Changing Your Attachment Style: How To Develop Secure Attachments

by | Dec 26, 2023

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Can You Change Your Attachment Style?

As a therapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand how early experiences deeply shape our relationships and sense of emotional well-being. These experiences form our attachment styles, the basic patterns of how we connect with others. This impacts everything from trusting others, to our expectations in a relationship and how we handle intimacy and conflict . For many clients, common and important questions eventually arises: Can I change my attachment style? How can I develop a secure attachment style?

These questions come from a desire for healthier, more fulfilling relationships. They want to feel secure and less anxious or fearful when connecting with others. We’re going to look at the different types of attachment styles and how they affect our relationships as adults. Throughout the article, I will share with you some anonymous stories of clients I have worked with over the years and how their attachment styles affected their relationships and our work together during therapy. But most importantly, I want to share with you how it’s possible for each of us to move towards a more secure attachment style.

This isn’t just about changing habits; it’s about emotional healing. It’s about finding better ways to love and be loved in our relationships. This article offers insightful exploration and practical steps for everyone, from self-discovery to healthier relationships, guiding you on your journey to developing healthier, more secure attachments in your relationships.

Understanding Attachment Styles

As a therapist and writer who has journeyed through the web of human emotions and relationships, I’ve come to understand the profound impact of attachment styles on our lives. These styles, imprinted in the tender years of our childhood, are like invisible threads weaving through our adult relationships, often dictating how we love, connect, and respond to the world around us.

The Four Main Attachment Styles

Secure Attachment

Picture a child who falls, looks around, and sees their parent offering a comforting smile and an outstretched hand. They witness and receive affection on a regular basis and have strong positive memories throughout their childhood, learning that the world is a safe place and that they are worthy of love. In adulthood, securely attached individuals often find it easier to form balanced, honest, and open relationships. They are the ones who, even amidst turmoil, manage to maintain a core belief in the goodness of relationships.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment (aka Anxious Attachment)

Now, imagine a child whose emotional needs are met inconsistently. One day, their cries are answered with warm embraces; another day, they’re met with indifference. This child grows into an adult who craves closeness but is plagued by a fear of abandonment. Their relationships may be marked by high emotionality and an underlying worry: “Will they leave me if I am not enough?”

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment (aka Avoidant Attachment)

Consider a child who learns early that showing needs or emotions leads to rejection. They build a fortress around their heart, learning to rely solely on themselves. As adults, they might seem self-sufficient, even distant, mistaking emotional detachment for strength. But deep down, there’s a longing for connection that they struggle to acknowledge.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment (aka Disorganized Attachment)

Lastly, imagine a child living in a world of unpredictability, where caregivers oscillate between warmth and fear. This child, often caught in a tempest of confusion, grows into an adult who deeply desires connection yet fears getting too close. Their relationships can be a rollercoaster of highs and lows, marked by a struggle between needing love and fearing its consequences.

The Roots of Our Attachment Styles

Our attachment styles are often rooted in our childhood experiences. They are shaped by how our emotional needs were met by our primary caregivers. I recall a client who grew up with parents who were loving but highly critical. She learned to equate love with performance. As an adult, she found herself in relationships where she felt valued only for what she could offer, not for who she was. It was a poignant moment in therapy when she realized that her fear of not being good enough was a shadow of her childhood experiences.

The Impact of Attachment Styles on Adult Relationships

Understanding your attachment style can be like holding a mirror to your adult relationships. It’s not about assigning blame, but about gaining clarity. For example, patterns of relationship conflict, such as the pursue-withdraw pattern, are a common way that attachment dynamics emerge in adult relationships. These patterns are often a reflection of our early attachment styles.

In this exploration, remember: your attachment style is not your destiny. It’s a starting point, a map to help you navigate the complex terrain of your relationships. With awareness, patience, and often with professional guidance, it’s possible to evolve towards a more secure attachment style.

Can You Change Your Attachment Style?

How to change your attachment style and how to develop a secure attachment style are questions that resonate deeply within the walls of therapy rooms. They speak to a universal yearning for growth and healing. Fortunately, changing your attachment style, while challenging, is not only possible, but also a journey well within reach.

The Plasticity of Attachment Styles

Attachment styles are not set in stone. They are fluid, evolving with our experiences and conscious efforts. This plasticity is the beacon of hope for anyone asking, “How to change your attachment style?” It’s important to understand that this change is not about reinventing yourself; it’s about uncovering the layers of conditioned responses and embracing your inherent capacity for secure attachment.

