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Have you ever wondered why some people seem to effortlessly form deep and meaningful relationships, while others struggle to connect? The answer may lie in their attachment style. Attachment theory suggests that the way we form attachments to our caregivers in childhood shapes how we approach relationships throughout our lives. In particular, having a secure attachment style can have a profound impact on the quality of our relationships and our overall well-being. In this article, we’ll explore what secure attachment is and why it matters, how to recognize insecure attachment patterns, and what you can do to cultivate more secure attachments in your own life. Whether you’re looking to improve your own relationships or help others do the same, understanding the power of secure attachment is an essential tool for building healthy, fulfilling connections with the people who matter most.


Understanding what secure attachment is

Attachment theory is a psychological framework developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the mid-20th century. It suggests that the way we form attachments to our caregivers in childhood has a profound impact on our relationships throughout our lives. Specifically, if we have a secure attachment style, we’re more likely to form healthy, fulfilling relationships with others. On the other hand, if we have an insecure attachment style, we may struggle to connect with others in a meaningful way.

So, what exactly is secure attachment? At its core, secure attachment is all about feeling safe and supported in our relationships with others. When we have a secure attachment style, we’re able to trust that our needs will be met and that our caregivers (and later, our romantic partners, friends, and other close connections) will be there for us when we need them. This sense of security allows us to explore the world around us, take risks, and form deep, meaningful connections with others.


How secure attachment forms in childhood

So, how exactly does secure attachment develop? According to attachment theory, it all starts in infancy. When we’re born, we’re completely dependent on our caregivers for our basic needs like food, shelter, and safety. As we grow and develop, we begin to form attachments to these caregivers based on how they respond to our needs and emotions.

If our caregivers are responsive, consistent, and loving, we start to develop a sense of security and trust in our relationships with them. We learn that we can rely on them to meet our needs, and we feel safe and supported as we explore the world around us.

A parents clear awareness of their emotional experience and capacity for self-reflection aid in the fostering of secure attachment.

On the other hand, if our caregivers are inconsistent, neglectful, or abusive, we may develop an insecure attachment style. We may learn that our needs won’t always be met, or that our caregivers aren’t safe or reliable sources of support. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, and a lack of trust in our relationships with others. When there is a high degree of inconsistency or unpredictability the child does not know how to respond. Hence they might have to develop multiple complex strategies for relationships in order to maintain some semblance of security.

The greater the degree of security, consistency, and attunement the higher the likelihood of secure attachment developing. Parenting doesn’t need to be perfect but as long as it is good enough then secure attachment can be achieved. Furthermore, sometimes styles of attachment can vary between siblings, within an individual, and from one relationship to the next. However, in general we tend towards a particular style of attachment over time. So the prerequisites of secure attachment include:


1. Safety and Comfort

We have a fundamental need for security and comfort in our relationships. When a parent provides this the child is naturally able to relax. Protection and a place to fully unwind allow the body to drop out of states of threat and distress.

2. Recognition, Being Seen, and Known

Next we have a clear need to be recognised in our relationships and connections. When we are truly seen this lights up the brain and our mood. We feel less isolated and known by the other.

3. Comfort, Soothing, and Reassurance

A parent acts as the primary hub for comfort and reassurance. When a parent is consistently present the child’s states of anxiety and distress are dyadically regulated. Over time the child internalises these capacities to self-regulate. When a parent is less available the child either resorts to excessive reliance on autonomic or defensive self-soothing. Or, the child’s distress remains at a high level before being regulated.

4. Being Positively Valued

Positive valuation in relationships helps to bolster self-esteem, self-belief, and overall sense of self. When we are unconditionally supported growing up we develop a secure sense of self in relationship to others. This helps with mutual engagement and confidence to seek out relationships. Furthermore, positive valuation of the self helps with overall energy and drive.

5. Being Supported to Explore

Secure attachment also actively affirms and encourages curiosity and exploration of the world. When we feel secure and encouraged we are more confident and able to seek independent pursuits and ventures. Thus we feel resilient to take on the world, act autonomously, and accomplish goals


The impact of secure attachment on adult relationships

While our attachment style is largely formed in childhood, it can continue to impact our relationships well into adulthood. In fact, research has shown that adults with secure attachment styles are more likely to have healthy, satisfying relationships with others. They’re better able to communicate their needs and emotions, and they’re less likely to experience conflict or emotional turmoil in their relationships.

On the other hand, adults with insecure attachment styles may struggle to form and maintain healthy relationships. They may have a hard time trusting others, or they may feel anxious, avoidant, or ambivalent in their relationships. They may also be more likely to experience relationship problems like frequent arguments, infidelity, or emotional distance.

By recognising and understanding your particular style of attachment you can make inroads towards cultivating greater security in your relationships.


Signs of secure attachment in adults

Secure attachment has a number of specific characteristics as do features of insecure attachment (e.g. dismissive-avoidant, anxious-preoccupied, and disorganized-unresolved). So, how can you tell if someone has a secure attachment style? Below are a few key signs to look for. These are not absolutes and we can all fluctuate at times on these variable and qualities. Therapy often aims to facilitate these qualities within an individual, family, couple, or group.


1. They’re comfortable with intimacy and mutuality

People with secure attachment styles tend to be comfortable with intimacy and emotional closeness. They’re able to share their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with others, and they feel safe and supported in doing so. They have the capacity for warmth and sociability and can readily connect and tie in with others. Usually, there is greater capacity for building deeper, meaningful, and longer-term relationships.

2.They’re able to communicate their needs and emotions

Securely attached individuals are able to communicate their needs and emotions in a clear and direct way. They’re not afraid to ask for what they need, and they’re able to express their emotions in a healthy and constructive way.

3. They’re are able to trust others, open up and bond

People with secure attachment styles are able to trust others and form deep, meaningful connections with them. They don’t feel the need to constantly test their partner’s loyalty or question their intentions.

The assumption of attachment theory is that earlier relational experiences shape the features of our relationships in adulthood. If we encounter and exhibit patterns of anxious-preoccupied attachment in childhood there is a higher likelihood of their occurrence in our adult relationships.

4. Strong Self-worth and Confidence

People with secure attachment tend to have a good sense of self, positive self-worth, and confidence. This helps a person to know what they are about, who they are, and what they want in life.

5. View Self and Others Positively

With secure attachment there is a tendency to view both self and others in a positive light. There is less self-recrimination and less defensive devaluation of others. When we are operating from a more insecure stance in relationships we tend to view self or others in more negative lights.

6. Able to Set Boundaries Effectively

Here individuals with secure attachment are better able to set boundaries and limits. With secure attachment there is better differentiation of self from others.

7. Able to regulate emotions and feelings in a relationship

This is a key component of secure attachment. We are able to stay in a relational and connected space, while staying within a regulated emotional range. There is less defensiveness or need for defence. Feelings can be felt with less reactivity, projection, and denial. In a secure attachment space, a person is more able to allow a feeling and emotion to move through their body before responding. These capacities also translate as an ability to both receive and provide emotional support to your partner

8. Comfortable with Aloneness and Individual Exploration

People in a secure relationship are more adept at exploring and doing their own thing. A person’s identity is less tied up in validation and confirmation from a partner. Although recognition, validation, and acknowledgement is great there is less preoccupation, enmeshment, and co-dependence.

9. Capacity for self-reflection, mentalizing, and understanding relationships

With secure attachment there is often greater capacity for self-reflection and capacity to reflect on the states of mind of self and others (mentalization). This capacity helps us to understand relationship dynamics, others states of minds, and our own state of mind. When we have clarity around self and other we are more able to set boundaries. Furthermore, we have a better capacity to repair and resolve ruptures in order to reconnect. In fact, there are whole therapies dedicated to enhancing people’s capacity for self-reflective functioning and mentalization.


Signs of Insecure Attachment in Adults

There are many styles of attachment and we can all relate in unique ways and have differing needs for relationships. As noted above there are some specific forms of insecure attachment that can be useful to know about and understand.


1. avoidant-dismissive attachment

Here a person tends to move away from and avoid relationship and connection. There is a wariness or hesitation towards attachment. In contrast, features of counter-dependence and autonomy might be accentuated. Close intimacy and connecting can come with a higher degree of anxiety and discomfort.

Furthermore, language and particularly emotional language tends to be less well-developed (e.g. see alexithymia). So sentences around connection and emotion tend to be truncated and briefer in nature. Overall, opportunities for interaction and connection tend to be deactivated. People with avoidant attachment have often experienced higher levels of parental criticism, rejection, or coldness. Here there emotional needs for connection haven’t been reliably met.

      • Tendency to avoid, withdraw, and move away from relationships

      • high levels of independence and autonomy

      • relational actions that increase distance and minimize intimacy or vulnerability

      • discomfort with emotional intimacy

      • Overly positive view of self and negative view of others (idealization and devaluation as defences)

      • Strategy aimed at preserving self through distance.

    2. Anxious-preoccupied attachment

    Anxious attachment is traditionally characterised by anxiety and distress associated with being alone or being separated from a caregiver or partner. Here, a person might experience significant anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and preoccupation with being rejected or abandoned.

    There is a hunger to merge with partners, a high need for reassurance, and self-worth that is contingent upon a partners validation. With this style of attachment a person tends to be consumed by connection and relationship. Emotional needs and feelings (such as helplessness and rage) to do with connection tend to be amplified. This often comes at the expense of autonomy, exploration, and focus on the self. Here, an overall relational strategy develops to try and minimize relational distance which symbolizes the threat of abandonment. This style of attachment is understood to arise from inconsistencies and absences in parenting.

        • overwhelming fear of being alone

        • high need for reassurance

        • Tendency to over-accommodate or self-sacrifice own emotional needs

        • behaviours and actions that drive for closeness and to avoid abandonment

        • negative view of self and overly positive view of the other.

        • High sensitivity to others emotional states

        • Co-dependence – strategy aimed at preserving closeness.


       3. Disorganized-Unresolved Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

      When a person has experienced considerable trauma the attachment system becomes more complex. Here a person might desire close connection and attachment. However, when closeness is experienced fight, flight, and freeze reactions tend to activate. Often there is a profound lack of safety in upbringing due to violence, sexual abuse, or other forms of trauma. Closeness and intimacy is closely paired with danger. When no escape is possible patterns of dissociation and freezing often occur. There is an internal battle where safety is trying to be achieved while danger is saying “not on my watch.”

          • Disorganized-inconsistent patterns of relating and connecting.

          • negative view of self and others

          • unpredictable patterns of relating

          • defensive dissociation and freezing

          • low self-worth and confidence

        It is important to recognise that no one is perfect when it comes to attachment and connection. As noted above secure attachment is characterised by a good degree of comfort in being close and intimate in a relationship. People with secure attachment are ok sharing feelings, expressing needs, and staying connected. There is a mutuality to the sense of connection where it feels safe and comfortable, there is reciprocal respect and support, and effective communication. However, when there are ruptures, arguments, or conflicts these can usually be repaired pretty quickly without too much drama. With secure attachment there aren’t large swings in emotions, distancing, or enmeshment (e.g. over-involvement). Furthermore, with secure attachment a person is also ok tolerating separations, aloneness, and distance while undertaking their own pursuits or while their partner undertakes theirs. There is a sense of integration and maturity to secure attachment.


        The benefits of secure attachment

        So, why does secure attachment matter? What are the benefits of having a secure attachment style? Here are just a few:


        1. Better Mental Health

        Research has shown that people with secure attachment styles are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. They’re also better able to cope with stress and adversity.

        2. More Satisfying Relationships

        Clearly learning to foster secure attachment can lead to more satisfying relationships. When we are able to communicate, stay in a relational space, and repair ruptures the quality of the relationship is enhanced. The literature strongly points to secure attachment as having a strong influence on the quality of our relationships.

        3. Clearer Sense of Self

        Securely attached individuals tend to have more satisfying, fulfilling relationships with others. They’re better able to communicate their needs and emotions, and they’re less likely to experience conflict or emotional turmoil in their relationships.

        4. Greater Resilience

        People with secure attachment styles are more resilient in the face of adversity. They’re able to bounce back from setbacks and challenges, and they’re less likely to be overwhelmed by stress or trauma. The parent once acted as the regulator of distress. With secure attachment, the child and eventually the adult learns to naturally bounce back setbacks


        How to develop secure attachment in adulthood

        If you’re someone who struggles with insecure attachment patterns, you may be wondering if it’s possible to change. The good news is, yes, it is! While our attachment style is largely formed in childhood, there are things we can do as adults to cultivate more secure attachments in our relationships with others and within our self. Some methods might be more relevant to your particular attachment style. For example, people with avoidant strategy might benefit more from opening up and being vulnerable. People with an anxious or co-dependent attachment style might benefit more from fostering self-regulation and greater autonomy. Often we might intuitively know what goals we want to work on with regards to attachment.


        1. Practice self-awareness

        The first step in cultivating more secure attachments is to become more aware of your own attachment patterns. Take some time to reflect on your past relationships and consider how your attachment style may have played a role in them. This can help you identify areas where you may need to work on building more security and trust in your relationships. Often we can go through relationships on auto-pilot repeating patterns that we might have learnt subconsciously growing up. By tuning in a bit more we can start to see the patterns that might be unhelpful.

        2. Explore your Attachment Experiences Growing Up

        Write down and notice your experiences growing up. Ask yourself how did your care-givers relate and connect with you throughout your childhood. Did it feel secure, dismissive, anxious, or chaotic etc? Or did it feel warm, loving, and caring. Was it over-charged with criticism and pressure to perform? What strategies did you learn around relating and connecting with close others. Were certain emotions allowed and others denied. Were the developmental needs listed above (safety and comfort through to encouragement of exploration) effectively met? A psychologist can readily help to tease out your relational experiences and beliefs about connecting.

        3. Work on communication skills

        One of the key traits of people with secure attachment styles is their ability to communicate their needs and emotions in a clear and direct way. If you struggle with this, consider working on your communication skills. This might involve taking a class, reading a book, or working with a therapist to develop more effective communication strategies. Simple, clear statements about preferences and needs, coupled with an open, non-judgemental stance are great for starting points. Therapy can help to with emotional expression and letting go of inhibition.

        4. Practice vulnerability

        People with secure attachment styles are able to share their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with others. If you struggle with this, consider practicing vulnerability in small ways. Start by sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends or family members, and work your way up to sharing more vulnerable emotions.

        5. Develop Emotion Regulation Skills

        Practicing connecting emotionally and regulating emotions translates in to greater self-efficacy. Learning not to fly in to rage, helplessness, or tearfulness can be a big win for relating. Furthermore, allowing others their emotions, criticisms, and reactions while staying integrated and connected acts to stabilise the relationship. Overall, emotion regulation is about practice, knowing your trigger points, staying calm, and grounding.

        5. Recognise Emotional Parts

        Start to understand your different emotional (attachment) parts and how they operate in the world. We can understand all mental health patterns as adaptations to particular environments. When we gently regulate our nervous system we can start to better see how defences and attachment strategies might play out in our relationships. For example, we might notice a helpless part, a detached part, a frozen part, or a critical part. Rather than reacting from these places we can gradually start to develop more secure and resilient parts to take the reigns.

        6 Seek professional help

        If you’re struggling to overcome attachment issues on your own, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist who specializes in attachment issues can help you identify and work through patterns that may be holding you back in your relationships. Experiential therapies can help you to open up and see the different layers of emotional experience. Healing attachment wounds and trauma can sometimes be a lengthy and ongoing process. However, quite often people can quickly understand and learn effective strategies for secure attachment. Furthermore, often we have greater capacity to unpack, heal, and foster secure attachment than we might think.


        Secure attachment in parenting

        While attachment theory is often discussed in the context of romantic relationships, it’s also incredibly important for parenting. In fact, having a secure attachment style is one of the most important predictors of healthy child development.

        When parents are able to provide a safe, consistent, and loving environment for their children, those children are more likely to develop secure attachment styles themselves. This, in turn, can have a positive impact on their relationships with others throughout their lives. So many parents have additional burdens and pressures, often while their children might be struggling with a mental health issue such as anxiety and depression. Seeking support can help anchor and buffer a parents emotional state so that they are more able to provide the requisites for secure attachment.



        In conclusion, understanding the power of secure attachment is an essential tool for building healthy, fulfilling connections with the people who matter most. Importantly, secure attachment refers to a sense of safety and trust that can be felt within a relationship. Furthermore, it refers to the capacity to be present and connect emotionally with close others. With secure attachment there is comfort in closeness. However, individuals with secure attachment are also ok with their own autonomy, exploration, setting healthy boundaries, and being alone. 

        Whether you’re looking to improve your own relationships or help others do the same, learning more about attachment theory can help you identify patterns that may be holding you back, and provide strategies for cultivating more secure attachments in your life.

        By practicing self-awareness, working on communication skills, practicing vulnerability, and seeking professional help if needed, you can develop the skills you need to form deep, meaningful relationships with others.





        Dr Damon Mitchell

        Dr Damon Mitchell is a clinical psychologist and owner of Core Life Psychology. As a psychologist he is passionate about assisting people to transform their inner world. Damon connects and works actively with people to find pathways to hope, healing, and inner well-being. He recognises that life can be challenging and complex and takes a non-pathologizing approach to understand each persons experience.

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