs. deeply connected. As a result, we experience anxiety as we navigate that conflict. It’s when that tension results in continuous dramatic or erratic shifts in our capacity to be present in relationships – and causes distress or pain in ourselves or people we care about – that disorganized attachment might be at play.
Treatment for Disorganized Attachment
Most attachment styles can move toward secure attachment through stable, long-term relationships with safe peers and partners. However, individuals struggling with disorganized attachment may need a therapist who specializes in attachment work to begin creating the foundation for secure attachment that can be practiced in peer and partner relationships.
Recovery from disorganized attachment also typically involves processing past trauma in order to be emotionally and mindfully present in relationships.
Download the Disorganized Attachment GIF & Video lllustration
Download includes a zip file containing Disorganized Attachment animation in GIF and MP4 formats, for presentations or direct sharing.
A hand-drawn banner titles the image: “adult attachment styles”
A large circle is divided up into eight slices like a pie, each is a different color of a rainbow spectrum. The top of the circle is labeled low avoidance, and the bottom of the circle is labeled high avoidance. The right side of the image is labeled high anxiety, and the left side of the image is rated low anxiety. See article text for breakdown of adult attachment styles within these quadrants.
The illustration of disorganized attachment sits atop the image described above. The attachment styles banner is replaced with an identical banner labeled “disorganized attachment.” This image is animated. The circle from the previous image is static in the background, with color saturation lowered to indicate it is not the focus of the image. Atop the circle is a small dark gray circle, about 1/25 the size of the large labeled circle.
As the animation plays, the dark gray circle bounces randomly around the different attachment file quadrants. The small circle bounces into every quadrant erratically, sometimes moving very quickly, sometimes hovering, and sometimes moving more slowly. The movement of this darker gray circle represents how a person with disorganized attachment can shift abruptly between attachment style presentations.
For more resources on attachment and attachment theory, check out my “If attachment styles were ghosts” comic, and my lighthearted attachment theory psychology valentines.