How To Cope With An Insecure Attachment Type
By: Sarah Fader
Updated February 08, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT
The intimate relationships we establish as adults have roots that run very deep. Linking back to our earliest connections from both infancy and childhood, our attachments to other adults mimic the way in which we were once tethered to our parents. When these early caregiver connections don't form properly, insecure attachments can be formed. Like weights in a hiker's backpack, these unhealthy attachments weigh us down and stop us from reaching relationship peaks.
So, what, if anything, can a person with an insecure attachment do? After all, we can't go back and relive our childhoods. But there are ways to drop the bulk. The process starts with knowledge, moves through specific means of coping, and ends with healing through attachment change. In this article, we will focus on the middle portion: how to cope with an insecure attachment. But first, let's set the background for how attachment issues develop in the first place.
Insecure Attachment Definition
An insecure attachment can be defined as a bond formed between parent and child that lacks consistency and full trust. Parents who are unreliable or inconsistent when meeting their child's needs for safety and security raise children who grow into adults with insecure attachment issues.
For example, a mother who is unavailable to meet her child's needs or who 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) will potentially mature into an adult who is anxious and overly clingy. This is very different than the way a securely attached child or adult responds to intimacy.
Secure Vs Insecure Attachment
When you compare people who had secure attachments to their caregivers with those with insecure attachments, what you see will likely mirror day and night. Securely attached adults can function in happy, healthy relationships. They seek intimacy, are open and willing partners, they can trust and be trusted by others. This isn't to say those with secure attachments won't have problems in their marriages. But because of their positive outlooks, strong relationship role models, and healthy self-esteem, they can usually work through these issues and build secure emotional ties.
Those with insecure attachment patterns often don't fare so well. Some are overly attached, unable to function individually. Others avoid relationships with others altogether. Some are abusive and carry out their past pain in current partnerships. Insecure attachment in adults usually presents itself in one of three specific ways:
- Insecure Preoccupied Attachment (AKA insecure uncertain attachment)
- Insecure Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment (AKA insecure resistant attachment)
- Insecure Disorganized Attachment
This chart, created by the Believe Perform, shows the ways that each type differs in both response and overall personality.
Those with an avoidant attachment type are distant and don't connect well emotionally since they learned during childhood that their emotional needs are unlikely to be met. Those with an ambivalent attachment style are anxious and insecure, craving love but fear that they may never secure the emotional connection they so desperately desire. Adults who developed a disorganized attachment style during childhood often end up angry and depressed because of the trauma and fear they experienced in their early years. Although they crave security, their behavior is often seen as chaotic and explosive.
Coping Mechanisms For Insecure Attachment Styles
Because these three different insecure attachment styles differ so much in the way they present themselves, there isn't a "cover-all" solution for coping with insecure attachment. However, the insecure attachment doesn't have to last a lifetime. There are ways to cope with the hand you've been dealt while moving towards emotional healing.
#1 Find Someone To Help.
Preferably, this happens with the guidance of a well-trained mental health professional who knows the ins and outs of insecure attachment issues. Betterhelp offers a great online service that will match you with a licensed therapist who can work with you to resolve your attachment issues on your schedule, at your own pace, and in the comfort of your own home. The tips provided by your counselor will be personalized. However, the suggestions below are a good place to start while working towards individualized care.
#2 Increase Your Understanding Of Styles.
Read this article and every other reputable publication on insecure attachment styles. Dig into the research. Start with the original attachment theorists Bowlby and Ainsworth and work your way down to current discoveries. By learning more about yourself and why you are who you are in a relationship, you can take control of your destiny. Once you feel that you fully understand your form of attachment, learn more about your partner's style. Many couples find this to be an eye-opening endeavor that can help you move towards healing.
A Case Study
Take James and Jenna, for example. James grew up in a very loving home with a mother who was very good at meeting his emotional needs. He experienced very little trauma as a child and had mostly healthy relationships before he fell in love with Jenna. Jenna, on the other hand, was raised by a single mother who was sometimes loving and at other times distracted and cold. Jenna's childhood was less than perfect and left her craving both attention and emotional intimacy.
Because her sense of attachment was insecure as a child, Jenna tends to cling to James and exhibit signs of jealousy. Even though James has never betrayed Jenna's trust, she has a hard time believing that he loves her and genuinely wants to be with her. By understanding Jenna's insecure attachment style and how it developed differently than 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.
#3 Increase Self-Love
Finding ways to love yourself and believe in your abilities truly is one of the best ways to cope with (and heal) insecure attachment issues. Though it isn't an easy task, increasing feelings of self-worth will allow you to become your own best caretaker. This can lead to earned security. Ways to increase self-love and begin the process of replacing insecure feelings with reassurance include:
1. Taking Care Of Yourself. People with insecure attachment, especially anxious styles, tend to focus outwardly instead of inwardly. It's good to focus on your relationships with others, but when these connections take priority over self-care, serious issues can emerge. One way to cope with insecurities and increase self-worth is to give yourself the love you desire(d) from your parents as a child and your partner as an adult. Invest your money and time into making yourself happy. Go shopping for a new outfit, start a new hobby, take a trip somewhere. The sky is the limit, as long as it is healthy and makes you feel better about yourself.
