When we talk about attachment theory, we’re referring to the importance of emotional bonds between ourselves and others. So, based on this, we tend to solely focus our attention around attachment on our close relationships–it’s only logical, right?
In short, not always. There may be room to argue that our attachment style influences more than just our immediate relationships. Surprisingly, evidence shows that our attachment style can even influence how we perceive the people around us. Also, in some situations, we can even correctly identify someone else’s attachment style, just by going off of first impressions. But how?
To answer any questions you may have about how your attachment style influences your perception of others, this article will cover:
Our attachment styles influence all of our relationships, not just our romantic and family bonds. You may be wondering how it could possibly extend beyond these close connections; the answer lies in how our primary caregivers met our early needs impacts how we see ourselves and others.
Imagine for a moment that you felt safe and secure in childhood. Picture your primary caregivers demonstrating healthy conflict, how to repair this conflict and overcome difficulties, and ways to respond appropriately to intimate partners.
How do you think this kind of atmosphere would affect you as an individual? Because balanced behaviors were modeled to you as a child, you’d likely develop into a self-confident, trusting, and hopeful adult; one who knows what a healthy long-lasting relationship looks like, and has developed the skills to secure one.
Now, picture your primary caregiver providing inconsistent care, or creating an unsafe environment. Would you find it difficult to develop the skills we already mentioned? Most probably. This is the pattern we see in people with insecure attachment styles.
For instance, someone with an avoidant attachment style may have learned to fear rejection and intimacy, often making them less trusting in relationships. Similarly, an anxiously attached person may worry about being abandoned in intimate relationships and believe they’re not “good enough.”
Disorganized attachers may also experience challenges in relationships. Someone with this pattern of attachment may find intimacy uncomfortable or even suffocating. This discomfort may make forming a close romantic bond especially tricky.
As we can see, our attachment styles can have a long-term impact on our relationships. However, this begs the question; what about the short-term effects? Do our attachment styles influence our first impressions of others?
If you’re unsure of your attachment style and want to find out, check out the Attachment Style Quiz on our website.
The short answer is yes.
Even aside from attachment, we can accurately identify someone’s important social characteristics based on first impressions. We’re actually so skilled at this that we can even do so when just looking at a picture of a face.
But what about more complicated characteristics, such as personality traits, goals, and overall intentions? Are we so skilled at judging factors such as these on first impressions that we could even determine someone’s attachment style? And, if so, how does our own attachment style influence both our perceptions of others and how we come across to them?
Overall, evidence suggests that we can accurately identify anxious or avoidant traits in men on first impression. However, we’re not so great at picking up on womens’ attachment styles.
The difficulty identifying women’s attachment styles may relate to changes in their appearance such as through hairstyles and makeup. In contrast, men’s attachment styles may be more visible on their faces due to their reduced inclinations to play around with visual style. For this reason, emotions related to insecure attachment–such as sadness–may show up more clearly on an anxiously attached man’s face than on a woman’s because factors such as makeup may help disguise microexpressions associated with insecure emotions.
People with an anxious attachment style are typically more likely to perceive others as anxious. This perception may not be accurate, but it highlights the tendency of anxious attachers to see more distress on someone else’s face, perhaps because they’re projecting their own emotions onto the other person. One example of this in relationships may be someone frequently asking, “Are you OK?” or “Did I do something wrong?”
Interestingly, this effect isn’t apparent for avoidantly attached people. Avoidant attachment doesn’t appear to create a bias where people with this style believe others to be avoidant too. This effect may be due to avoidant attachers’ reduced tendency to project their emotions. For this reason, avoidantly attached people may actually be more accurate at identifying others’ attachment patterns at first glance.
Curiously, research in a speed-dating environment shows that people can quite accurately identify the anxious attachment style in potential dates. However, these same people can’t pick out the avoidant attachment style in people they are paired up with.
This finding may suggest that people with an avoidant attachment style can better present themselves as confident by using self-presentation tactics, humor, and physical contact. Furthermore, this idea aligns with the typical characteristics of avoidantly attached people, as they often have positive views of themselves but negative views of others (usually as a means to avoid feelings associated with their low self-esteem).
The opposite is true for people with an anxious attachment style in relationships. So, anxious attachers may have a harder time presenting themselves as positive and confident people.
Online dating has become increasingly popular over the last decade. As a result, progressively more people are making judgments of people based on a first glance. So, the successful identification of attachment styles based on initial impressions could help us find more suitable romantic partners.
For example, for people seeking long-term commitment, it may be possible to detect a secure attachment style in someone if they demonstrate outward signs of openness and honesty. Or, for those who prefer short-term commitment–such as people with avoidant attachment–it may be feasible to pick up on indications of a similar avoidant attachment in others.
However, the impact of understanding the influence of our attachment style on our perceptions of others goes further than this. For instance, an anxious attacher’s potential tendency to project their own anxiety onto others could have negative implications.
If an anxiously attached person perceives someone they just met as similarly anxious and in need of reassurance, they may come on too strong (especially if this person is a prospective date). Such intensity from the offset could cause the prospective partner to withdraw, thus feeding into the anxious attacher’s cycle of feeling unlovable and “not good enough.”
For this reason, it’s especially important for anxiously attached people to understand the impact of their attachment on their perceptions of others. By doing so, they can break this cycle.
Changing our first impressions of others doesn’t happen overnight–it takes time. Why? Because we tend to develop our unconscious biases from lessons we learned as children.
That being said, it is completely possible to do so, but it will take effort, awareness, and a desire to change. Following these steps may help in the process:
The first step to change is becoming aware of a problem. When we recognize that our attachment style influences how we perceive others, this gears us toward change.
If we grew up untrusting of others, developing self-awareness can also help us pinpoint where these negative beliefs came from. By doing this, we become better able to challenge and overcome these beliefs.
By becoming more securely attached, we sidestep the potential bias that insecure attachment may have on our perceptions of others. We can gain attachment security by making sense of our past experiences, altering our self-perceptions, leaning on loved ones, and making deliberate changes to our thought patterns and behaviors.
Anxious and disorganized attachment are especially characterized by a negative sense of self. Therefore, those with a these attachment styles should work on building a more positive self-view to prevent this negative bias toward themselves from projecting onto others.
Strategies to improve self-perceptions include:
Those with an insecure attachment style are often highly critical of themselves. Treating yourself with kindness, understanding and acceptance can help you develop a more positive sense of self.
Identifying internal dialogue like “I’m not good enough” and “nobody will ever love me” and challenging these negative beliefs can help us move past them.
It’s important to remember that our traits and abilities aren’t fixed–we can grow and develop. Developing a growth mindset can help us improve and evolve in areas we struggle with.
Therapy can help those with an insecure attachment style uncover strategies to improve self-perceptions and build a more secure attachment style.
For a while, we’ve known how attachment styles can shape our relationships. But now we also know that they form our views on people–often right from the word “go.” In some cases, we can use this bias to our advantage; our first impressions may help us find the right partner.
But the relationship between our first impressions and attachment has drawbacks, too. For instance, if you have an anxious attachment style, you may be prone to projecting your anxieties onto others. Unfortunately, this can make finding a partner tricky.
If you have an anxious attachment style, don’t fret! You can overcome this bias of protecting anxious traits onto others. It all starts by recognizing how your attachment style influences your perceptions of others. Then, by taking the steps to earning attachment security and changing your self-view, over time, you too can side-step this pattern.
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