When you hear the words attachment styles, one often thinks of the behavioral theory coined by John Bowlby, explaining how early relationships between the caregiver and the child can determine how we connect and respond to others later in life. But what if we told you that your earliest relationship with a caregiver or parent can also determine how you choose to use and spend your finances?
According to licensed psychologist, Dr. Kim Chronister, Ph.D., the most recent research on attachment styles shows that the attachments form in the first two years of life and can have a significant effect on how we behave later in life, especially when it comes to money and relationships. This means if you have either an avoidant or anxiety attachment, you're more than likely to make irresponsible financial decisions, according to psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University, Dr. Patricia Celan, MD.
This is why it's so important to know what kind of attachment style you have (you can find out by taking this quiz here!), so you can build a better relationship with money. "The attachment styles we learn from our parents can also apply to our belongings and how we use belongings to replace relationships or ease the pain of relationship problems," says clinical psychologist and author of Understanding Bipolar Disorder, Dr. Aimee Daramus, PsyD. "If we see a parent tightening up on budget out of fear or buying themselves expensive presents as revenge after an argument, we’re more likely to repeat those money patterns along with the relationship patterns that we learn from them."
If you're looking to better understand your relationship with money, or just curious how your attachment style can affect how you manage your money with others, scroll on to find out what these psychologists have to say.
Secure attachment style
If someone has a secure attachment style, Dr. Chronister says, this is because their parents or primary caregivers would have been sensitive enough to the child's needs to respond appropriately. The experts agree that people with secure attachments most likely have an adaptive way of handling money, a sense of self-assurance with finances, and a healthy understanding of financial boundaries with themselves and with others. They're also more likely to have honest discussions around money that can lead to more financial satisfaction, she explains.
However, just because they have a healthy relationship with people and money doesn't mean that they don't make mistakes every now and then—they'll just have a better grasp of separating money from emotions than those with other attachment styles. "That’s because people with secure attachments are more likely to use friends and family to cope instead of managing their emotions with shopping sprees," Dr. Daramus explains. "People with secure attachments usually feel safe and secure, so they’re less likely to make financial mistakes out of fear or the need to impress people."
Dismissive-avoidant attachment style
When people have this attachment style, they tend to rely on themselves more than others, says Dr. Chronister. In a study led by the University of Arizona it was found that people with high attachment avoidance place a high value on materialism. "They were more likely to engage in irresponsible financial behaviors, and they were likely to not see their behaviors as irresponsible," she says. "As a result, they may engage in compulsive purchasing behaviors."
According to Dr. Celan, this kind of behavior may become a huge issue in romantic partnerships, especially "when big purchases [aren't] discussed with a partner." They may prefer to take care of the finances in a relationship as a way to show that they're fulfilling their responsibilities without having to give more emotional intimacy to their partners, Dr. Daramus says.
But rather than keeping financial issues and money talks to themselves, Dr. Celan suggests those with dismissive-avoidant attachment styles learn how to openly discuss finances with others. "They might need to pay special attention to the ways they use money to replace intimacy and learn how to express emotions in other ways," Dr. Daramus says.
Anxious-preoccupied attachment style
When people have an anxious-preoccupied attachment styles, they tend to fear the loss of a relationship. "Sometimes they’ll deliberately create problems, leave, or ghost someone because they think they’ll lose that person anyhow, so they might as well get it over with," says Dr. Daramus. Because of this, they can also use money to their advantage to try and keep a relationship together or start arguments with their partner about their finances in order to get an imagined breakup over with. "It’s all about managing [that] fear," she adds.
The University of Arizona study mentioned above also indicates that people with anxious attachment styles tend to have an anxious and insecure relationship with money when it's not accessible to them. "People with attachment anxiety also reported low financial satisfaction. Like people with avoidant attachment, they also were more likely to engage in irresponsible behaviors when it came to money (and again did not perceive themselves to be irresponsible with finances despite their behaviors with money)," Dr. Chronister explains.
To build a better a relationship with money, Dr. Celan suggests that "they need to work on soothing their anxiety in non-materialistic ways, instead of focusing on their inner world." To do this, she says they can pause before buying, meditate, and use deep breathing exercises to help diffuse anxious feelings and increase the chance of making more responsible decisions. And if they want their romantic partnership to have fewer conversations about money issues, Dr. Daramus suggests "working on creating emotional intimacy without relying on money to keep a relationship together or using money to manage their feelings during an argument."
Fearful-avoidant attachment style
According to Dr. Celan, people who have this particular attachment style tend to have an inconsistent relationship with money. "They both want to use their money and also don't want to use their money at all. They may have a decent amount of savings that they want to use for a big purchase, such as a down payment for a home, but they avoid following through on that," she explains. This is because they're afraid to make a choice about what direction they want to go, which can not only put a strain on the relationship they have with money but also on the relationship they have with their partner if they handle bills and big purchases together.
One of the ways fearful-avoidant people can fix this is by journaling their inconsistent thoughts and choices to try and make sense of them. According to Dr. Celan, weighing the pros and cons, and deciding to work towards more consistency will help them find a better balance between spending and saving money.