2. Practice Gratitude Towards Yourself. Most adults learned the importance of gratitude towards others as children. We say "thank you" and "please," give gifts of appreciation, and can express thankfulness to those who make our lives better in some different ways. But how many times over the past few weeks or months have you practiced gratitude towards yourself? For many, the concept may be unfamiliar. But it's important to remember that you are a valid and worthy soul with much to give. Instead of focusing on all the things that you see as wrong with you, why not hone in on all the things you do right and the things you like about yourself?
3. Set Boundaries With Others. A good gauge for how much self-love is in someone's tank is found in the way they allow others to treat them. While increasing self-esteem is a somewhat individual process, it's important to set boundaries with others around you. If you find yourself people-pleasing and saying 'yes' when you mean 'no,' boundaries are needed. Your therapist can aid in this process, but the first steps can be taken on your own.
Step one is to simply practice saying no to invitations, requests, etc., when you don't want to be involved. Stand up to the worry that says "they won't like me if I say no," and replace it with this truth: those who truly care about you will respect you for taking care of yourself, and will respect your decisions and boundaries. Speak directly to those who continue to push the limits about what you expect and need from them. Setting boundaries may seem foreign in the beginning, but you'll be thankful that you did this later on.
4. Be Honest With Yourself And Others. As you move through the process of learning to love and care for yourself, there is a tendency to be dishonest. "My problems aren't that bad," or "everyone likes to do _____" are dishonest excuses that stop us from becoming our best selves and strengthen our insecure attachments. When being honest with ourselves and others about our pasts and flaws, we may feel vulnerable. To say "I avoid intimacy" or "I carry out abusive patterns from my childhood" is difficult, but you cannot change what you don't acknowledge. By accepting yourself, flaws and all, you can begin the process of earning a secure attachment style that didn't develop naturally but with hard work.
#4 Practice Mindfulness
One final way to cope with an insecure attachment type is to practice mindfulness. This is a technique that is used to help with many different issues, including anxiety, depression, stress, and many others. Through mindfulness, you become more aware of the things going on around you and are present in the moment. Instead of worrying about what your partner might say, might do, or has done, for example, you're able to engage in the here and now fully.
This BetterHelp article on mindfulness is a great starting place for those wanting to embrace the practice as a way of coping with an unhealthy attachment style. If you're not up for more reading, you can always ask your therapist for mindfulness tips during a session. By embracing this strategy and the other coping mechanisms listed, you'll be able to cope with your insecure attachment type while working towards earned secure attachment.
How BetterHelp Can Help
Online therapy has been found by many studies to be just as effective for a broad variety of issues as in-person therapy, including helping with childhood trauma, relationships, and attachment issues (and how all of those can, and often do, relate). Specifically, one very in-depth study reviewed 373 studies conducted on the effectiveness of online therapy for a range of issues, such as anxiety, PTSD, trauma, depression, phobias, relationship issues, and many others. It found online therapy to be useful, effective, cost-efficient, and particularly useful for rural areas or those unable to attend in-person therapy for various reasons. It also found online therapy to be more useful than in-person therapy for increasing client understanding of their condition and overall satisfaction, decreasing stress, and reducing the severity of their stress and other conditions.
Although around 75% of adults worldwide have or will have some form of mental or neurological disorder either currently or at some point in their lives, and it’s estimated that 10% of the world’s population currently has a mental health disorder. Despite these numbers, an average of nearly ¾ of those in need of it do not seek or do not have access to mental healthcare, particularly in middle and low income areas. BetterHelp can, and does, reach these people and these areas as internet becomes more and more widely available. Those unable to afford or get transportation to traditional therapy can still get the therapy they need via phone call, video chat, live voice recordings sent back and forth, or instant messaging/texting. BetterHelp tends to be cheaper than traditional therapy, and since we have therapists from around the world sessions can be held anytime.
Continue reading to find reviews of some of our therapists, from people experiencing similar issues.
“Kayla has been so wonderful!! She is patient, kind, empathetic, and is able to clearly articulate many of the feelings I don’t understand myself. She’s really helped me work on creating healthier relationships and becoming more confident in myself to better my life.”
“I really really appreciate Masood. He listens to my concerns and allows me to be comfortable to open up about issues. I look forward to our sessions every week. Since going to him for the past few months I've noticed a tremendously positive difference in my motivation, maintaining and establishing boundaries and healthy environment and relationships for my peace of mind.”
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