Ways To Create A Secure Attachment
By: Kelly Spears
Updated November 11, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT
For hundreds of years, psychologists have studied human behavior, trying to determine exactly why we do what we do. Time and time again, the question of “nature versus nurture” has arisen: do genetics govern how we think and act, or is the environment in which we're raised the deciding factor? Scientific evidence seems to suggest that, in most cases, it's a combination of both.
When it comes to our relationships, however, nurture seems to play a greater role. For example, individuals who grow up in healthy households tend to develop secure attachment bonds and attachment styles that typically lead them to have stronger, longer-lasting relationships in adulthood.
On the other hand, if you grew up in a household with inconsistent or unreliable parenting, you may have greater difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships. People in this category may have experienced insecure attachment bonds to their parents or primary caregivers.
"Therapy can accelerate the healing process and help you shift your attachment style, in order to create a more secure attachment bond."
Insecure attachment is a negative, fear-based relationship style—the deep, even unconscious fear of abandonment or unmet needs. This fear-based style is based on the formation of an insecure attachment bond in early childhood, and it's surprisingly common.
Living with the weight of a fear-based attachment bond can be very frustrating and feel overwhelming, but there is hope. While some experts believe that attachment styles and the original attachment bond remain consistent throughout the lifetime, recent research has actually found that individuals with an insecure attachment style can actually form secure bonds through intimacy-building activities.
In this article, we'll discuss the characteristics of insecure attachment, the effects of insecure and secure attachment bonds, and strategies to break a negative attachment bond and create a more secure attachment style. This information may help you recall relationships and experiences that contributed to your attachment style in the past, but you'll also learn how to strengthen your bonds with others in the present.
Understanding Insecure Attachment
As mentioned previously, an individual's attachment style appears in early childhood and is the result of the formation of an insecure or secure attachment bond; infants and young children develop a secure attachment through repeated positive experiences with caregivers. This secure attachment bond gives infants an early outlook on life. Early in life, they learn that their needs will be met on a consistent basis, and as children, they don't live in fear of being neglected, abused, or abandoned.
When caregivers fail to provide consistent care and emotional support, an insecure attachment bond and insecure attachment style form. Babies and young children who are insecurely attached learn to expect inconsistency in relationships, leading them often to operate from a place of fear. This is especially true of children who have been left by their caregivers (by choice or by death) and those who were abused or neglected. It can be difficult, but not impossible, to overcome the effects of developing an insecure attachment bond.
Even if their physical needs are met, children whose caregivers are distant or cold also tend to form an insecure attachment bond. In some cases, children also can develop an insecure attachment because their primary caregiver swings back and forth between being nurturing and acting detached.
Children with insecure attachment bonds tend to behave differently toward caregivers than kids with secure attachments. Depending on their circumstances, a child may act aloof or overly clingy toward their caregivers. In addition, the child may easily show anger, irritation, or fear, and they may exhibit extreme reactions to stress.
Unfortunately, the problems that arise from forming an insecure attachment style do not end in childhood. For adults, insecure attachment often manifests as anxiety or codependency. Some individuals with insecure attachment styles avoid relationships altogether.
Ways To Create A Secure Attachment
Later, we'll share how therapy can help individuals who are living with an insecure attachment style break a negative attachment bond and create a secure attachment bond, but first, we'll talk about strategies you can use to help you form and maintain strong, lasting bonds.
- Focus On Healing
Childhood situations and experiences that promote insecure attachments also tend to create shame and self-esteem issues. Living with shame can result in self-neglect (focusing on everyone else's needs while ignoring your own), self-criticism, self-sabotage, and even self-destructive behaviors. Beginning to heal from these symptoms will help you lay the foundation to form secure attachments.
These feelings and behaviors are often connected to a deeply rooted, self-imposed belief that an individual does not deserve happiness or healthy relationships. While healthy guilt can help an individual make better choices, the shame and self-loathing that often accompany an insecure attachment style can make a person feel perpetually stuck in insecurity.
