Loving and relating to others are social and emotional skills that are not inherited but learned. Since we take our first breath, and an adult comes to comfort us, something magical happens. We realized that someone would be there to protect us, care for us, feed us, and make us feel loved whenever we have needs.
With time, we also start to learn that all those great things we received from our parents, we can also share with others. So, we understand that relationships are a two-way street where both people can nurture, care, protect, trust, and love one another. Sounds perfect, right?
Unfortunately, sometimes there is a gap between theory and practice. Not everyone grows up in a healthy family environment. Perhaps you realized that you grew up in a house where there was more yelling than comforting, distrust than honesty, more absences than connection.
Now, your adult relationships are not going the way you have expected. If you find yourself in this situation, we want you to know the solutions! Changing your insecure attachment style to a secure attachment style is possible. This post will explore how secure and insecure attachments look like in relationships and how you can strive to embody a healthier way to relate and love others.
What is Secure Attachment?
When you think about attachment, what words come to your mind? In psychology, attachment is a concept that expresses the emotional bond that infants develop with their primary caregiver and other significant people in their lives. This emotional bond will significantly impact relating to others throughout their teen years and adulthood.
British psychoanalyst John Bowlby and psychologist Mary Ainsworth developed a theory of attachment to explain the different styles of a child-parent attachment bond. In their work, they mention that a child develops a secure attachment when the caregivers provide the following conditions:
- Most of the time, parents or caregivers are physically and emotionally present for the child.
- Most of the time, parents are in tune with the baby or child’s needs (sometimes it may be hard to understand why a child is crying. These isolated events do not compromise the attachment quality)
- Most of the time, parents provide comfort, protection, and a sense of safety to the child.
- Overall, parents give some appropriate space to the child to allow exploration and engagement in age-appropriate play or activities.
Have you noticed that we said, “most of the time” in all the sentences? There is a reason behind it. Secure attachment in parent-child relationships does not emerge from being “a perfect parent.” Instead, it develops from developing secure bonds characterized by a sense of safety, care, trust, and love.
Young children experiencing a close bond with their parents can successfully grow in their emotional development. This is because they know their parents (and others) will be there in times of need to offer comfort and support. But they also are not afraid to take age-appropriate risks and engage in other relationships. In other words, the child knows that relationships are safe, comforting, and enjoyable.
Young children who grow up with this attachment style tend to think well of others. They usually trust others but also can trust in themselves. As a result, they may have the ability to find some balance in sharing and engaging with others and spending some time alone.
How Secure Attachment Look Like in Adult Relationship?
Our attachment style has the power to affect all our relationships, including family ties, friendships, and romantic relationships. However, as mentioned above, most children with a secure attachment will show healthy behaviours in their adult relationships.
The difference between children’s and adults’ secure attachment consists of the relationship’s dynamics. When we are children, most of the work in the relationship is done by our caregiver, while we are in the process of observing, absorbing, and experiencing the pleasure or pain that comes from others.
As adults, we understand that relationships are not based on just receiving but, equally important, in giving. As a result, we become responsible for meeting other people’s emotional, mental, or physical needs and expect others to do a similar thing for us. In other words, people with secure attachment know that each person plays a significant role in maintaining a relationship alive by staying committed to certain principles:
A person with a secure attachment knows that one of the most important ways to keep a relationship alive is by being present. However, this does not necessarily mean being physically present at all times. That would create a lot of emotional dependencies.
Instead, it means being emotionally present for the other person, either in good or bad times. Consistency implies knowing that no matter what, you will be there for someone, and someone will be there for you.
Safety and Comfort
Perhaps people who have grown in a healthy environment and loving families take safety for granted in their relationship. If that is your case, that is excellent! It means that you will provide the same security to others. The principle is strongly associated with the idea of trusting the people you are with. That is, trusting that they will not harm you emotionally, mentally, or physically when you express your needs.
Instead, they will, at least, try to help you or offer you emotional comfort. People with secure attachment often approach others with a good disposition. They are ready to provide help when others are in need.
Have you ever had one of those friends who believe in you more than you do? That is precisely what offers emotional support looks like.
In today’s world, filled with so much criticism, judgment, and offensive comments, perhaps this is one of the most specific characteristics to recognize in someone who has secure attachment. People with secure attachment can acknowledge that people have good qualities, despite their mistakes or failures. They believe that change, healing, and improvement are possible!
For most people, establishing healthy boundaries is one of those life-long processes. But, of course, every relationship is different. So perhaps the boundaries you learned to create in one relationship are no longer meaningful in another.
However, most of the time, people with secure attachment can maintain decent boundaries in terms of acknowledging the needs of others and their own needs. Investing in relationships, but also in their personal life. Finding a middle ground between independence and depending on others.
