Your attachment style in adulthood may be a complicating factor if you find yourself struggling to make a secure attachment to others, feeling anxiously unsettled in your relationships, or avoiding intimate connections altogether. You can’t blame attachment styles for your every relational difficulty.However, understanding the default way in which you form connections with others may help you break dysfunctional cycles. Cultivating a secure attachment style in adulthood is possible and can help you build healthier relationships.
The internet is full of articles with titles like “Top 5 Tips for Improving Your Relationships,” “How to Find Better Friends,” and “Principles for a Better Marriage.” Just about every bookstore has a section dedicated to self-help and relationship advice.
Yet, even with all these resources, so many people still struggle to figure out why their relationships never last, why their friendships never run too deep, and why they always seem to end up alone. Your attachment style can run underneath all this insecurity.
This article aims to provide a brief overview of attachment theory, discuss the characteristics of a secure attachment style, and offer some tips to help you cultivate healthier, more lasting relationships.
What are attachment styles and why are they important?
First, let’s define the term “attachment.” According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, attachment refers to the emotional bond that is formed in infancy or early childhood between a child and their primary caregiver. It has been posited that this same kind of emotional bond or attachment is also present in other intimate relationships throughout life.
The three most common styles of attachment are:
- Secure Attachment: This is the gold standard for building healthy relationships. People with a secure style of attachment feel comfortable with intimacy, can regulate their emotions well, and are good at communicating their needs to others.
- Anxious Attachment: This is an insecure style of attachment that can interfere with the building of healthy relationships. People with an anxious style of attachment tend to view others as unreliable and untrustworthy, but also have a deep-seated need to be in a relationship. They tend to derive too much of their self-worth from the success or failure of their connections and people often label them as too “needy” in relationships.
- Avoidant Attachment: This is another insecure style of attachment. People with an avoidant style of attachment tend to view others as unsafe or untrustworthy and often avoid intimate connections at all costs. They tend to rely only on themselves and deeply value their independence. They often do not see the point of relationships that demand too much from them emotionally.
Attachment theory proposes that a person’s view of people and relationships is irrevocably tied to their first relational experience in life. So, to put it simplistically, if a young child has a positive, stable, nurturing relationship with their first caregiver, they are likely to go on to develop more healthy, secure attachments
Conversely, if a young child has an unstable, interrupted, volatile, or traumatic relationship with their first caregiver, they are likely to go on to view people as unsafe or unavailable and to have difficulty forming healthy relationships. This is what the theory suggests.
In reality, the ways that people form attachments in adulthood are likely impacted by many factors in addition to that first relational experience in life. Temperament, personality, intervening life experiences, maturity, and trauma, to name a few, are all factors that can determine how intensely your adult relationships will be impacted by the attachments you formed in early childhood.
Still, many mental health professionals believe that gaining an understanding of your default relational modes can help you begin to move beyond these unhelpful patterns and build better relationships.
What does it look like to have a secure attachment style?
When an infant or young child’s primary caregiver is attentive, available, and able to meet their emotional and physical needs, that child is likely to develop a secure style of attachment. In adulthood, individuals with secure styles of attachment tend to:
- Have healthy self-esteem
- Be comfortable and content when alone
- Have the ability to understand and regulate emotions
- Have the ability to communicate their emotional needs and seek social support
- Be good at creating strong emotional bonds with others
In intimate relationships such as close friendships, family relationships, and romantic relationships, people with secure attachment styles tend to:
- Build long-term, trusting relationships
- Feel confident and comfortable with relational intimacy and interdependency
- Give and receive appropriate emotional support
- Share their feelings, desires, and emotional needs
- Have the ability to self-reflect within relationships and take steps to improve their own behavior
- Know when to set boundaries or break off relationships when the other person is unavailable or unsafe
How can you build a more secure attachment?
If you don’t recognize yourself in the above descriptions, don’t be discouraged. No matter what your default method of relating to others is, the human brain has an infinite capacity for change. Simply becoming aware of the ways that you think about relationships and the ways that you view other people can start you down the path toward better relational health. You can also try the tips below to start building more secure attachments, today.
1. Focus on your relationship with yourself.
It’s extremely difficult to have healthy relationships with others if you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself. Take some time to turn your focus inward. Learn how to be alone with yourself and actually enjoy that time. Work on your self-talk; make sure it’s more positive than negative. Find the things about yourself that you are really proud of and love.
If you always find yourself looking for completion and fulfillment in others, stop and ask yourself why that is. Are there things you can do to give yourself that feeling of completion and fulfillment instead of waiting for someone else to? The fear of being alone can’t be a solid basis for any healthy relationship. So, take the time to find your own wholeness.
If you find yourself withdrawing and running for the hills every time a relationship gets too intimate, try asking yourself why it’s so much easier to be independent and self-reliant. Is your view of others a healthy one, or is it based on old hurts and rejections? Try taking small steps to intentionally open yourself up to someone who you know is safe and reliable. Little by little, your view of others may begin to shift.
2. Confront the hurts of your past.You can’t build a better future until you address the cracks in your relational foundation. Even people with objectively happy childhoods can harbor pain, rejection, and insecurities from their early life. An essential step of building a better relationship with yourself is to find some self-compassion.
That is so much easier to do when you are able to acknowledge your past hurts, validate your younger self’s pain, and give understanding to both your past and present self for your reactions and imperfections. By reflecting on your past from the safety of your present, you can find ways to change the way you think about your personal history.
3. Become aware of your reactions and change your responses.
Learn to become an observer of your own thoughts and reactions. When you catch yourself withdrawing or over-compensating in relationships, ask yourself what thought, belief, or reaction is motivating you.
Keeping a journal and spending some intentional time being quiet and mindful can help you identify unhealthy beliefs, logical leaps, and reactions that are out of proportion before you act on them. Whatever you can become aware of, you then have the power to change.
Can counseling help?
Yes! Counseling is one of the best tools for personal growth and change. If you feel stuck, unable to make meaningful change on your own, or simply want someone to help guide you through the process of cultivating a more secure attachment style, reach out to a local counselor.
If you are still highly triggered by thinking about past hurts, your family history, or traumatic events, counseling sessions can provide a safe space for you to unpack the things you’ve been carrying around.
Don’t stay stuck in an endless cycle of dysfunctional or short-lived relationships. Partner with a counselor and get to the root of your difficulties. Schedule an appointment today to start working toward a healthier tomorrow.
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