Many people wonder how to forgive themselves for mistakes they’ve made in the past. While the process of self-forgiveness is a highly personal one, the following steps are a great place to start:
- Evaluate your past decisions. Were some of the factors involved out of your control? Did you do what you felt was best at the time? How do you see your actions differently today?
- Earn your forgiveness. Steps toward forgiveness include taking responsibility for your actions, apologizing, and making amends. If you find that forgiving yourself is difficult, try writing out a meaningful apology to yourself. You can also apologize to anyone else who may have been hurt, and you may be able to identify actions to make things right. Finally, vow to move forward.
- Aim for progress, not perfection. If this process seems easier said than done, use self-compassion exercises to keep you moving through the healing process, such as this meaningful exercise offered by the Nonviolent Communication Organization (NVC).
- Build Self-Esteem
Self-forgiveness provides a fresh start. Once you're no longer bogged down by the pain of the past, you can work on building yourself up. You might have years of experience with negative self-talk, shame, and criticism, so it's time to turn things around. Here are some practical ways to build self-esteem and help create a secure attachment style:
- Make yourself a priority: People with low self-esteem tend to neglect themselves. They can ignore their health, hygiene, and emotional wellbeing because they don't feel worthy of self-care or self-compassion. If you're in the habit of neglecting your personal needs and desires, make a list of the things you've neglected. Do you need to go to the dentist? Does your diet need adjustments to keep you healthy and satisfied? Would you like to give up drinking or smoking? Once you have a list, commit to tackling these issues one by one, and practice self-compassion if you find yourself falling into old patterns. Remember, it’s not about perfection.
- The three compliments journal: This exercise is included in a great self-esteem building article. You'll need a blank notebook and a pen or a pencil to get started. Then all you have to do is jot down three compliments to yourself each morning. Looking in the mirror can be part of the ritual, but if this practice seems awkward or uncomfortable, a mirror isn't required. The goal here is to acknowledge your positive attributes on a regular basis. This practice will help you see yourself in a more positive light.
- Try a new hobby: Part of learning to value yourself is finding activities you love and pursuing them wholeheartedly. If you enjoy taking photos, take up photography. Try a new sport or physical activity, or settle into a crafting activity that calms you. Not sure which hobby to try? Check out the world's largest list of hobbies to discover an activity you love!
- Practice positive self-talk: For individuals who have spent their lives filled with negative self-talk and shame, this process can seem daunting, but it's worth the effort. Whether in a journal or just in your head, remind yourself of your talents, positive attributes, and accomplishments, big and small. When negative thoughts creep up, make a conscious effort to combat them with positivity. For example, you may think, "I can't do anything right." Stop yourselg by stating, "That isn't true; I'm great at a lot of things, including ______ and ________." By fighting off negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones, you'll build self-esteem and begin to create a secure attachment style that will allow you to trust yourself and others.
- Acknowledge Your Attachment Style
A third way to flip your type of attachment is by confronting the negative aspects of your insecure attachment style. If you're an anxious, insecurely attached person who is overly focused on your partner and his or her needs, try shifting your focus inward. By acknowledging your own needs and building your own self-esteem, you'll feel more content, which will help you to form and maintain healthy relationships.
If you consider yourself insecure-avoidant, meaning that you tend to shy away from meeting the needs of a partner, child, family member, or friend, make a conscious effort to begin meeting your loved ones' needs (without sacrificing your own). If you feel an urge to pull away, acknowledge the feeling, and open up to someone you feel comfortable confiding in. Silence exacerbates shame, so it's important not to keep your feelings bottled up inside.
Helpful Resources To Create A Secure Attachment Style
Many free and low-cost resources can help you on your healing journey. Here are a few:
- Kristin Neff's Self-Compassion.org is a great resource for anyone in need of extra self-compassion. Neff offers seven well-structured guided meditations that are completely free.
- Attachments by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy is an eye-opening resource for people who struggle to form and maintain close relationships.
- Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller is a user-friendly guide that explains the science behind attachment and how to find love based on attachment style. This book is particularly helpful for individuals who seek a lifelong partner.
