Ways To Change An Attachment Style: How To Create A Secure Attachment

By Kelly Spears|Updated July 29, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Audrey Kelly, LMFT

For hundreds of years, psychologists have studied human behavior and attachment style, 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, act, and develop attachment, 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. You can learn more about your attachment style through online therapy.

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 your first relationships with people 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.

How To Understand InSecure Attachment Styles

secure attachment

Creating Secure Attachment Is Not Easy - But It's Worth It.

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 style typically through repeated positive experiences with a primary caregiver. This secure relationship and attachment bond gives infants an early optimistic 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 either one of the anxious, disorganized, or avoidant attachment styles will form from that. Babies and young children who are insecurely attached learn to expect inconsistency in relationships, leading them often to operate from a place of fear and an inability to regulate emotions. 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. Within adult relationships, insecure attachment often manifests as anxiety or codependency. Some individuals with insecure attachment styles avoid close relationships altogether.

Ways To Create A Secure Attachment Style

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.

1. 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 and build self-esteem.

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 and play games with their mental health.

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).

2. 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 and secure ways to build self-esteem and help create this 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 youre 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 private 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 harmful and very personal thoughts creep up, make a conscious effort to combat them with positivity. For example, you may think, “I can’t do anything right.” Stop yourself by stating, “That isn’t true; I’m great at a lot of things, including ______ and ________.” By fighting off negative thoughts, becoming self aware, and replacing them with positive ones, you’ll build self-esteem, feel confident, and begin to create a secure attachment style that will allow you to trust yourself and others.

3. Acknowledge Your Attachment Style

A third way to flip your type of attachment is by confronting the negative aspects of your insecure attachment style. Maybe your past has led you to develop unhealthy coping strategies in relationships. It can be helpful to explore these and try to understand why they may exist and how you can change them. According to attachment theory, there are four types of attachments; one secure attachment style and three insecure styles. Let’s explore the three insecure attachment that can exist in interpersonal relationships.

If you’re an anxiously attached person who is overly focused on your partner and his or her needs, try shifting your focus inward. By recognizing you have an anxious style of attachment, acknowledging your own emotional needs, and building self-esteem, you’ll feel more content, which will help you to form and maintain healthy and secure relationships instead of anxious avoidant behaviors holding you back.

In contrast to being one of the anxious types of insecure attachment, if you consider yourself to have an avoidant attachment style, 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.

The fourth attachment style is a disorganized one in which the person may show inconsistent behaviors and reactions. Their childhood relationship with a caregiver may have been unpredictable, and they developed unhealthy coping strategies as a result. They may find it difficult to trust other people, bouncing between an anxious attachment style and an avoidant one.

Partnerships can also be challenging when two people’s styles clash, creating toxic or counterproductive relationships. For example, when they don’t have the same attachment style it may create a push-pull effect. If one partner is anxious, they may cling to their partner and want extra reassurance. On the other end, an avoidant partner may shy away from giving this reassurance as a way to protect themselves.  While one person pushes closer, the other is pulling away.

Similar attachment styles can also prevent meaningful emotional connection. If two partners are both avoidant, they may not confront issues that arise between them. When an issue arises and they do not communicate with each other, it could become something larger and create distance in the relationship.

Helpful Resources To Create A Secure Attachment Style

Many free and low-cost resources can help you on your healing journey to foster secure attachment. 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 meditationsthat are completely free.
  • Attachmentsby Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy is an eye-opening resource for people who struggle to form and maintain close and intimate relationships.
  • Attachedby 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 You Change Your Attachment Style

Creating Secure Attachment Is Not Easy - But It's Worth It.

In addition to the resources above, therapy can accelerate the healing process and help you shift your insecure and anxious style, in order to develop a secure attachment instead. 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, like ones found at a private practice. Online therapy is convenient and private; 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.

Counselor Reviews

” 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.”

Secure Attachment Styles Conclusion

No matter if you have avoidant, disorganized, or anxious attachment styles, Through commitment and self-compassion, it’s possible to create the secure attachment you didn’t develop during childhood and become the true self you had the potential to become. While the process requires hard work and dedication and you’ll need to escape your comfort zone, you may end up more confident, compassionate, and better equipped to form and maintain long-lasting stable relationships. Take the first step today.

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