Research Insights: Adult Attachment Styles Can Change Over Time

Research in psychology and neuroscience offers compelling evidence that our brains and behaviors are malleable. Studies have shown that adult attachment styles can change. Through consistent and positive experiences in relationships, individuals with insecure attachment styles can develop more secure ways of relating. The key lies in forming relationships that provide safety, understanding, and responsiveness – the very ingredients often missing in the developmental years of those with insecure attachments.

Factors Influencing Change In Adult Attachment Style

Several factors influence the ability to shift from an insecure to a secure attachment style as an adult: Self-Awareness: Recognizing your attachment style is the first step. It’s like turning on a light in a previously dark room, illuminating patterns and habits that were once automatic and unconscious. Therapy and Counseling: Professional guidance can be a lighthouse in this journey. This will be explained and talked about more further down in the post. Life Experiences Positive relational experiences, whether in romantic partnerships, friendships, or even therapeutic relationships, can gradually reshape your expectations in relationships.. Intentional Effort: Actively working on your attachment style involves cultivating qualities like emotional intelligence, resilience, and effective communication. It’s about learning to express needs and boundaries in healthy ways.

How to Develop a Secure Attachment Style

Developing a secure attachment style is akin to nurturing a garden. It requires patience, care, and the right conditions. Here are some steps to guide you:

  1. Seek Understanding: Dive into the roots of your attachment style. Understanding its origins can be liberating and enlightening.
  2. Embrace Vulnerability: Allow yourself to be vulnerable in relationships. It’s a strength, not a weakness.
  3. Practice Mindfulness: Be present in your interactions. Mindfulness helps in breaking the cycle of reactive patterns.
  4. Cultivate Healthy Relationships: Surround yourself with people who respect and support you. Healthy relationships are the soil for secure attachment to grow.
  5. Prioritize Healing: Address and heal from past traumas. Remember, healing attachment wounds is a process that takes time and self-compassion.

Transforming your attachment style is not just about altering how you relate to others; it’s a journey towards self-discovery and personal growth. It’s about rewriting your story from a place of empowerment and hope. As we move forward, let’s explore the practical steps and strategies to nurture this transformation.

The Journey to Developing a Secure Attachment Style

Embarking on the journey to develop more secure attachments is an act of courage and self-love. It’s about charting a course towards healthier relationships, not just with others, but crucially, with yourself. Let’s discuss the key steps that will help you in this transformative process.

Step 1: Cultivating Self-Awareness

Understanding your current attachment style is the cornerstone of this journey. It involves introspection and often, revisiting past experiences to recognize patterns in your relationships. Ask yourself questions like, “How do I react to closeness in relationships?” or “What are my instinctive responses to conflict or abandonment?” This self-awareness is pivotal in understanding how to change your attachment style.

Step 2: Embracing Therapy

Seeking therapy for attachment issues can accelerate your journey to developing a secure attachment style. Therapists not only provide insights into your attachment patterns but also offer a safe space to explore and heal your attachment wounds. They can introduce you to new relational dynamics that foster security and trust, which are essential in learning how to develop a secure attachment style.

Step 3: Building Emotional Intelligence and Resilience

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and to empathize with others. Building this skill helps in recognizing and regulating your emotional responses in relationships. Resilience, on the other hand, equips you to navigate challenges and setbacks without reverting to old attachment patterns.

Step 4: Practicing Effective Communication and Boundary Setting

Secure attachments are grounded in honest and open communication. Learning to express your needs, fears, and desires candidly can transform your relationships. Equally important is setting and respecting boundaries. Healthy boundaries create a sense of safety and respect, which are pillars of secure attachment.

A Story: Improving Relationship Security Through Better Communication

I want to share a quick story of a past client who I helped with issues related to her anxious attachment style. She experienced anxious attachments in most of the relationships in her life. Her fear of abandonment often led her to cling to partners, causing strain in her relationships. Through years of determination, self-reflection, and hard work, she was able to more quickly recognize patterns of negative cycles in her romantic relationships before they reached the tipping point. Where she previously led with fear and struggled to communicate the feelings underlying her emotions, she now felt safer leaning into vulnerability, which enabled her to express her needs and fears with lesser fear of judgment. The impact this had on her relationships was truly life-changing

How To Build A Foundation For A Secure Attachment Style

  • Reflective Practices: Engage in journaling or mindfulness exercises to deepen self-awareness and understand your emotional triggers.
  • Educational Resources: Read books, attend workshops, or listen to podcasts about attachment theory and healthy relationships. Knowledge is a powerful tool in this journey.
  • Nurturing Positive Relationships: Cultivate relationships that reinforce a sense of security and trust. Surround yourself with people who model the characteristics of a secure attachment style.
  • Consistency and Patience: Remember, changing deep-rooted patterns takes time and consistent effort. Be patient and compassionate with yourself through this process.

