The intimate relationships you establish in adulthood may have roots in early life patterns. Linked back to the earliest connections from infancy and childhood, your attachments to other adults may mimic the way your parents met your needs or didn't. Insecure attachment styles can form when these early caregiver connections aren't healthy or secure. Like weights in a hiker's backpack, these unhealthy attachments may seem like a weight stopping you from finding healthy connections.
You can't go back to relive your childhood, but there are often ways to move forward and find a more secure attachment with others. The process may start with knowledge, coping mechanisms, and learning what healthy relationships look like. You're not alone, and coping with an insecure attachment style is possible.
What Is An Insecure Attachment?
An insecure attachment can be defined as a bond formed between a parent or caregiver and their child that lacks consistency and trust. Parents who are unreliable or inconsistent when meeting their child's needs for safety and security might raise children who grow into adults with insecure attachment styles.
For example, a mother who is unavailable to meet her child's needs or is rejecting and cold creates a bond that may lead the child to avoid emotional intimacy as an adult. A child whose mother was inconsistent, providing security sometimes but not other times, might mature into an adult who experiences extreme anxiety or switches between distance and attachment. These behaviors can significantly differ from how secure children act with their parents. However, it isn't the child's fault that this insecure attachment has formed.
What Are The Differences Between Secure And Insecure Attachment Styles?
When you compare people with secure attachments to their caregivers with those with insecure attachments, the behaviors can look much different. Securely attached adults can function in happy, healthy relationships. They seek intimacy, are open and willing partners, and can trust and be trusted by others. Securely attached individuals can still experience challenges and conflict in relationships. However, because of their outlook, strong relationship role models, boundaries, and healthy self-esteem, they may work through these challenges and cut ties when needed.
Those with insecure attachment patterns often experience different behaviors. Some may become highly attached and struggle to function individually. Others may avoid relationships altogether. Some may carry out the patterns of their parents with their partners, acting disorganizedly.
What Are The Three Insecure Attachment Styles?
The three insecure attachment styles that one may have include the following:
Disorganized attachment (a cycle of anxious and avoidant tendencies)
Those with an avoidant attachment style may be emotionally distant and struggle to connect emotionally, as they learned during childhood that their emotional needs would not be met. Those with an anxious attachment style are often anxious and insecure, craving love but fearing that they may never secure the emotional connection they desperately desire.
Adults who develop a disorganized attachment style during childhood often experience mental health challenges because of the trauma, inconsistency, and fear they may have experienced in their early years. Although they crave security, their behavior may be chaotic and go back and forth from anxiety to avoidance, depending on their partner's behaviors.
Coping Mechanisms For Insecure Attachment Styles
Because the three insecure attachment styles differ in presentation, there isn't a "one-size-fits-all" solution for coping with insecure attachment. However, adult attachment issues don't have to last a lifetime. Studies have found that attachment styles can be changed with research, willingness, and understanding, often alongside a mental health professional. Consider using the following coping mechanisms if you have an insecure attachment style.
Talk To Someone
Understanding that you have an insecure attachment is often a starting point. Knowing how to move to a more secure attachment can be more challenging. While you can depend on friends or family members to talk through your struggles with an insecure attachment, meeting with a professional who understands what you're experiencing may be helpful.
Therapists are trained in specific areas, like attachment styles, and therefore are equipped to help you cope with and understand an attachment style. Depending on your schedule and what is comfortable, you can meet with a therapist in person or online. Your provider can help you explore the events and factors that may have contributed to your insecure attachment style and give you tools to take control of your life.
Increase Your Knowledge About Attachment Styles
The more you know about attachment styles, the more you may understand how yours affects your life and relationships. You can start by reading different reputable publications on attachment styles, perhaps beginning with the original attachment theorists Bowlby and Ainsworth and then working your way down to current discoveries. Understanding your past can allow you to take control of your future.
If you're in a romantic relationship, assess your partner's attachment style and see how this style might affect your relationship's dynamics. Some couples find this process to be an eye-opening endeavor. Below is a fictional example of a couple learning more about attachment styles together:
James and Jenna have been dating for a year. James grew up in a loving home with a mother who could meet his emotional and survival needs. He experienced no trauma as a child and mainly had healthy relationships before he fell in love with Jenna. Conversely, Jenna was raised by a single mother who was sometimes loving and sometimes distracted and cold. Jenna's childhood was imperfect and left her craving attention and emotional intimacy.
Because Jenna's sense of attachment was insecure as a child, Jenna tends to cling to James and exhibit signs of jealousy. Although James has never betrayed Jenna's trust, she struggles to believe that he loves her and genuinely wants to be with her. By understanding Jenna's insecure attachment style and how it developed differently from his secure way of viewing the world, James can support his partner in healing. By learning more about secure styles, Jenna begins to recognize how unhealthy her actions are and what a loving partnership should look like. James and Jenna go to couples therapy to discuss this challenge and learn to connect.
Finding what you love about yourself and believing in your abilities can be one of the most effective ways to cope with insecure attachment. Though it might not be easy, increasing feelings of self-worth can help you become your caretaker. Loving yourself can lead to earned security, which refers to a secure attachment developed through consistent effort and self-awareness.
Take Care Of Yourself
People with insecure attachment, especially anxious styles, tend to focus outwardly instead of inwardly. While it can be beneficial to focus on your relationships with others, challenges occur when these connections take priority over self-care. One way to cope with insecurities and increase self-worth is to give yourself the love you desired from your parents as a child and your partner as an adult. Consider investing your time into making yourself happy in ways that benefit you and don't harm others or your environment.