Personality Traits of People with Secure Attachment
Relationships help us to grow and flourish in profound ways. As human beings, how we relate and are treated by others has a significant impact on our self-image, self-confidence, and perception of the world. Researchers have demonstrated that people who have had healthy attachment bonds since early childhood throughout adulthood are more likely to grow the following personality traits:
- Appropriate levels of self-esteem
Sense of commitment in relationships
- Empathy towards the needs of others.
- Capacity to develop intimate relationships.
- Ability to trust in themselves and in others.
- Ability to use healthy coping skills during a hard time in the relationship.
- A positive view of relationships (i.e., friendships, romantic love).
Again, people with secure attachments are not perfect. Attachment is not about perfection but growing in healthy social, emotional, and relational skills. Even if you have developed this attachment style, you still may find yourself occasionally arguing with a loved one or going through a rough patch in one of your close relationships.
However, experiencing those occasional mishaps has nothing to with finding yourself continually involved in toxic relationships. Neither means realizing that you are becoming alone because your partners, family members, or friends feel uncomfortable with your behaviours.
If you are experiencing one of these issues, perhaps you have developed an insecure attachment style.
What Can Cause Insecure Attachment?
Sometimes, one of our relationships does not go as we expected. This may happen due to individual differences, life circumstances, or even different attachment styles. Sometimes, we may realize that not only one but two, three, or even five relationships are giving us more headaches than joy. More pain than happiness. More frustrations and lots of problems. Do all these relationships have something in common? “Yes!” You.
One of the causes of relationship problems is insecure attachment. This applies to the emotional connection we have with our family members, friends, partner, colleagues, and any other person with whom we have a close relationship. In other words, insecure attachment behaviours appear not in one connection but with most people in our lives.
There are three different types of insecure attachment styles. Still, most of them fear rejection and abandonment.
These fears come from earlier experiences. Perhaps our parents were overly protected, and now we do not know how to live without having someone next to us at all times (anxious attachment). Perhaps our parents encourage our independence up to the point of neglecting to provide us with comfort and safety in times of need.
Now, our level of autonomy and self-centeredness may be impacting how we relate to others (avoidant style). Or maybe, we grew up in a disruptive household, where our emotional needs were responded with violence, neglect, or attention (fearful-avoidant style).
How Insecure Attachment Styles Can Affect Adult Relationships?
Anxious Attachment Style (Emotional Dependency)
Friendships: Adults with this attachment style lack clear boundaries in their relationships. They need to be overly involved in their friends’ plans, goals, gatherings, and every detail of their lives. Otherwise, they may feel that the relationship is breaking apart. This emotional dependency, at times, can feel suffocating for the person’s friends.
Intimate relationship: As with the previous case, people with anxious attachment often struggle to respect their partner’s personal and emotional space. Because most people with this attachment style lack self-confidence and may experience low self-esteem. They often cling to their partners and others to meet their own needs or even start new things.
Avoidant Attachment Style (Excessive Independence)
Friendships: adults with this attachment are the opposite of the anxious type. The avoidant style does not feel comfortable with intimacy and commitment. Instead, they may have lots of friends but maintain those relationships on a casual level.
Intimate Relationships: These types of adults are unlikely to engage in long-term relationships. Because they were overly encouraged to meet their own needs as children. They distrust that others will provide them with a deep emotional connection.
Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style (Disorganized or Chaotic Attachment)
Friendships: out of the three types of attachment styles, this is the rarest and most challenging. People with this attachment style often do not know what to expect from others. As a result, they may also negatively view themselves, resulting in bullying or aggressive behaviours in social situations or in groups.
Intimate relationships: People with this insecure style often go from one toxic relationship to another. They desperately want to be seen and be loved. Still, they may become aggressive or neglectful when their partner does not meet their expectations.
How do you Fix Insecure Attachments?
Our brains have the fantastic ability to relearn things. Sometimes, it may take lots of time, effort, and practice, but the good news is that it is possible. We can even relearn how to relate to and love others.
The first step you can take today is to start practicing the principles of secure attachment in the most important relationships you have in your life:
- safety and comfort
- emotional support
- healthy boundaries
Sometimes changing is difficult. One day, we may feel motivated to apply new things in our life. Still, the day after, we may go back to our old pattern of behaviours, as these may make us feel more comfortable.
So, find ways to stay committed to your goal. For example, you may keep a journal to record your progress. You may ask a close friend to tell you when you show insecure behaviours. You may set up daily reminders that encourage you to approach a relationship with a different style.
Most importantly, you may seek the support of a therapist that may accompany you throughout this process with empathy and a non-judgemental attitude.
Don't Be Afraid to Seek Therapy.
At Well Beings Counselling, we have a fantastic team of licensed mental health professionals specializing in attachment theory, couples therapy, childhood trauma, and family therapy. We will be more than happy to listen to your needs and explore our different treatment options with you. We believe in the power of empathy, care, and support as core elements to a successful healing journey.
You can book a free consultation with us whenever you feel ready. At this time, we may also offer you phone or video sessions to be flexible with your work or life schedule. We are here to support your mental wellness!
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