Developing a secure attachment style is a dynamic and ongoing process. It involves self-discovery, learning, unlearning, and relearning. As we progress through this journey, we not only enhance our ability to form fulfilling relationships but also move towards a more authentic and empowered self. In the next section, we’ll explore the crucial aspect of healing from attachment wounds.

Healing from Attachment Wounds

Healing from attachment wounds is a vital part of the journey towards developing secure attachments. These wounds, often rooted in early experiences of neglect, inconsistency, or trauma, can cast long shadows over our adult relationships. Healing them is not just about alleviating past pain; it’s about paving the way for healthier, more fulfilling connections in the present and future.

Identifying Attachment Wounds

The first step in healing is to identify the wounds themselves. These can manifest as persistent fears, patterns of sabotaging relationships, or an inability to trust and connect deeply. A Reflective Question: Consider your most challenging relationships. What emotions and patterns emerge repeatedly? Often, these patterns can provide clues to the nature of the underlying attachment wounds. A simple (and common) example might be noticing a recurring pattern of feeling overly anxious and seeking constant reassurance in your relationships, which might indicate an underlying fear of abandonment.

Therapeutic Approaches to Healing Attachment Wounds

Various therapeutic approaches can be effective in healing attachment wounds. There is no one-size-fits-all method or modality. While I won’t get too much into the specifics of each model of therapy, the idea is often to uncover hidden patterns in your attachment style that may be having a detrimental effect on your relationships. Many individuals struggle with trust, intimacy, or communication without realizing that these challenges often originate from attachment patterns formed in early childhood. Understanding these styles is crucial in breaking free from detrimental cycles and cultivating healthier interactions in all types of relationships, be it romantic, familial, or personal. It’s important to know that certain models of therapy are designed to help in different ways. For example, CBT helps in identifying and changing negative thought patterns that are often linked to insecure attachment styles. Mindfulness-Based Therapies, on the other hand, focus on developing a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, helping to break the cycle of reactive patterns that stem from attachment wounds. Finally, Attachment-Focused Therapy specifically addresses attachment issues, helping individuals understand and heal their early attachment experiences while recognizing the impact they have in the present day.

Practicing Self-Compassion and Patience

Healing is not a linear process. It requires patience, self-compassion, and the understanding that setbacks are part of the journey. Be kind to yourself and recognize that each step, no matter how small, is progress.

Incorporating Healing Practices

Here are just a few creative ideas I have seen clients engage in to help with healing from past traumas and attachment wounds. I would encourage you to think about the activities you do that bring you joy and find a way to incorporate mindfulness, to help bring you experiences closer to the surface and invite vulnerability in a space you feel comfortable doing so. Creative exercises are a great way to deepen vulnerability and open your mind to thoughts and ideas you might otherwise shut out. Trauma-Informed Yoga and Mindfulness: These practices can help in reconnecting with and regulating the body, which is often impacted by attachment trauma. Journaling: Writing about your feelings and experiences can be a cathartic and insightful way to process attachment wounds. Creating Art or Music: Engaging in creative activities can provide a non-verbal outlet for expressing and working through complex emotions.

The Role of Relationships in Healing

While personal work is crucial, the role of relationships in the healing process cannot be overstated. Positive, secure relationships can act as corrective experiences, helping to rewire attachment patterns. Seek out relationships that provide consistency, empathy, and understanding. Healing from attachment wounds is a crucial and empowering process. It not only helps in overcoming past pain but also opens the door to more secure and fulfilling relationships. In the next section, we will explore practical exercises and techniques that you can practice on your own to further work on attachment issues.

Practical Exercises and Techniques

Embarking on the journey of changing your attachment style is not just about understanding and awareness; it’s also about taking practical steps. This section introduces exercises and techniques to actively work on your attachment issues, helping you to move towards a more secure attachment style. These practices are instrumental in healing attachment wounds and fostering healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

1. Journaling and Reflective Exercises

Journaling is a powerful tool for self-discovery and emotional processing. It can help you uncover underlying patterns and triggers related to your attachment style. Exercise: Each day, write about your interactions and feelings in your relationships. Ask yourself questions like, “How did I feel during a conflict?” or “What was my response to my partner’s need for space?” Reflecting on these questions can provide insights into your attachment behaviors and guide you towards change.

2. Mindfulness and Meditation for Emotional Regulation

Mindfulness and meditation are effective in developing emotional balance and presence in relationships. They help you respond rather than react, a crucial skill for those looking to develop a secure attachment style. Exercise: Practice mindfulness meditation daily. Focus on your breath and observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This practice can enhance your ability to remain centered and calm in emotionally charged situations, a key aspect of secure attachment.

