Toxic friend or just the product of a toxic environment?

Posted on May 27, 2017


Before you even begin to make friends with other kids on the block, early attachment experiences with your parents or caregivers may have already set up strong expectations - or fears - about social relationships. According to Psychology Today, early attachment experiences generally predict the patterns of attachment that are experienced beyond our childhood years and into our adolescence and adulthood.

Foundational attachment theory suggests that there are four basic attachment styles: 1) secure, 2) anxious-resistant, 3) anxious-avoidant, and 4) disorganized. Here they are, explained and identified, as well as how to respond to such behaviors.

1. Secure Attachment

Logically the most robust and healthy, this form of attachment reflects the development of security to adults as a child learns that their basic needs will be met by the caregivers in their world.

2. Anxious-Resistant Attachment

Often called 'ambivalent attachment', this form may spring from the presence of a caregiver who is overly unavailable. Young children need love and attention in their early years, but their caregivers are not adequately present.

EXAMPLE: An 'ambivalent' child may grow into an ambivalent young adult who yearns for warmth and social connection, but lack the ability to effectively search for it. Such a person may be "willing to go out of his way to please a friend, err on the side of co-dependence, and can be almost overwhelming in her need for approval and desire enmeshment."

HOW TO RESPOND: Verbally affirm to your friend that you're there for her and that when a relationship is healthy and two-sided, behaviors such as clinging or trying to ingratiate herself to you just aren't necessary or helpful.

3. Anxious-Avoidant Attachment

This form describes the relationship between a child and caregiver who may have introduced abuse or neglect into the relationship. The need for attachment is present, but the pointlessness of seeking engagement prevents the child from doing so.

EXAMPLE: The 'avoidant' child may be hesitant to seek out close relationships as an adult. Although he may long deeply to be a part of the group, have a close and intimate best friend, and be present and available for others, he may have not have any idea how.

HOW TO RESPOND: Fearful of being let down or let go, an avoidant friend may have difficulty receiving and learning from honest, constructive criticism. Giving him positive feedback first about what is "right" with the friendship may make it easier to approach the subject of what is "off" with the friendship.

4. Disorganized Attachment

"Disorganized attachment manifests as seeming confusion in terms of response to the presence, departure, or absence of the child's caregiver. This may arise from a child's inconsistent experiences with her caregiver, which leads to a confused, disorganized response to the parent whether the parent is absent or present."

EXAMPLE: The 'disorganized' child may seem to be always on his guard, afraid to fully trust, and ready to spring into action or retreat if threatened. Research has suggested that a person who internalizes this attachment style may actually actively create chaos and dysfunction in her adult relationships as this is what is most familiar to him.

HOW TO RESPOND: Apparently, this can be the most challenging friendship to maintain. If it's a friend you feel honor bound to keep, lower your expectations and enjoy it when the relationship feels like a normal friendship.

Category(s):Codependency / Dependency, Friendships, Relationships & Marriage

Source material from Psychology Today

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