How Online Therapy Can Help
In addition to the resources above, therapy can accelerate the healing process and help you shift your attachment style, in order to create a more secure attachment bond. Research has shown that Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can make a big difference in improving relationships for those dealing with attachment issues. Online therapy services like BetterHelp have made these outcomes more accessible than ever.
Online therapy has several advantages over in-person services. Online therapy is convenient and confidential; because you can arrange your sessions with a therapist around your schedule and lifestyle, you can meet whenever and wherever you’d like, from the privacy of your own home. You can work with a therapist at BetterHelp by video chat, phone call, or text messaging. Here are reviews from BetterHelp users who have found support for their attachment journeys.
" Kerrie is very responsive and supportive. She attends to what I'm saying and finds ways to help me make connections between my thoughts, feelings, and experiences that move me towards my goals. I thoroughly enjoy working with her and appreciate the insights she offers in our sessions."
" I am so grateful to have found such a wonderful counselor. I finally have a safe place to talk through the darkest parts of my life and continue to receive practical advice that I can actually use to cope with and heal from my trauma, and be more comfortable in my day-to-day life. I could not be more pleased with the counselor I was matched with and I look forward to every session, even if the discussion topics are rough or painful. I would 100% recommend him to anyone I know."
Through commitment and self-compassion, it's possible to create the secure attachment you didn’t develop during childhood. While the process requires hard work and dedication, you may end up more confident, compassionate, and better equipped to form and maintain long-lasting relationships. Take the first step today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is Attachment And Why Is It Important?
Attachment styles and their related attachment theory were discovered and highlighted in a study conducted by psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the early 1970s. Attachment theory outlines how attachment patterns in adulthood result as the development of attachment in childhood.
The study also discovered the more secure the attachment bond between infant subjects and their primary caregiver the greater the likelihood of carrying the secure attachment bond into adulthood. The famous attachment research study highlights parent-child relationships, adult relationships, and the attachment process as they relate to early attachment bonds.
The important part of attachment theory to understand is that an adult still has the capacity to develop a secure attachment bond. Adults who want to learn how to break their original attachment bond in order to create a more secure attachment bond should start by seeking help from a psychiatrist or therapist (depending on the severity of their condition).
Licensed psychology professionals can provide psychotherapy tools and other resources and tools that help adults create a secure attachment bond later in life.
What Is Secure Attachment Style?
Attachment theory operates under the premise that people who develop a secure attachment style and form a secure attachment bond as a result of their early attachment will feel more secure and have more successful relationships. In contrast, insecurely attached children or infants who developed an insecure attachment to their primary caregiver are believed to be at a disadvantage.
The secure attachment bond is a result of the immediate needs of an infant or child being met. Children who are securely attached tend to carry these types of attachment into their adult lives and become securely attached adults. Children who weren’t able to develop a secure attachment bond may have been abused, been neglected, or experienced some form of early childhood trauma that prevented them from developing a secure attachment bond with their caregiver.
Psychology and mental health experts assert that adults still have the chance to develop a secure attachment bond by making behavioral changes and taking part in therapy.
How Do You Promote A Secure Attachment?
People who want to create a secure base for attachment have to be willing to do the work to develop a secure attachment bond. Building a secure base for attachment means that you will have the ability to create a stable, loving, and emotionally supportive environment in which others feel safe. Adults working on developing a secure attachment bond should practice self-care, honesty, and consistency in their relationships. A therapist or mental health provider can help you learn how to create secure adult attachment after developing an avoidant attachment, insecure ambivalent attachment, or other negative adult attachment style.
What Are Signs Of Secure Attachment?
A primary sign of a secure attachment bond in children is confidence in their connection with their primary attachment figure. This secure attachment bond produces greater confidence in the child themselves, as well as in their ability to persevere through life’s challenges. Once the child’s developing brain organizes the information they’ve learned about patterns of attachment, securely attached children report fewer mental health issues, like reactive attachment disorder.
What Are Signs Of Unhealthy Attachment?
