Ways To Create A Secure Attachment
Updated December 11, 2018
Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT
For hundreds of years, psychologists have studied human behavior and tried to determine exactly what makes us 'do what we do.' Time and time again, the question of nurture vs. nature has come up in the discussions. Is it genetics that is the ruling factor in how we think and act or is it the way in which one is raised that is the deciding factor? The verdict is still out, but the most scientific evidence seems to support the idea that it's a good mixture of both.
But when it comes to relationships, nurture seems to take the defining role. Psychologists have even discovered that it is how we related to our earliest caregivers sets the stage for our romantic futures. In essence, if we did not feel secure in early childhood (0-5), then we will not be able to attach and build intimacy with a partner securely.
This lack of ability is called insecure attachment, and although it is not an ideal way of relating to others, it's not uncommon. Although half of the 7 billion people on earth have secure attachment styles, the other half have attachments that were built in an unhealthy way.
Though these relational styles are subconscious and unchosen, they can be changed through knowledge and hard work. Through this article, you can take the first step by learning more about how insecure attachment looks and ways to create a secure attachment. Along the way, you'll learn more about yourself, your partner, and hopefully, strengthen your lifetime relationships.
Understanding Insecure Attachment
Secure attachments are made during early childhood. As Better Brains for Babies explains in their article secure vs. insecure attachment, infants, and young children develop a secure attachment through repeated positive experiences with their caregivers. They learn to trust that people will take care of them. They don't worry about being neglected, abused, or abandoned.
But when the opposite happens, insecure attachment takes place. Infants and young children who are insecurely attached learn that trusting others is a negative experience. For one reason or another, their needs are not fully met by their parents, leaving them with a skewed sense of how the world works. This is true of children who have been left by their caregivers (by choice or by death) and those who were treated badly by their parents. It's also the case for children whose physical needs were taken care of but whose mothers were distant or cold.
Then there are people who develop insecure attachments because their primary caregiver was emotionally caring sometimes and detached at other times. As children, those of us with insecure attachments behave differently than kids with secure attachments to their caregivers. Depending on the circumstance behind the insecure attachment, a child may act aloof towards their parent or overly clingy. They have extreme reactions to stress and tend to show anger, irritation, or fear more easily than children who are securely attached.
Why Professional Help Is Key
If these attachment related issues ended in childhood, this article wouldn't be necessary. Unfortunately, attachment issues continue into adulthood. In adults, insecure attachment often presents itself as anxiety and either becoming overly codependent in relationships or avoiding them altogether. In a previous article we talked about how to rid yourself of attachment anxiety, but doing this alone can be difficult. But with the help of a trained counselor or therapist, there are ways to create a secure attachment.
There are a couple of different ways to jumpstart this process. If you don't have a specific therapist in mind, signing up at Betterhelp.com is a starting point. Betterhelp offers an online platform that connects mental health professionals with those seeking help. It's unique in the sense that you don't have to be in the same room, with your counselor to grow personally. Betterhelp offers free-trials periodically and even sliding scale fees for those who need help affording their services.
Ways To Create A Secure Attachment
Once you connect with your counselor, the real work will begin. But until then, there are things that you can do on your own to create a secure attachment and heal attachment insecurity. A quick google search will lead you to list after list of ways to fix your issues, but according to psychological research, it doesn't take numerous strategies to rid yourself of insecurity. In fact, by embracing just three tools, you can propel yourself into a life of security that never existed in your past.
#1 Focus On Healing
Childhood situations that cause insecure attachments also create shame and self-esteem issues. By focusing on healing the negative emotions and ideas you feel about yourself, you can also create a secure way of attaching to others.
We hear people say all the time that we should forgive others, but it's very rare to think about healing oneself. When we sit in shame we take part in negative practices such as self-neglect (focusing on everyone else's needs but not our own), self-criticism/blame, self-sabotaging (starting arguments with loved ones, causing problems at work), and even self-destruction (overeating, using drugs and alcohol).
These behaviors are usually connected to a deeply rooted belief that we do not deserve good things. We beat ourselves up about past behavior and hold ourselves accountable for all the mistakes we've made. There is a difference between the type of healthy guilt that stops you from doing things that are wrong/hurtful and this kind of a shame. This self-loathing serves no other purpose than to keep you downtrodden and wrapped up in insecurity.
A Case Study On Healing
Lisa, a mother of two, is a good of example of how healing and self-forgiveness can help you create a secure attachment style. Raised by a mentally ill mother who was both hot and cold, Lisa developed an insecure attachment style. Her specific style, anxious attachment insecurity, caused her to be clingy and codependent in relationships.
After three failed marriages, Lisa began to realize that something was wrong. Although she excelled professionally and as a mother, she couldn't seem to hold a relationship together. After her last marriage ended in divorce, she slipped into a deep depression fueled by self-criticism. Obviously, she was the problem, right? I mean, her relationships all started out great, but after a while, she would find a way to ruin it. Lisa felt like a complete and utter failure.
