Why is attachment theory trending, according to Dr. Prince Levin

Although published more than a decade ago, “Attachments: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love” is #4 on Amazon’s bestseller list of social science books.

This is partly because the book has gained some traction on TikTok, where the hashtag #attachmentstyles has 91.7 million views and #attachmenttheory has 142.4 million views.

In the book, author Dr. Amir Levine posits that children’s attachment patterns, first devised by John Bowlby in the 1950s, can be applied to romantic relationships between adults.

The three attachment styles, as defined in Levine’s book, are:

  • Believes People feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving
  • Worry People are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner being able to love them again
  • avoided People associate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to reduce closeness

“For the longest time I didn’t even know ‘Attached’ was very popular on TikTok,” says Levine.

He says the book’s lasting appeal is perhaps because the world seems more terrifying than it did 10 years ago. The isolated epidemic and the decline of the planet have made people focus more on themselves and their relationships. He also hopes people will find it a good and useful read.

“Seismic shifts” have occurred in many relationships

The book’s popularity and renewed interest in attachment theory are due to a confluence of two factors: people’s feeling of being less secure and their presence online more.

“A very important principle of attachment science is that periods of increased threat or danger can lead to activation of the attachment system,” says Levine. “This prompts our attention to turn more toward relationships.”

Since early 2020, Covid-19 has been that threat. It’s understandable that being locked up at home – with a phone being your only window to the outside, while a mysterious killer virus ravaged the world – purposefully changed people’s lives.

“There’s a lot more you can put up with when you’re facing imminent harm than when the world generally feels safe,” says Levine. “Seismic shifts have occurred for many people in their relationships during the pandemic. Some close relationships, whether they were friendships or romantic bonds, or in the workplace, have fizzled and new close relationships formed.”

Levine went so far as to say that climate change has also played a role in increasing the sales of his book over the past two years.

“I think because of climate change we find ourselves living in an increasingly more dangerous world, which means that close relationships become more important and we will focus on them more,” he says.

He also says that the teachings in the book are “non-binary and gender-neutral,” meaning they can appeal to a larger group of people.

Ultimately, he hopes, the book’s appearance will go back to people who found its content as inspiring as he did when he first learned it. “From the moment I came across this information, it changed my life and how I interact with people for the better,” he says.

Many therapists, some of whom follow TikTok, feel the same way and use it with their patients.

“The book was easy to read”

Pamela Larkin, a therapist specializing in dating and relationships, read the book four years ago before starting her own clinic in Chicago. “Learning about attachment theory has been amazing to me,” she says. “It seemed like a different way of understanding people’s needs and people’s wounds.”

Learning about attachment theory was great for me.

For her, the book’s popularity is partly due to the content but also due to its accessibility. “This book was easy to read,” she says. “It was written really well.”

However, she can see people using the knowledge they got from the book in ways that don’t completely benefit them or their relationships.

Although Larkin is a fan of the book, she says people should “deal with it with some critical thinking.”

How to apply the lessons of “attachment” to your life

Just set an attachment style for yourself. “You want to approach it with curiosity about yourself, not curiosity about others,” she says. This does not mean that you cannot apply your findings about how you relate to your relationships.

“If you want to think about a particular relationship, research more about the dynamics that you see reversing some of these attachment styles, but without assigning someone else’s attachment style,” she says.

Use it to improve your communication. Along with knowing your attachment style, ask yourself “How is my way of communicating preventing me from getting what I want or need.”

Larkin says the book explores effective communication strategies based on attachment types. It is not about avoiding people with certain attachment patterns, but about learning to communicate with them in a way that strengthens the relationship.

Remember that your attachment style can change. “Just like any other personal test I face when people stay stuck and hard-core in this style,” she says.

You’ll likely swing between two different styles throughout your life as you gather new experiences. But Larkin urges readers of the book to bear in mind that “this does not fully define who you are.”

Don’t talk about health and disease

Levine agrees that the book should not be used “to make others sick”.

For example, he says, those with stressed or avoidant attachment styles do not have an illness and should not be treated as they do.

“We’re not talking about health and disease,” he says. “We’re talking about a different way of communicating.”

Compares attachment patterns to a physical trait. One is not better than the other.

“Like some people have blue eyes and some have brown, we are all different,” he says. “But I wouldn’t call anyone with blue eyes sick just because their eyes are blue. There are advantages to insecure attachment patterns. [anxious or avoidant] in certain circumstances. I don’t think people with an insecure attachment style should get a bad actor.”

He says whether people are using the book in a healthy way is a long way off, but he hopes for the best.

“Once you write something down and put it out into the world, you have no control over it and how people can use it or even misuse it,” he says. “You just have to accept that part, it’s not always easy.”

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