Some adults learned the importance of gratitude as children. They may learn to say "Thank you" and "Please," give appreciation gifts, and thank those who improve their lives. However, some may struggle to say "Thank you" to themselves, as the concept may be unfamiliar. To be grateful to yourself, note your positive traits and all that you have to offer. Instead of focusing on your behavioral difficulties or the unkind labels you give yourself, focus on your strength and resilience and how you bring light to the world.
Set Boundaries With Others
While increasing self-esteem is often an individual process, it can be crucial to set boundaries with others. If you often people-please and say "yes" when you mean "no," boundaries may benefit you. Your therapist can aid in this process, but the first steps can be taken on your own. Practice saying "No" in the mirror and to friends in roleplay scenarios. You can start by saying "No" to more "minor" challenges, such as saying "No" to a glass of water at a friend's house.
Be Honest With Yourself And Others
As you move through the process of learning to love and care for yourself, there can be a tendency to be dishonest. Admitting whether you avoid intimacy or carry out unhealthy patterns from childhood may be difficult, but you may be unable to change what you don't acknowledge. By accepting yourself and your mistakes, you can earn a secure attachment style that didn't develop naturally but came about with perseverance.
Another method that may be helpful when coping with an insecure attachment type is practicing mindfulness. This technique can assist with many mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, stress, and personality disorder symptoms.
Mindfulness can make you more aware of what is happening around you and keep you present in the moment. Instead of worrying about what your partner might say, do, or think, for example, you can engage in the present moment. By embracing this strategy and the other coping mechanisms listed, you may be able to cope with your insecure attachment type while working toward earned secure attachment.
Developing a more secure attachment style is possible with tools and support. If you're struggling with an insecure attachment style and aren't sure how to move forward, it could be beneficial to speak with a professional. In addition, if you face barriers to in-person treatment, alternative options, such as online therapy platforms, are available.
Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp are often more cost-effective than traditional therapy. Since you can connect with your therapist via phone, video chat, or in-app messaging, finding support may be more convenient. For those in relationships, online therapy platforms like ReGain allow couples to receive support at similar rates to individual therapy.
Those with insecure attachments may struggle to move on after a romantic breakup. Researchers have studied the efficacy of online therapy in helping these individuals move forward healthily. One study found that online therapy could reduce attachment anxiety and avoidant tendencies in individuals in close intimate relationships, with results similar to those of in-person studies.
Establishing a secure attachment style can be challenging, particularly if you've experienced trauma or other negative experiences in the past. However, by connecting with a licensed therapist, you can receive personalized guidance as you navigate this process. You're not alone, and support is available.
What are the 3 types of insecure attachment?
Many believe that there are three types of insecure attachment that are commonly associated with attachment theory. These suggested types include ambivalent, disorganized and avoidant attachment.
- Anxious attachment: This is thought to occur when caregiver responses to children are inconsistent, possibly leading to internal confusion and nervousness that can undermine a person’s ability to attach.
- Avoidant attachment: This attachment style can form if a caregiver isn’t able to meet a child’s innate need for emotional and physical closeness.
- Disorganized attachment: Disorganized attachment can occur if a child develops a fear around their caregivers as they grow up. While they may have once seen them as a sign of safety, they may now not—which can lead to a “push and pull” dynamic in future adult relationships.
While living with these adult attachment styles can feel frustrating or overwhelming, online therapy and other supportive strategies can help.
How do people with insecure attachment styles behave?
People living with an insecure attachment style may find it difficult to experience emotional closeness or peace in romantic relationships. These feelings can occur whether or not the person is engaging in secure relationships or not.
Those wanting to develop a secure attachment may benefit from pursuing online therapy or other supportive strategies. Focusing on building social-emotional skills can remove the perceived need for constant reassurance in stable relationships.
What is the most insecure attachment style?
Many believe that there isn’t a universally agreed-upon “most insecure” attachment style. Depending on their own unique experiences, some may believe that all three types have common frustrations and areas of need. This realization is often made once insecure attachment develops.
What are the 4 types of attachment styles?
Many believe that there are four types of attachment styles detailed under attachment theory: secure, disorganized, avoidant and ambivalent attachment.
What is the most common attachment style?
Per recent data sourced from the Attachment Project, the secure attachment style is considered by many to be the most common type of attachment in Western culture. Additional research is needed to determine the most common attachment style in the rest of the world.
What is insecure-avoidant attachment?
Some people living with an anxious attachment style tend to align with insecure-avoidant attachment tendencies. This can look like unhealthy levels of independence and self-sufficiency, which can lead to burnout and nervousness later on. It can also look like a lack of attachment security in important relationships, which can lead to overwhelm, frustration and other negative emotions.
Which attachment style is most jealous?
Different attachment styles can be accompanied by different features or symptoms. Because of this, there generally isn’t a single adult attachment style that is universally agreed upon to be the most jealous. Some may feel as if ambivalent attachment style is the most jealous, while others may feel as if avoidant or disorganized attachment styles align more with symptoms of jealousy.
Adult attachment can depend on a number of factors, and many may find that their attachment style can change over time. This can be especially true for people who might have experienced an insecure attachment style from their primary caregivers, as they may experience attachment variations after engaging with a securely attached partner.
What is the difference between secure and insecure attachment?
Understanding how insecure attachment works is often the first step toward more fulfilling relationships. While secure attachment is considered by many to be the most common, an equal number of people may experience insecure attachment styles—which can lead to relationship difficulties, jealousy, overwhelm and nervousness. Online therapy can support people who align with all types of attachment disorders, possibly helping them to have more fulfilling relationships.
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