Desperate to figure out why she couldn't 'keep a man,' Lisa found herself pouring her heart out to a therapist referred to her by a coworker. After several weeks of personal work and self-reflection, Lisa began to see that she wasn't a failure after all. Though she had a part to play in the endings of her marriages, Lisa now knows that her problems were present long before she met any romantic partner.
Because of her insecure attachment to her mother, Lisa never learned how to be in a loving, trusting relationship. The acknowledgment of this fact helped her move towards healing and self-forgiveness. Which brings us to a common question: how do you forgive yourself for mistakes of the past? The process is a highly personal one, but the following steps are a good starting point.
- Take time To Question And Understand Yourself And Why You Made That Decision You Made. Were there factors involved that were out of your control? Did you do what you felt was best at the time, even if you see differently today?
- Earn Your forgiveness. To give forgiveness to others, we often require certain things to take place first. These include acknowledgment of the wrong (taking responsibility), apologizing, and doing what is necessary to make amends. If you find that forgiving yourself is difficult, make an effort to earn your forgiveness like you would another person. Write out a meaningful apology to yourself, apologize to anyone else who was hurt in the process of your self-destruction, and do what you can to make things right. Then vow to move forward and do so.
- Practice Makes Perfect. If the process seems easier said than done, seek-out self-forgiveness exercises and use them as a guide through the healing process. One meaningful exercise offered by the Nonviolent Communication Organization (NVC) can help heal guilt and lead to self-forgiveness. There are many others out there. Your therapist can also be a good source for forgiveness exercises.
#2 Build Self-Esteem
One great thing about self-forgiveness is that it represents a clean slate, a fresh start. No longer bogged down by the pain of the past, you can work on building yourself up. Gone are the days when you would spend your time tearing yourself down. For a person with an insecure attachment style, the concept of building self-esteem may seem as foreign as building a rocket ship.
You've had years of practice with negative self-talk, shame, and criticism. Now it's time for a new approach. This is where your Betterhelp therapist can offer ideas for speeding up the process. Other practical ways to build self-esteem and a secure attachment style include:
- Make Yourself a Priority- People with low self-esteem neglect themselves. Your health, hygiene, emotional well-being, fill-in-the-blank, all take the backburner because you simply don't see yourself as important. It's time to change that. Start by making a list of the things that you have neglected. Do you need to go to the dentist? Are you eating nothing but junk? Do you need help kicking a cigarette or alcohol problem? Make yourself a list and commit to tackling these problems one by one. You won't complete this process overnight, but in time, you'll feel much better than you do in the present.
- The Three Compliments Journal- This exercise is included in a terrific self-esteem building article authored by the Enlightenment Portal. It's a simple one that takes very little to start. All you need is a blank notebook and a pen or a pencil. The process is easy as well. Simply jot down three compliments to yourself each morning when you wake up. Looking in the mirror can be part of the ritual, but if that seems a little awkward, you can skip looking at yourself. The goal here is only to acknowledge your positive sides. Sure, we all have flaws, but forget those for now.
- Get A Hobby- At first, this one sounds a little cheesy. But part of valuing yourself is finding the things you like and pursuing them wholeheartedly! Have you always enjoyed taking pictures? Consider photography. Do you love spending time on the lake? Take up fishing or boating. This is a personal choice that will take some self-reflection if you draw a blank when it comes to which hobby to choose. Check out the world's largest list of hobbies and discover a new interest.
- Practice Positive Self-talk- People who are naturally secure and self-confident would see this as a no-brainer. For someone who has spent a lifetime beating their self-up mentally, positive self-talk can be one of the toughest battles. Speak to yourself, either in front of the mirror or through writing with positivity. Compliment yourself, offer positive self-criticism, and praise yourself for your accomplishments. In essence, strive to be your cheerleader.
When negative thoughts creep into your mind about yourself or your relationship, don't dwell on them or let them sit. Combat them with an opposite statement that is both true and positive. For example, if the thought "I can't do anything right" pops up, say to yourself, "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 not only build your self-esteem but also create a secure attachment style that allows you to trust yourself and others.
#3 Combat Your Style
The third and final way to flip your attachment style is to combat the negative aspects of your insecure attachment style. If you are an anxiously insecure attached person and find yourself co-dependent and overly focused on your partner and his or her needs, flip your style and focus on yourself. By focusing on your own needs, self-esteem, and attachment issues, you will become the best partner that you can be. This will not only strengthen your relationship but also add contentment to your life.
If you are an insecure avoidant type and tend to shy away from meeting your partner's needs, you should instead focus on your partner. When you feel the need to run, don't! Make an effort to be open, talk about feelings, and make your partner a priority. By taking responsibility for not only yourself but also your partner, you can move towards true intimacy.
Continuing The Process
By seeking professional help and embracing these three strategies, it is possible to create the secure attachment that should have been sealed during childhood. Though the process will take a lot of work and commitment, the results: forgiveness, solid self-esteem, and stronger relationships are well-worth the effort.