Coping With an Insecure Attachment Style

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There is a substantial amount of research indicating that attachment patterns are set in early childhood and persist throughout our lives. An individual is either "secure" or has one of three possible "insecure" patterns. A secure style comes from consistency, reliability, and safety in one's childhood. As an adult, those with a secure attachment style can reflect back on their childhood and see both the good and the bad that occurred, but in the proper perspective. Overall, they generally feel that someone reliable was always available to them in their formative years. In adulthood, they enjoy close, intimate relationships and do not fear taking risks in love.

Patterns of Insecurity

The three insecure patterns are avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized.

Avoidant: Avoidant people have a dismissive attitude. They shun intimacy and have many difficulties reaching for others in times of need.

Ambivalent: Those with an ambivalent pattern are often anxious and preoccupied. These people may be viewed as "clingy" or "needy," often requiring much validation and reassurance.

Disorganized: The disorganized pattern is often the product of trauma or extreme inconsistency in one's childhood. Disorganized attachment is not a mixture of avoidant and ambivalent attachments—it is a far more serious state where a person has no real coping strategies and is unable to deal with the world.

Avoidant and ambivalent attachments remain organized and are not ideal ways of coping, but allow for some rational and logical approaches to dealing with situations whereas people with disorganized attachment are unable to process and cope with any degree of adversity. Signs of disorganized attachment include

  • Frequent outbursts and erratic behaviors due to an inability to clearly see and understand the world around them or process the behavior of others or relationships properly
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Poor self-image and self-hatred
  • The perpetuation of trauma in relationships, especially as it relates to parenthood (ie., struggling with proper attachment to their own children and thus propagating the same issues)

In general, people with an insecure attachment style have trouble connecting with others emotionally. They can sometimes be aggressive or unpredictable toward loved ones (as a result of a lack of consistency of love and affection in their childhood).

Help For an Insecure Attachment Style

The good news is that one does not have to be a victim of their past, unable to change or grow. Those who do not have a naturally secure style can work on "earned security," developing a secure style through relationships and interactions in adulthood. Security may flourish in the context of friendships and psychotherapy.

The initial changes occur in intensive psychotherapy where the individual identifies past traumas, appreciates where their behaviors are anchored in, and learns how to move forward in a more positive self-view and world-view by working with a therapist. Through that work, the individual can ultimately attach appropriately in a healthy, safe relationship.

The strategy for creating an earned secure adult attachment style involves reconciling childhood experiences, as well as making sense of the impact the past has had on the present and future.

To earn security, you have to 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 may unconsciously have made about how to survive in the world. You have to think critically about how your upbringing affected your attachment style, and work on breaking those patterns.

When you argue with or feel hurt by your partner, you may be responding to earlier, buried memories of your childhood experiences. Sometimes couples get into repeated patterns of this same sort of interaction and do not know how things got so “out of hand.” They may be fighting about a "surface issue," yet insecure attachment triggers are underlying their interactions. The emotional arousal and reactivity can at times seem very out of proportion to the situation. Depending on how severe this becomes, a couple's therapist, particularly one with an attachment orientation, might be required to help facilitate changes in the safe environment of the therapist’s office.

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 play an important role in supporting your sense of security.

Characteristics of a good relationship include both parties being mutually caring, supportive, respectful and loving toward one another. This, in turn, helps insecurely attached people shift away from feeling negative about themselves.

The brain, thanks to neuroplasticity, begins to change as well. Then an insecurely attached person can integrate these new experiences into their lives, building that security they need. They can begin to trust that a reliable and consistent caregiver (like a spouse) will be there for them in times of distress—the opposite of what they may have learned in childhood.

A Word From Verywell

The road to earned security is a challenging one, requiring much risk-taking and vulnerability. But it can bring you the kind of love you have always wanted. The reward is well worth the work, as an earned, secure attachment style can change your life and your relationships for the better—permanently.

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Article Sources
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