Having an insecure attachment style may cause distress and uncertainty. But there are ways to transition into more secure ways to relate to others.
Childhood memories and experiences are unique and intimate. Oftentimes, they also have an impact on how you function in life as an adult.
The pattern of behaviors we repeat in our relationships is what some call attachment style.
Your attachment style is usually established through the bond you had with your primary caregivers. That’s when you started learning how to express your needs, how to assess your safety, and how to respond to other people’s emotions and behaviors.
But although these first experiences may affect your adult life, there’s also the possibility of making changes that may help you improve how you relate to others, whether they’re friends, family, or romantic partners.
Yes, changing your attachment style is possible — but it can take time and effort.
Developed in the mid-20th century by psychoanalyst John Bowlby and psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory initially explored the bonds that infants form with their caregivers.
Three primary attachment styles have been identified:
Research shows that those with a secure attachment style are often:
What’s a secure attachment?
Those with a secure attachment style approach relationships with openness, confidence, and respect.
They’re comfortable with emotional and physical intimacy and can respond to their partner’s needs — while also being able to express their own.
Someone with a secure attachment style may know how to effectively manage interpersonal conflict and may not take things personally. Instead, they may prefer to work towards creating a caring, forgiving, and supportive relationship.
They’re also not likely afraid of being abandoned, so they navigate their relationships with confidence and trust.
What are insecure attachments?
Attachment styles that aren’t secure are considered insecure styles. Anxious and avoidant types fall under this category.
People with anxious attachment styles may work to meet their partner’s needs, while often and repeatedly sacrificing their own. In a relationship, these unmet needs can lead to feelings of fear, jealousy, or unhappiness.
Someone with an anxious attachment style may worry that their partner is pulling away from them and will often take small things personally.
They may also seek constant reassurance to ease their sense of uncertainty about their bond. They can also become overly attentive to their partner.
People with avoidant attachment styles, on the other hand, may overly embrace their independence. They may actively avoid emotional intimacy and prefer not to form long-term bonds.
When dating, they may create emotional distance between themselves and their partner. This could be by looking for the flaws within their relationship when they feel they’ve become too close, for example.
Avoidant types may find it more difficult to express their feelings or show physical affection. This can leave their partners feeling neglected, rejected, or unwanted.
Both anxious and avoidant attachment styles may manifest as codependency in some relationships.
Anxious and avoidant styles can also serve as more broad terms for mixed insecure attachment types.
Some people may find that their style is a combination of one of these and another feeling, such as:
If you believe you have an insecure attachment style, you may be wondering how you can change it.
In some cases, this happens naturally. For instance, engaging in a relationship with someone with a secure style can help you become more secure in turn.
Aging may also play a factor. One study suggests that attachment styles can become more secure over time simply because the older we get, the less time we have for relationships that don’t meet our needs or make us happy.
Choosing to take an active role in changing your style is often what helps the most. Through these simple, actionable steps, you can help guide yourself to a more secure style.
Identify your unique attachment style
You might not know exactly what your style is.
Creating a sense of self-awareness on your attachment type will help you gain a clear starting point on your journey to a secure style.
One of the best ways to do this is with the support of a mental health professional. They’ll be able to help you identify your attachment style and also provide you with tools to change it.
Learn from others
Do you know a person who navigates relationships with a sense of security? Consider learning from them. This can be a platonic friend or a romantic partner.
Creating an intentional connection with those who you perceive as having a secure attachment style can help you observe secure behaviors.
It can also provide you with a trusting space where you can freely and safely experience a secure bond.
Keep in mind that just as new habits aren’t born overnight, learning and adopting a new attachment style takes time and patience.
There are also many other factors impacting the way you form bonds with other people. If you’re living with a mental health condition, like dependent personality disorder, it may be more effective to work with a mental health professional.
Be reflective and proactive
As said before, changing an insecure attachment style may require time and effort. This is why it’s important to work on strategies that help you become aware of any distorted thought patterns and behaviors.
Here are some tips to consider so you can start your path towards changing attachment styles:
- Keep an emotions journal. It may be a good idea to record your most recurrent emotions when you think about your relationships. This can help you identify patterns. For example, do you typically feel others don’t love you enough?
- Record the evidence. Once you identify your most recurrent thoughts and emotions about relationships, consider identifying the evidence that would support or contradict those thoughts. For example, which of your partner’s behaviors let you know they don’t (or do) love you?
- Push the pause button. Since at this point you may have identified a few thoughts and behaviors that aren’t based on the evidence, you may want to consider pausing your reactions. This means that instead of reacting immediately to what you assume it’s happening, you wait to calm down, identify the evidence, and then respond based on that.
- Think of the other person. Part of having a secure attachment style is becoming accountable for your role in the relationship. For that, you may want to think of how your behaviors may affect the other person. Are you distrusting someone without evidence? Are you pushing away someone that truly cares about you?
- Assess your choices. Relationships happen between two people. As important as it is to become accountable for your part, it may also be a good idea to look at the bond objectively. Are you perhaps choosing partners that reinforce an insecure attachment?
- Communicate openly. Expressing how you feel in a clear way can help your partner recognize your needs and respond to them. It may also help you increase your confidence in the safe spaces your relationship provides.
If the way you navigate relationships is causing you great distress, you may want to explore all the factors involved with a mental health professional.
Also, if you’re having a hard time working towards a secure style or simply want guidance on your journey, consider seeking the support of a professional.
A therapist can help you with strategies to better communicate how you feel, so you can work towards increasing your levels of security.
There are several approaches that your therapist can take as they work with you. They may suggest engaging in traditional talk therapy or in attachment-based psychotherapy, a form of talk therapy specifically focused on understanding and transitioning attachment styles.
An older 2001 study found that time-limited dynamic psychotherapy is an effective option for changing attachment styles.
Couples therapy is another option available, particularly if your (or your partner’s) attachment style is becoming a barrier to a lasting relationship.
There are three main attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. These are based on your first bonds as a child.
Those with a secure attachment style are generally more trusting and responsive in relationships.
People with anxious attachment style tend to put other people’s needs before their own. They may also experience feelings of fear and worry regarding the love and permanence of their relationships
Someone with avoidant attachment style may overestimate their independence and avoid intimacy.
Several variations of anxious and avoidant attachment styles also exist, so a person may find themselves experiencing a combination style.
Changing your attachment style is possible, but it does take work.
It may help to seek the advice of a professional. A therapist can help uncover the cause of your attachment style and provide tools and techniques to form more secure bonds.