When people have a secure attachment bond and are securely attached, they show signs of confidence in themselves and feel comfortable in their environment. Unlike securely attached people, those who experience unhealthy attachments like avoidant attachment disorder aren’t securely attached in their relationships. Attachment styles like these are said to be developed in early childhood and can be changed with a combination of psychotherapy, behavior modification, and lifestyle changes. If you want to learn how to become more securely attached, talking to a licensed therapist is a great place to start.
Can Insecure Attachment Be Repaired?
According to attachment theory and developmental psychology, it is possible to develop a secure attachment bond and to change attachment behavior later in life. People who have developed a negative attachment bond with their primary caregiver will likely carry this negative attachment bond into their romantic relationships. Sessions with a licensed therapy provider can help a person to develop secure attachment bonds as an adult.
Why Are Secure Attachments Important?
According to attachment theory, people who are able to develop a secure attachment bond in early childhood grow up to be more successful and secure adults. People who developed negative attachment styles in childhood carry the issues and dramas of having a negative attachment bond with them through life.
It’s important to learn how to develop a secure attachment bond to improve your mental health and overall well-being. If you’re struggling with constant issues as a result of the effects of negative attachment styles, seek help from a licensed mental health professional. A therapist can teach you the basics for changing your attachment styles and how to develop a secure attachment bond.
How Do You Know Your Attachment Style?
Are you wondering if you’re securely attached or if you’ve developed an insecure attachment bond with your parents? People with insecure attachment styles they’ve carried from infancy or early childhood may feel insecure, less confident, less trusting, and more suspicious than securely attached children, infants, and adults.
If you want to learn how to break an insecure attachment style and develop a secure attachment style, talk to a mental health professional. A therapist can help you learn more about individual styles of attachment and ways to develop a secure attachment bond.
How Do Adults Develop Secure Attachments?
Adults with avoidant attachment, disorganized attachment, reactive attachment disorder, and similar negative patterns of attachment can learn how to feel secure by learning how to become securely attached and developing a secure attachment bond with their spouses, children, and families. Developmental psychology helps people to become securely attached. According to developmental psychology and attachment theory, it is possible to build a secure attachment even after years of living with a disorganized attachment, emotional attachment issues, and any other forms of attachment disorder.
How Do You Fix Attachment Issues?
The first step to recreating attachment styles is understanding the attachment process that begins with your primary attachment figure. In most cases, the first attachment bond is made to the mother. People who have an attachment disorder, negative attachment styles, or an issue building an attachment bond with others usually started this pattern with their primary caregiver as children. In order to become more securely attached, it’s important to undo the negative associations involved in the development of negative attachment styles like avoidant attachment which is the fourth attachment style.
Is Attachment Disorder A Mental Illness?
When a person does not develop a secure attachment bond in early childhood, negative attachment styles are often the result. Attachment theory operates under the premise that people without a secure attachment bond are more prone to the effects of mental illness and developing mental health disorders as a result of not being able to develop a secure attachment bond.
How Does Insecure Attachment Affect Adulthood?
We develop our first attachment bonds with our parents or primary caregivers in early childhood. When children have a secure attachment bond, they appear to be more mentally stable and less troubled than people with an insecure attachment bond.
The theory of the secure attachment bond continues throughout adulthood, as relationships are based on the original secure attachment bond (or insecure attachment bond) that was made with the primary caregiver in early infancy and childhood.
How Do I Teach My Baby To Trust?
Attachment theory tells us that infants develop a more secure attachment bond with their primary caregiver when their basic needs are consistently met. If you’re working on developing a secure attachment bond with your baby, practice consistency by meeting their basic needs as they arise; this doesn’t mean that you need to immediately pick them up anytime they cry, but that you provide them with adequate nutrition, hygiene, and affection, as well as a safe, peaceful living environment. Continuing to do so will build trust and strengthen the secure attachment bond that you’ve built.
Adults who developed a negative attachment bond in early childhood can learn how to develop a secure attachment bond with behavior modification tools and psychotherapy. Talking to a mental health expert about what a secure attachment bond looks like to you can get you one step closer to breaking in insecure attachment bond and developing more secure attachment bonds in your close relationships.
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