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The recommendations in the psychotherapy research literature for matching based on attachment styles are based on the theory that there are three different types of attachment styles with which people relate to important people in their lives: with secure attachment (sometimes called autonomous), with avoidant attachment (sometimes called dismissing), or with ambivalent attachment (sometimes called preoccupied). Briefly, avoidant people are overly self-reliant, deny desires for love and support, are distrustful of affection, keep a safe distance from others, and avoid passionate relationships. Ambivalent people are the opposite. They are overly dependent on attachment figures, are afraid to let them go, and have strong yearnings for love, support, and affection, although they don’t trust the permanence of these things. Securely attached people are in the middle. They are able to trust relationships, ask for support when needed, and give and accept love and dependency.
Most researchers now accept that attachment is best described, not as the three styles described above, but along the two dimensions of Anxiety and Avoidance. Anxiety describes the amount of anxiety experienced in relationships, and Avoidance describes the method of dealing with anxiety (Shaver & Fraley, 2003). An example of translating this system into the earlier system might be that a person with low Anxiety and high Avoidance would be dismissing/avoidant, while a person with high Anxiety and low Avoidance would be preoccupied. The client assessment was based on the Relationship Questionnaire (RQ) (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), which has four descriptions, approximately based on these two dimensions:
For matching, a score for avoidant versus ambivalent was required, as all the recommendations were in those terms. The attachment styles in the RQ are not exactly equivalent to the definitions of avoidant, ambivalent, and secure. However, for approximation, #4 above was taken as an estimate of avoidant, and #3 was taken as an estimate of ambivalent. The level of secure was estimated based on the relative ratings of #1 and #2. This was the best that could be done with the time and space limitations in this system. However, is was problematic, since this questionnaire was not exactly based on the two dimensions of anxiety and avoidance. For example, #4, which is dismissing, is not the same as avoidant, but might more accurately be characterized as low anxiety avoidant. #2, which is fearful, was considered to be the opposite of secure, but it might more accurately be characterized as high anxiety avoidance.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
Shaver, P.R., & Fraley, R. C. (2003). Self-report measures of adult attachment. Retrieved February 23, 2004 from University of Illinois at Chicago web site: http://tigger.uic.edu/~fraley/measures/measures.html