Relationships Spouses & Partners Marital Problems Coping With an Insecure Attachment Style By Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT Marni Feuerman is a psychotherapist in private practice who has been helping couples with marital issues for more than 27 years. Learn about our editorial process Updated on December 05, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Carly Snyder, MD Medically reviewed by Carly Snyder, MD Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print martin-dm / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Definition Patterns of Insecurity Signs of Insecure Attachment How to Cope Research has shown that our attachment patterns are set in early childhood and persist throughout our lifetime. The patterns are either secure or insecure. If a child grows up with consistency, reliability, and safety, they will likely have a secure style of attachment. People can develop a secure attachment style or one of three types of insecure styles of attachment (avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized). In order to cope with an insecure attachment style, you can work with a therapist to change your interaction patterns and develop more secure connections. What It Means to Be Insecurely Attached Insecure attachment is characterized by a lack of trust and a lack of a secure base. People with an insecure style may behave in anxious, ambivalent, or unpredictable ways. When adults with secure attachments look back on their childhood, they usually feel that someone reliable was always available to them. They can reflect on events in their life (good and bad) in the proper perspective. As adults, people with a secure attachment style enjoy close intimate relationships and are not afraid to take risks in love. People who develop insecure attachment patterns did not grow up in a consistent, supportive, validating environment. Individuals with this attachment style often struggle to have meaningful relationships with others as adults. However, someone with an insecure attachment style can learn to change their behaviors and patterns. Working with a therapist can help them develop the skills they need to improve their relationships and build the security they didn't have as a child. An Overview of Attachment Styles Patterns of Insecurity If a person develops an insecure style of attachment, it can take one of three forms: avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized. Avoidant. People who develop an avoidant attachment style often have a dismissive attitude, shun intimacy, and have difficulties reaching for others in times of need. Ambivalent. People with an ambivalent attachment pattern are often anxious and preoccupied. They can be viewed by others as "clingy" or "needy" because they require constant validation and reassurance. Disorganized. People with a disorganized attachment style typically experienced childhood trauma or extreme inconsistency growing up. Disorganized attachment is not a mixture of avoidant and ambivalent attachments; rather, a person has no real coping strategies and is unable to deal with the world. Avoidant and ambivalent attachments remain organized. While they are not ideal ways of coping, these attachment styles do allow for some rational and logical approaches to dealing with complex situations.On the other hand, a person with a disorganized attachment style is unable to process and cope with any degree of adversity. Signs of Insecure Attachment People with an insecure attachment style generally have trouble connecting emotionally. They can be aggressive or unpredictable toward their loved ones—a behavior rooted in the lack of consistent love and affection they experienced in childhood. Each form of insecure attachment is characterized by its own behaviors and patterns of behavior in relationships. Avoidant Attachment People with an avoidant attachment style tend to: Fear and avoid commitmentAvoid making friendsStruggle to accept criticismDon't like to show emotionsAccuse their partners of being to clingy or needyDislike touch or physical closenessPrefer to be alone when they are stressed or upsetDon't invest in relationships and prefer to remain independent Ambivalent Attachment Signs of an ambivalent attachment style include: Craving close relationships but feeling unable to trust othersBecoming overly focused on romantic partners and losing sight of another important aspect of lifeProblems recognizing and honoring boundariesFeeling jealous or anxious when separated from your partnerUsing guilt trips or other manipulative tactics to control your partnerSeek constant reassurance from your partner Disorganized Attachment Signs of disorganized attachment include: Depression and anxietyFrequent outbursts and erratic behaviors stemming from the inability to clearly see and understand the world around them or properly process the behavior of others or relationshipsPoor self-image and self-hatredThe perpetuation of trauma in relationships, especially related to parenthood (for example, struggling to form healthy attachments with their own children, which perpetuates a cycle of dysfunctional attachment) Understanding Fear of Abandonment Overcoming an Insecure Attachment Style No one has to be a victim of their past. No one is unable to change or grow. A person who does not have a naturally secure style can work on "earned security," which means developing a secure style through relationships and interactions in adulthood. For example, security can flourish in the context of friendships and psychotherapy. When a person undertakes intensive psychotherapy, a therapist helps them identify past traumas, recognize where their behaviors are anchored and move forward in life with a more positive self-view and world-view. This work will ultimately help the individual learn to form healthy, secure attachments. The strategy for creating an earned secure adult attachment style involves reconciling childhood experiences and making sense of the impact a person's past has on their present and future. Understand your childhood experiences: To earn security, you must develop a coherent narrative about what happened to you as a child. You also need to explore the impact it has had on the decisions you might have unconsciously made about how to survive in the world. You must think critically about how your upbringing affected your attachment style and work on breaking those patterns. Consider the impact on current relationships: For example, couples sometimes get into repetitive patterns of interactions. They might reflect and not know how things "go so out of hand." While they might not be aware of it, their childhood memories and experiences of insecurity can influence feelings and interactions in their adult relationships. Look at what drives relationship problems: Even though the couple is fighting about a "surface issue," insecure attachment triggers might be underlying the interaction. The emotional arousal and reactivity levels can seem disproportionate to the situation. If it's severe, the couple's therapist (particularly if they are attachment oriented) might need to facilitate change in the safe environment of the therapist’s office. Keep working to build new habits: Earned security can take time. Getting married and becoming a parent are critical elements to shifting one's attachment style. A good marital relationship can be important in supporting your sense of security. A healthy relationship is one where partners are mutually caring, supportive, respectful, and loving toward one another. For people with insecure attachment patterns, these characteristics can help shift them from feeling negative about themselves. Recap Insecure attachment often forms in childhood, but there are steps people can take as adults to develop a more secure attachment pattern. Working with a mental health professional, gaining insight into your relationships, and working to create new behavior patterns are strategies that can help A Word From Verywell Establishing earned security after a lifetime of insecure attachment patterns can be tough. While it requires risk-taking and vulnerability, it can also bring you the kind of love and security you have always wanted. An earned, secure attachment style can forever change your life and your relationships for the better. The brain will begin to change as a person changes their behavioral patterns and beliefs, thanks to neuroplasticity. An insecurely attached person can build the security they need by integrating new, supportive, loving experiences into their lives. With time, they can trust that a reliable and consistent person (such as a partner) will be there for them in times of distress (the opposite of what they had as a child). An Overview of Attachment Anxiety 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Roisman GL, Padrón E, Sroufe LA, Egeland B. Earned-secure attachment status in retrospect and prospect. Child Dev. 2002;73(4):1204-1219. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00467 Cheche Hoover R, Jackson JB. Insecure Attachment, Emotion Dysregulation, and Psychological Aggression in Couples. J Interpers Violence. 2019;886260519877939. doi:10.1177/0886260519877939 See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.