There has been increased interest in the study of attachment styles and how we react following a dissolution of a valued romantic relationship, but only a few studies have examined the link between attachment style and emotional adjustment following a break-up.
This one study titled Attachment Styles and Personal Growth following Romantic Breakups caught my attention because it establishes a direct link between attachment styles and personal growth following a dissolution of a valued romantic relationship.
Anxious attachment gets a bad rap post break-up because of the hyperactivated clinging, neediness, mind games and stalking. Individuals with this attachment style become preoccupied with their ex, tend to have repetitive thoughts about the break-up and past events, and struggle with guilt and regret. Because of these maladaptive behaviours, individuals with attachment-anxiety tend to suffer a lot more than avoidants and securely attached individuals. They also take significantly more time to bounce back.
But it may not be all that bad for attachment-anxious individuals.
According to the findings of this study, there is substantial evidence that attachment-anxious individuals experience greater personal growth following romantic break-ups compared to attachment-avoidant individuals.
Attachment-anxious individuals tend to scrutinize their self-perceived shortcomings and blame themselves for the end of the relationship, this motivates a course of self-improvement. As a result they reported developing more new interests and changing things that need changing. They also reported discovering that they are stronger than they thought they were.
Attachment-avoidant individuals on the other hand tend to be more defensive when it comes to their role in the break-up and suppress breakup-specific thoughts. They deprive themselves the opportunity to look honestly at their role in the break-up and ways that they can improve themselves for the better.
The conclusion of these findings is that the pain of break-ups has the potential to exert a transformational effect on attachment-anxious individuals but not attachment-avoidant individuals. Avoidant individuals’ deactivation, may facilitate emotional recovery, but at the expense of cultivating a meaningful narrative and positive changes in one’s life.
What about dating activity and/or casual sex post break-up?
The study expected individuals who are higher in anxiety to turn to new romantic partners for their attachment needs and the restoration of felt security thereby making them more likely to rebound or engage in more casual sex.
But contrary to the expectation, there was no link between attachment anxiety and the tendency to rebound. Instead they found that when emotional resources were directed from an ex into self-cultivation, it potentially increased attachment-anxious individuals’ own attractiveness as a dating partner.
The link between attachment anxiety and self-cultivation however was only significant for people whose break-up occurred longer ago but not for people whose break-up occurred more recently. Also, anxious individuals were only more likely to go on the rebound after sufficient time had passed since the break-up, suggesting that the initial shock of a more recent break-up may temporarily neutralize their tendency to seek new partners.