With COVID-19 still in full swing and another wave of lockdowns looming as the temperature begins to drop, trying to find ways to socialize safely seems harder and harder every day. Even if we embrace digital happy hours, online family gatherings, socially-distanced coffees, or flat-out isolation, this time hasn’t been easy for anyone looking to keep a safe six feet of distance from others.
At the beginning of quarantine, it felt like a million blogs and websites popped up, detailing ways we can psychologically deal with the stress that comes with having less and less social contact on a daily basis. While many of these strategies came and went, a breaking-edge theory of psychology began to hit the mainstream—attachment theory.
This psychological theory, proposed by John Bowlby and more recently developed by Mary Ainsworth, describes the way in which we form attachments to parents and loved ones during childhood. In the book Attached, authors Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller propose these attachments then inform the way in which we interact with romantic partners and friends during adulthood and shape the way we bond with each other for the rest of our lives.
Each person falls into one of four categories of attachment—secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.
While these categories usually describe how persons bond with one another, by knowing your individual category, you can gain a greater understanding of how you potentially interact with others, including what you do when you get separated from them.
If you have a secure attachment, you are in luck! They will approach goals with the intent to master it and thrive on achievement-based exploration. These individuals have high levels of concern for others and can easily remove a person who negatively influences their lives.
Romantically, a securely attached adult has excellent conflict resolution, mental flexibility, effectively communicates, avoids manipulation, doesn’t fear intimacy, forgives quickly, views sex and emotional intimacy as being one in the same, and believes they can positively influence their relationship.
This is the attachment type that exhibits the highest amount of resilience necessary for quarantine and for surviving long periods of isolation using digital communication. As long as those who fit this type work on their relationships with friends and partners, they can draw out the best in themselves and those surrounding them. This balance makes them the most well-suited for harsh social environments like quarantine.
Individuals who fit into an anxious-preoccupied attachment type seek high levels of intimacy and approval from their partners and friends and risk becoming overly dependent. They tend to exhibit less trust in others, have lowered opinions about themselves and their partners, and may voice high levels of emotional expressiveness, fear and impulsiveness in their relationships. These individuals also commonly face separation anxiety.
Adults who fall into this attachment type overreact to the anticipation or the actual separation from their loved ones. The anxiety stems from intense or unstable relationships that leave this attachment group psychologically defenseless.
Anxious-preoccupied adults tend to overanalyze minute details and actions, including body language, vague text messages, or even innocuous comments in conversation. This intense overspeculation often leads to a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies and potentially self-sabotage and often helps form bonds with a dismissive-avoidant spouse or partner.
This group faces some of the most extreme stress from quarantine, especially if they don’t live in a shared household with their loved-ones. The best ways to combat the separation anxiety and the pressures of the increased distance come in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy and support groups that have popped up online that deal with this exact stress. If those methods don’t work, those who face higher levels of anxiety could also seek anti-anxiety medication to help cope with the increased pressures that come with social isolation.
While anxious-preoccupied adults have a high level of dependence on others, those with a dismissive-avoidant behavior type seek a high level of independence, often appearing to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient, unswayed by emotion and don’t feel like they need to pursue close relations. They tend to suppress their feelings and cope with conflict by distancing themselves from their partners and friends.
While they display a high amount of distrust in others, the dismissive-avoidant adult has a very positive mental image of themself, and would often prefer to invest time in themselves over spending time with others. They cannot be convinced that other people have the ability to deliver emotional support due to their distrust in others, and reflexively create increased levels of self-esteem by investing disproportionately in their own ego.
Due to their independent nature, these individuals seemingly thrive in the new quarantine environment due to their individualist nature. If they continue their ways impeded without seeking social relationships, over time, they face self-destruction. This group ignores mental warning signs all too often and constantly rejects the help and emotional support of others. These individuals should give themselves an extra amount of self-care during this time, taking more time to destress and indulge in hobbies and passions as much as possible.
Adults who fall into the fearful-avoidant category have a set of characteristics that at first glance seem similar to dismissive-avoidant types. They have mixed feelings about close relationships, both desiring and feeling uncomfortable with emotional closeness. Their surface aloofness stems from tending to mistrust their partners and view themselves as unworthy. Like dismissive-avoidant adults, fearful-avoidant adults typically seek less intimacy and don’t voice their feelings.
Those who fit this category typically developed into this set due to childhood trauma, causing distrust in those close to them.
These individuals should ideally seek increased amounts of communication and time spent digitally with loved ones to build even stronger bonds during times of seperation. By reaffirming their connections with others, they gain a greater feeling of security in their world, and can operate better during quarantine.
By delving into this theory and learning more about ourselves, we can understand better ways to cope in the new reality in which we live. By practicing mindfulness and being self-aware of your current mental state, we can all get through this tough time together and come out on the other side as stronger people.