3. Relationship and Communication Exercises

Effective communication and healthy relationship dynamics are at the heart of a secure attachment style. These exercises can help you build these skills. Exercise: Practice active listening with a partner or friend. In conversations, focus fully on what the other person is saying, without planning your response. Reflect back what you heard to ensure understanding. This exercise fosters deeper connection and trust, fundamental to secure attachments.

4. Role-Playing Scenarios

Role-playing can be a useful technique to practice and prepare for challenging interactions, a common difficulty for those with insecure attachment styles. Exercise: With a therapist or trusted individual, role-play difficult relationship scenarios. This could include expressing a need, setting a boundary, or navigating a conflict. The safe practice environment can help you develop confidence and skills for real-life situations.

5. Creating a Secure Base

Developing a secure base within yourself is essential. This means building a sense of security and self-worth independent of external validation. Exercise: Write a list of your strengths, achievements, and values. Refer to this list in moments of self-doubt or anxiety. This exercise helps in reinforcing a positive self-image and reducing dependency on others for self-worth.

Integrating These Practices into Daily Life

The key to benefiting from these exercises is consistency and integration into your daily life. Choose one or two exercises that resonate with you and practice them regularly. Over time, these practices can significantly contribute to developing a more secure attachment style and healing attachment wounds. In the final section, we will explore how to nurture secure attachments in various types of relationships, ensuring that the progress you make is not just personal but also relational.

Nurturing Secure Relationships

After delving into understanding, changing, and healing attachment styles, we arrive at a crucial phase: nurturing and maintaining secure attachments in our relationships. This involves applying what we’ve learned and experienced to real-life interactions, whether in romantic partnerships, friendships, or family dynamics. Nurturing secure relationships is not just about avoiding negative patterns; it’s about actively fostering trust, respect, and understanding.

Tips for Nurturing Secure Attachments

Consistent and Open Communication: Keep the lines of communication open and honest. Share your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and listen actively to others. This builds a foundation of trust and mutual understanding.

  • Empathy and Understanding: Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Empathy strengthens connections and helps in resolving conflicts more compassionately.
  • Respecting Boundaries: Both respecting others’ boundaries and setting your own are vital. Boundaries are a sign of respect and self-care; they create a safe space for each person in the relationship.
  • Balancing Independence and Connection: Cultivate a healthy balance between togetherness and individuality. Encourage and support each other’s interests and personal growth.
  • Responding to Conflict Constructively: Rather than avoiding conflict, address it constructively. View conflicts as opportunities for growth and deeper understanding.
  • Regularly Expressing Appreciation and Affection: Small gestures of love and appreciation can significantly strengthen bonds. Regularly express gratitude and affection in your relationships.

The Role of a Supportive Social Network

A supportive social network plays a pivotal role in fostering secure attachment. Surround yourself with people who model healthy relationships and provide emotional support. Participating in community activities, support groups, or workshops can also offer opportunities to practice and reinforce secure relational patterns.

Encouraging Ongoing Growth

Remember, nurturing secure relationships is an ongoing process. It requires continuous effort, reflection, and adaptation. Encourage ongoing personal growth in yourself and in your relationships. Be open to learning from each experience and use these learnings to strengthen your connections. As I conclude this post, remember that change is a journey, not a destination. Each step you take towards developing a secure attachment style is a step towards more fulfilling and enriching relationships. Seek professional help if needed, and never underestimate the power of your own growth and transformation.

Final Thoughts on Changing Your Attachment Style

Throughout my years as a therapist, I’ve had the privilege of helping many clients with issues related to their attachment styles. Each person walked into my office carrying their unique story – a tapestry woven with threads of early experiences, relational patterns, and deeply held beliefs about themselves and others. Witnessing the transformation in these clients, as they moved from insecurity towards a more secure attachment style, has been an awe-inspiring testament to the resilience and adaptability within all of us. Their journeys, though varied, all shared common themes – moments of realization, the courage to confront deep-seated fears, and the gradual embracing of new ways of connecting with themselves and others. This collective experience has reinforced my belief in the transformative power of understanding, healing, and intentionally working towards more secure attachments in relationships. It’s a reminder that, regardless of our past, change and growth in how we relate to ourselves and others are always within reach. So, in answer to the question, “Can you change your attachment style?” – the answer is unequivocally, yes! With awareness, effort, and sometimes professional guidance, transforming your attachment style is not just a possibility, but a realistic and achievable goal.

Mara Hirschfeld, LMFT
Mara Hirschfeld, LMFT
I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and the proud founder of Holding Hope MFT. I created Holding Hope as a space for individuals and couples to delve into their deepest selves, free from the fears of judgment or shame. Through my writing, I strive to cultivate a deeper understanding of mental health topics, breaking down barriers and fostering a more supportive and informed community.

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