Do you know someone who is easily comfortable around people? Who can work well both in teams and alone? Who is optimistic, caring, and confident? If you do, know that they don’t own a secret recipe for healthy relationships. What they do have is called a secure attachment style.
There are four known attachment styles: avoidant, anxious, disorganized, and secure. They all describe particular ways in which a person bonds emotionally, views relationships, and experiences intimacy. Your attachment style tells you who, why, and how you’ll love in your life.
Statistics suggest that secure attachment is the most common one of the four attachment styles, with a 50% prevalence. 20% of people have an anxious attachment, 25% have an avoidant attachment, and 5% have disorganized attachment. The latter three are all forms of insecure attachment.
Attachment styles are formed in childhood, and they impact the majority of future relationships. Having a secure attachment leads you to healthier relationships, less anxiety, better self-esteem, and more productivity.
Read further to find out more about attachment styles, their impact on your relationships as an adult, and how online therapy can help you develop a secure attachment.
What Is an Attachment Style?
The term attachment styles appeared in the 50s, proposed by John Bowlby, an American psychologist. He started from the idea that our interactions with the world, others, and ourselves are shaped by our relationship with our parents or primary caregivers.
Your attachment style is what you’ve learned about relationships very early in your childhood. Because the relationship with the parents is vital for an infant, the way the infant feels about them will dictate the way they will feel about other relationships, too – romantic partners, friends, colleagues, and so on.
His theory has since been confirmed by research and adapted to modern times. The results are four recognizable attachment styles in adults and children alike:
- Secure attachment – Communicate easily, are open to others’ points of view and have confidence in expressing theirs, are comfortable being apart from their partner. They tend to build deep and meaningful relationships, find it easy to trust others’ intentions, and feel safe being independent.
- Anxious attachment – They hardly tolerate separation from a loved one, tend to satisfy their partner’s needs and ignore their own, they are sensitive and fear rejection. They are insecure about their worth, need reassurance that they are loved/appreciated, can enter dependency dynamics in relationships, and are jealous.
- Avoidant attachment – They are very independent (hyper-independence), have very high self-esteem and standards, tend to have a lot of relationships with little emotional involvement, have a hard time with emotional intimacy, seem in control, may be very focused on their career.
- Disorganized attachment – They lack coherence in relationships, are emotionally closed from fear of being hurt, have issues trusting people’s intentions, want to have a stable, meaningful relationship, seem emotionally unavailable, fear intimacy but want it at the same time.
But attachment styles can still change in adulthood. Research says you can change from an insecure into a secure attachment style. One of the best ways to do that is via in-person or online counseling.
How Does Secure Attachment Develop?
You are sure to have one of the four attachment styles, and you’ve probably just identified it. But what made you anxious, disorganized, avoidant, or secure? Well, it’s all in the way your parents had related to you as a child.
Your attachment style is an internal model for relationships, created from interaction with your parents: the way they managed your crying, the way they reacted when you asked for help, how they showed appreciation, and their emotional availability for you as a child.
Your relationship with your parents is your first experience with the world. If that experience feels dangerous, you’ll want, but fear, intimacy. If you’ve been judged, you’ll put up an image and avoid connection. And if you’ve been overprotected, you’ll fear being on your own. Some of your parents’ behaviors or attitudes that have contributed to your current attachment style include:
- Secure attachment – Parents were attentive with the child's needs, they communicated clearly and calmly, met the child’s needs as soon as possible, allowed the child to express emotions, valued the child’s work, negotiated rules with the child.
- Anxious attachment – Parents feared losing the child or upsetting them, showered them with physical affection, were overwhelmed by tantrums and tried to avoid them, suffocated the child with their help, did not encourage independence in their child.
- Avoidant attachment – Parents did not tolerate emotional displays from the child, were authoritative, disciplined the child, focused on others’ opinions about them and the child, were rarely affectionate and appreciative towards the child.
- Disorganized attachment – Parents' behavior was unpredictable; abuse may have been present (physical, emotional, sexual). Parents were chronically ill or addicts, sent contradicting signals to the child (for example, leaving for long periods and bombarding the child with gifts and affection when they returned, then leaving again).
Often, parents relate to their children in the same way they were treated as a child. A lot of parent-child relationship problems are rooted in generational patterns. That’s why parents who engage in the form of personal therapy could raise kids with secure attachment.
What Does Secure Attachment Look Like in Childhood?
A child who’s raised in a warm, accepting home is likely to grow up with a secure attachment. This will give them a sense of safety in relationships throughout their adult life, and it has some benefits for how the child experiences their daily life as a kid:
- They are open to exploring surroundings and new activities
- They easily separate from their parents when needed
- They openly express their feelings and needs
- They trust adults and other kids
- They are collaborative and cooperative
- They can self-regulate
- They are autonomous
Generally, a secure attachment style in children appears as self-confidence and ease in interactions with both adults and peers. Once developed in childhood, the secure attachment maintains with time, but its adult manifestations are different.
What Does Secure Attachment Look Like in Adulthood?
Stepping into adulthood with a secure attachment will make you feel more confident and valued. An adult with a secure attachment style is usually attracted to partners with the same emotional structure, which promotes healthier relationships. It can take more to know an adult with a secure attachment style, but here are some characteristics:
- They bond with emotionally available people
- They communicate easily
- They have reasonable boundaries
- They cope with stress in healthy ways
- They find it easy to trust others
- They can accept and integrate feedback
A secure attachment is the basis of a good marriage and social life. If the child felt seen and valued, the adult will feel comfortable with intimacy and independence alike.
Can I Change My Attachment Style?
You may have recognized some attachment issues in your life too. But the good news is that your attachment style can change throughout life.
Studies state that interventions such as in-person or online therapy could help you switch from an insecure to a secure attachment style. John Bowlby himself suggested that certain events and relationships could change the attachment style a person could have formed in childhood.
Even though there are specific techniques in working with the attachment, the profound change is done through the therapist-client relationship. The attachment styles form in the relationship with one's parents and can be changed through a new, healthy relationship.
In a good therapeutic relationship, the therapist will listen to you, respect your space, and validate your emotions. This accepting attitude from your therapist will teach you a new way of relating to others: safer, more confident, and mutual.
Starting the process of changing your attachment styles is even easier nowadays, thanks to online therapy. It is very similar to classical therapy and has some additional perks that you may want to consider:
- Lower prices
- More flexibility with schedule
- Accessibility from anywhere
- Access to a wider range of therapists and methods
- No need for transportation
If you’ve felt safe in your initial relationship with your parents, you’ll develop a secure attachment and fully enjoy the human connection. If not, you’re probably entering relationships with an insecure attachment style and experience attachment issues.
These attachment styles can explain certain feelings you may have in relationships and some unconscious decisions you may regret. The good news is that you don’t have to put up with the suffering for your whole life. You can form a secure attachment by regularly seeing a therapist.
On DoMental, you have instant access to a licensed therapist suitable for your specific situation. You can start personalized online therapy from anywhere, at an affordable price, and with a flexible schedule.