Do you desire strong, trusting relationships that last throughout your life? Do you wish you could create healthy boundaries and maintain your identity, but find you lose yourself when with another person? Growing in a secure attachment style may be the answer.
Understanding why our relationships are unhealthy and how to improve them seems near impossible without knowing the root cause. But, like most issues, relationship issues often stem from how we were nurtured as young children.
How we attach to others in adulthood is largely determined by how we were cared for and supported throughout early childhood. Around 60% of the US population has learned secure attachment, while 40% has learned insecure attachment. Our attachment style can either set us up to succeed in our relationships or struggle.
This post is the first part in a four-part series on the four attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment.
Through this series, you will better understand the four attachment styles, learn what is likely your attachment style, offer suggestions for moving toward a more secure attachment, and offer support with understanding how a mental health professional can help you in attaining healthier adult relationships.
This post will focus on the secure attachment style, providing a baseline for a healthy attachment style and how it creates relationships that last a lifetime.
What is an Attachment Style?
Attachment styles are the way we form and maintain relationships with others. These different styles provide a framework for understanding how to interact in our most important relationships, such as those between parents and children, romantic partners, or friends.
An attachment style encompasses emotional bonds and physical connections between two people – such as love language – and how each person responds to conflict or stressors within the relationship.
Each individual’s own experiences shape their particular style of attaching to another person; it is not inherited from one’s parents or family members but shaped through early childhood experiences with caregivers like parents or guardians.
Who Discovered Attachment Styles?
John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth are considered the first and second founders of the field of attachment. Bowlby created a spectrum where he believed behaviors varied upon, which consisted of “Anxious” on one end and “Avoidant” On the other.
He believed that not having your needs met as a child created a chain reaction of behavior that fit somewhere on this scale, differing between people.
Ainsworth took the theory created by Bowlby and took it to the next level. She theorized that a secure base between parent and child is necessary before allowing the child to explore the world around them.
She is greatly known for her study called “The Strange Situation,” where a child is observed while the environment changes based on if the mother is present, a stranger is present, and as one or the other leaves or returns.
Through the efforts of Bowlby and Ainsworth, researchers have identified four main types of attachment: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment – which is a mixture of anxious and avoidant styles.
The secure attachment and the three insecure attachment styles explain how we have interpreted love and security as children and how they translate into attachment patterns in adulthood.
Recent research has provided new insights into attachment styles. It is suggested that having multiple attachments, or attachment figures, throughout development helps to create a secure base for the child. Most of the time, it is a parent who is a has a main attachment with a child. But attachments are not limited to parents alone.
How is Secure Attachment Created?
Generally, a secure attachment style forms when primary caregivers consistently provide a nurturing, supportive, and responsive environment as their child develops in early childhood.
This supportive environment can include providing physical affection, emotional comfort, security, and appropriate guidance and limits when needed. For this type of attachment to develop, parents must recognize their child’s emotional and physical needs, encourage self-compassion, and help their child regulate emotions.
Securely attached children are typically brought up in a loving, supportive, safe, and predictable environment. Parents with a secure attachment style towards their children will allow them to explore their world without feeling overwhelmed.
Parents showing this attachment style to their children will also allow the child to express their emotions, guiding them through difficult feelings and providing comfort when needed. These supportive relationships help children learn to trust that their caregivers will be there for them in times of need, which encourages resilience and self-confidence when they become older adults.
As an example of contrast, insecure attachment in parents can cause a child never to know when love and safety will be present. Also, they cannot predict when their parent will meet their needs and wants, which can cause an inability to create appropriate boundaries, inconsistent and unhealthy relationship patterns, anxiety and depression, and encourage self harm as a way to deal with distress, as well as other mental health conditions.
Ultimately, secure attachment styles are created through regular interactions between parents and children, providing emotional support, security, consistency, and guidance throughout childhood development.
Signs of a Secure Attachment Style
Securely attached adults have common attributes that result in healthy, satisfying relationships.
Here is a list of common signs and traits of a secure attachment style:
- Open and comfortable expressing emotions
- Communicates their emotional needs clearly
- Is trusting in social and personal relationships
- A positive sense of identity and self-confidence
- Possesses resilience during challenging times
- Values autonomy but also recognizes the importance of interdependence
- Relates to others with empathy, understanding, trustworthiness, respect, and reliability
- Demonstrates strength when dealing with adversity
- Proficient at problem-solving both individually or collaboratively
- Develops meaningful, close relationships with other adults
The above list is a great place to start evaluating your traits, abilities, and how you act or react within your relationships. If you already have secure relationships, you can still use this list to improve any areas needing strengthening and attention.
If you believe you display signs of insecure attachment, be easy on yourself if you see some areas that need improvement. Remember, no one is perfect; we are all works in progress!
How Does a Secure Attachment Style Affect Relationships?
A secure attachment type helps create healthy, long term relationships by providing individuals with the necessary skills and tools to build strong connections in adulthood. It is the healthiest of all the attachment styles.
Individuals with this attachment style can openly communicate their needs, demonstrating trustworthiness, respect, and reliability in their relationships. Among the other qualities listed above, these traits help build an emotional connection between two people, making them feel secure and confident in the relationship.
Securely attached adults are able to form intimate relationships, as they can express their emotions openly and show empathy for those around them. This emotional support will enable them to foster deep connections with others, helping create long-lasting friendships and partnerships.
A secure attachment styles tend to help an individual remain resilient during challenging times, allowing them to work through conflicts together and build a strong foundation for their relationships.
Developing this attachment style in childhood can provide individuals with the skills to form meaningful partnerships throughout adulthood, including a sense of community. This fact is important because being part of a community of people may increase life expectancy, reduce the incidence of illness, lead a fulfilling life, and significantly impact the quality of one’s life.
How to Move Toward a Secure Attachment Style?
If you read this post and thought, “this sounds just like me!” that’s great! You likely feel safe in relationships, can trust others, and have a great sense of autonomy. You have no issues creating new and maintaining your relationships, ensuring you have a community of people around you.
However, if the traits of a secure attachment style sound like something you want to develop but need help figuring out where to start, know these feelings are normal! Remember, about 40% of the population experiences insecure attachment styles. Know you aren’t alone and that adult attachment styles, including insecure attachment, are not set in stone!
Also, know that you could have a secure attachment style with coworkers and friends but be insecure in romantic relationships. Your attachment style is very personal and can present differently in everyone, so don’t stress if a description doesn’t perfectly describe you.
If understanding attachment styles is an area you would like to learn more about, talking to a licensed therapist can help. Therapists can help educate you on your personal attachment style, and how to develop a secure attachment through counseling.
Counseling may include understanding the level of care you experienced as a child and how your point of view then has evolved into your worldview now. Your therapist is there to help you gain a deep understanding of yourself and how to move toward a more emotionally healthy you.
For more information about attachment styles, here are more posts on this topic: