You know that having a secure attachment style can lead to healthier relationships, greater stability and resilience, and increased self-esteem. But if you weren’t lucky enough to develop a secure attachment style as a small child, can you become securely attached as an adult?
The answer is complicated. While most of us will not be able to make a permanent, 180-degree turn when it comes to how we feel in relationships, we can take big steps in the direction of a more secure attachment style, and these steps can make a big difference in your relationships.
If you have difficult patterns that you’re eager to break free from, you want to feel more at ease in relationships, or more comfortable getting close, then I would encourage you to focus on becoming more securely attached. It truly is the starting point for so much personal and relational growth. I’ve helped many clients in therapy, couples counseling, and life coaching walk this path, and I created this article to help you, too.
If you would prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it on this page (player below), Youtube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
What Does Secure Attachment Look Like?
Attachment styles, deeply rooted in our early life experiences, play a pivotal role in shaping how we engage with others. Picture this: secure attachment is the gold standard in the realm of connecting with others. It’s all about feeling loved, valued, and secure within yourself, and within your relationships. If you’re securely attached, you’re probably nodding along because you enjoy beautiful, satisfying relationships. Actually, you probably aren’t reading this article at all, because your relationship experiences have not challenged you to seek out growth and change.
Securely attached people find it easier to give and receive love and trust, create bonds built on mutual respect, recover from a breakup, and be their authentic selves. They are able to validate their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and so don’t seek a lot of validation from others or worry much about what other people think.
Does that sound like you? If so, congratulations. But if you’re like almost everyone, you have at least *some* inklings of insecurity in the way you attach to others. And there’s no shame in that. As long as you’re mindful of your attachment patterns and working toward greater security, your relationships can be healthy and strong.
Schedule a Free Consultation Today.
Let’s take a look at some of the other attachment styles and how they can manifest in relationships:
- 1. Avoidant Attachment: People with an avoidant attachment style tend to be fiercely independent. They’re self-reliant to the core and may avoid reaching out for emotional support. It’s not that they don’t crave deep connections; they just find it challenging to trust others and often struggle with emotional intimacy.
- 2. Anxious Attachment: Anxious attachment arises from inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving during childhood. Folks with this style usually have a high need for reassurance and a constant fear of abandonment. It can sometimes make them appear clingy or insecure in their relationships, especially when anxiously attached people partner up with avoidantly attached people, as they often do.
- 3. Ambivalent Attachment: Ambivalent or disorganized attachment is rare, and is usually rooted in more serious forms of neglect or abuse in childhood. As adults, individuals with this style often carry high levels of insecurity, jealousy, and an overwhelming fear of rejection. This can make their relationships tumultuous and unstable.
Curious where you land along the attachment spectrum? Take my attachment style quiz and find out.
Can You Change Your Attachment Style?
Now, the big question: Can you change your attachment style as an adult?
The answer is yes, to some degree, depending on where you fall on the attachment-style spectrum. Changing your attachment style as an adult is possible, but for those on the extreme ends or anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment, your instinctive thoughts, feelings, and automatic responses may persist. But your attachment style is not destiny. You can absolutely become more aware of these tendencies and find better ways to manage them, which will help you become more securely attached and make your relationships healthier and more sustainable. Some people call this process “earned secure attachment,” which basically means that you didn’t develop secure attachment as a kid, but as an adult by learning from your relationship patterns and making intentional changes.
This is an area where acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be incredibly helpful. ACT helps you act in harmony with your values and goals while managing the emotions that may make it difficult for you to act in alignment with your highest self.
Why Should You Try to Develop a Secure Attachment Style?
A more secure attachment style brings an array of benefits. Let’s explore a few:
- A Boost in Self-Esteem: Securely attached individuals enjoy healthier self-esteem. This style helps you internalize messages of self-love and self-worth, which can improve your emotional wellbeing and make it easier for you to connect with others in a healthy way.
- Masterful Emotional Regulation: Secure attachment provides a stable foundation for effective emotional regulation. You can explore your thoughts and feelings without the looming fear of judgment, rejection, or abandonment.
- Unleash Your True Self: Secure attachment supports your journey towards becoming your authentic self. It helps you form close connections without becoming enmeshed with your partner, and without feeling like you have to be someone you’re not.
- Rock-Solid Relationships: Secure attachments create stable relationships, grounded in trust, respect, vulnerability, emotional safety, and open communication. When you’re securely attached, you can navigate conflicts in positive and productive ways, rather than lashing out or avoiding conflict in ways that damage your relationships.
- More Fulfilling Relationships: Securely attached folks often report more fulfilling, satisfying relationships. They can experience love and connection without excessive worry and anxiety, or feeling suffocated by intimacy.
How to Become Securely Attached
So, where do you begin on the journey to secure attachment? Here are my tips:
1. Start with Self-Awareness: Your journey to secure attachment begins with self-awareness. Understand your attachment style, recognize its impact, and identify areas that need improvement. Pay closer to your thoughts and feelings that arise in relationships, identify your patterns, and begin to find healthier ways of coping with difficult feelings in relationships — like the desire to avoid and shut down, especially during difficult conversations, or the desire to seek reassurance from your partner.
2. Embrace Self-Compassion: Attachment styles are not a character flaw; they’re old, deep programming that arises from our earliest life experiences with others. So be gentle with yourself. Use your journey toward secure attachment to increase your self-compassion and treat yourself with love. Developing compassion for your own attachment patterns can also increase your empathy for your partner, which will lead to greater emotional safety and deeper connection in your relationship.
3. Shift Responsibility Inward: Becoming securely attached is about learning to provide yourself with the love and understanding you seek from others. Take responsibility for your own experience and emotional well-being. If you’re anxious, find ways to self-soothe your own anxious tendencies without making them your partner’s responsibility. If you’re avoidant, learn to communicate about how you feel and what you need, rather than pushing others away to soothe your fear of vulnerability.
4. Be Patient: Developing a more secure attachment is a process that does not happen overnight. It requires patience and commitment. If you find yourself feeling stuck or slipping back into old relationship patterns, that doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. Ebbs and flows are totally expected and all part of the process of becoming more securely attached.
5. Seek a Knowledgable Guide: Consider therapy or coaching (with a highly qualified relationship expert who understands attachment patterns) to help you along your path to a secure attachment. The right clinician will be able to offer insights and guidance, helping you understand yourself, address your core beliefs, and shift your relationship patterns in a deep and sustainable way. Learn more about how to choose a therapist.
Support for Developing a Secure Attachment Style
Becoming more securely attached as an adult is a life-transforming journey. With self-awareness, self-compassion, and the right professional support, you can begin shifting your attachment patterns and building healthier connections with the people you love the most.
If you would like support with becoming more securely attached from an attachment-informed clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.
P.S. — I have many more articles and podcasts on attachment styles and other relationship topics in my “Growing Together” content collection. I hope you’ll take advantage of these free resources — they’re all there for you!
Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast
How to Develop a Secure Attachment Style
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation
If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.