How To Overcome Insecure Attachment
Updated April 24, 2020
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
Having an insecure attachment as an adult can cause serious problems in your closest relationships. You may find yourself worrying excessively, trying to control the other person, or driving them away while you try to hold onto them. Yet, you can overcome an insecure attachment if you're dedicated to making positive changes and willing to get the right help.
Source: Pabak Sarkar via flickr.com
What Is Attachment In Psychology?
Attachment is a word that psychologists use to describe a deep emotional bond formed from one person to another. An attachment carries across time and space so that no matter where you are, and despite the passage of time, you feel a connection to that person.
If you have an attachment for someone else, they might or might not feel a connection with you. Even if the attachment is reciprocal, it probably will be different in quality and intensity for each of you. When psychologists talk about attachment, they're talking about the one-way bond from one person to another.
What Is An Insecure Attachment?
So, what is an insecure attachment, and why does it matter? If you have an insecure attachment, it can have a profound effect, not only on your relationship but many other aspects of your life.
Definition Of Secure Attachment
To understand insecure attachment, it helps to begin with a definition of secure attachment. A secure attachment is a positive bond that an infant feels toward their caregiver. An infant with a secure attachment to their caregiver displays confidence that their needs will be met consistently. They show minor discomfort when their caregiver leaves, but they reconnect easily when their caregiver returns.
Secure attachments are created from three main aspects of the caregiver-infant relationship: how sensitive the caregiver is to the infant's needs, how quickly and reliably the caregiver responds to the infant's needs, and the caregiver's acceptance of them as they are.
Insecure Attachment Definition
An insecure attachment psychology definition is the opposite of a secure attachment definition. Rather than displaying confidence in their caregiver's response, the infant tends to be anxious or defiant. They show extreme distress when their caregiver leaves and have trouble reconnecting with them when they return.
A secure attachment in infancy brings peace and independence. An insecure infant attachment, on the other hand, may show up as clinginess, defiance, confusion, or disconnection from the caregiver.
Does Your Attachment Style Ever Change?
Psychologists who have studied attachment have mostly chosen infants as their subjects. Your attachment style as an infant typically has some bearing on your adult attachment style, but your style may change as you get older.
Depending on what situations you face in life and your personal growth as you mature, you may become more insecure in your attachments or, you may learn to develop more secure attachments as time goes by.
Insecure Attachment In Adults
An insecure attachment in adults looks slightly different from an insecure infant attachment, but the basic emotions that accompany it are very similar. When you have a secure attachment style, you feel secure, safe, and protected in relationships. You feel that others are most sensitive and accept you well.
However, if you have an insecure attachment, you may not believe you deserve to be loved. Others seem mostly insensitive, uncaring, or even frightening to you. So, how can you recognize if you have an insecure attachment? You might notice the following:
- You find it hard to handle conflict with others.
- You don't take responsibility for your actions that cause negative consequences.
- You manipulate others or try to control them.
- You can't genuinely love or show affection to others.
- You aren't good at showing empathy, trust, or remorse.
- You act out negatively.
- You're destructive, cruel, or argumentative.
- You're too impulsive.
- When you're sad or fearful, it shows up as anger.
- You feel isolated, depressed, frustrated, or stressed.
- You're prone to addictions.
- You may feel confused often.
- You may blame others and feel others are blaming you.
- You feel helpless and angry.
- You feel suspicious of others and doubt their affection for you.
Recognizing Your Own Insecure Attachment Style
Some psychologists refer to three types of insecure attachments in adults. These are dismissive attachment, fearful attachment, and preoccupied attachment. These concepts relate to the internal feelings you have towards yourself and others.
- Dismissive attachment - you feel positive feelings about your worth and have a negative view of others.
- Fearful attachment - you have mostly negative feelings about both yourself and others.
- Preoccupied attachment - you feel you aren't loveable, but you have positive feelings about others.
Regarding behavior, most psychologists use different words to categorize types of insecure attachment: insecure-avoidant attachment, insecure disorganized attachment, and insecure ambivalent/resistant attachment. Each type of insecure adult attachment is displayed in different ways. How you feel about the other person also varies with your attachment style.
Insecure Resistant Attachment
When Mary Ainsworth, the psychologist remembered for her development of attachment theory, studied infant attachment, she discovered that some of those infants were anxious when their mother was with them, distressed when their mother was away briefly, and angry when their mother returned. This behavior signaled that the infant had an insecure resistant attachment.
An adult with an insecure resistant attachment shows a similar array of emotions with anxiety, distress, and anger. This attachment style is also called an insecure ambivalent attachment or an ambivalent anxious attachment.
When you have an insecure resistant attachment as an adult, you tend to be clingy and push too hard for togetherness. You may miss your partner terribly while they're gone. You want your partner's love and attention, and you become distressed when it's withdrawn. When they return, what you feel is mostly anger.
The anger can be intense and may show up as physical or emotional cruelty towards your partner. Or, you may feel anxious that they'll leave you and beg for their attention and support.
If you have an insecure avoidant attachment as an adult, you don't want others to depend on you, and you don't depend on anyone else. The connection you feel with the other person is very tentative and fragile. You don't want to rely on them, so you might hide your true feelings or even behaviors that they may find out about.
With an insecure avoidant attachment, you avoid intimacy with your partner. You want to be independent, but you don't give yourself a safe base to work from as you explore your world. You feel fearful that your partner will leave you, and your anxiety may prompt you to manipulate or control your partner in an attempt to secure their love and loyalty.
Insecure Disorganized Attachment
When you have an insecure disorganized attachment, your style is less easily-defined than other attachment styles. It's a combination of a style that is so difficult to pin down that you have trouble predicting how you will react because your reactions are typically contradictory.
With a disorganized style, you may experience a disconnect from your relationship partner. You may not be aware that you have any feelings for them at all. You may feel emotionless, alone, hopeless, or despairing. You may avoid developing any relationships because you don't want to be rejected. In fact, you fear all attachments. You want the security of a relationship, but you don't want to be vulnerable to a partner.
How To Overcome Insecure Attachment
You can overcome an unhealthy attachment style, but it might not be easy. You'll need to get help. You'll also need to learn about your insecure attachment. To develop healthy attachments, you'll probably need to improve your self-concept and change the way you think about others. Here are some steps to make that happen.
Make Sense Of Your Story
Throughout the process of overcoming an insecure attachment, you can benefit from making sense of past and current attachments. What have they meant to you, and what did you learn from them? As you experience personal growth, your story may change. That's great! It means you're learning a new way of seeing the past.
Accept Your Part In The Attachment Style
As an adult, the time for blaming others is over. Others may impact what attachment style you develop, but your emotions and behaviors are the part of the attachment equation that you can control. If you want a healthier attachment style, you need to be willing to make the changes necessary for that to happen.
Pay Attention To Your Own Attachment Behaviors
You'll need to be a keen observer of your own behavior. Once you learn what attachment behaviors to expect, you can watch for those behaviors. This information will be invaluable when you talk to a counselor.
Talk To A Counselor
Talking to a counselor allows you to learn more about attachment styles in general, and more specifically, your attachments to the people in your life. You can learn techniques for identifying insecure attachment behaviors. You can work on your self-concept so that you can feel more positively about yourself. While licensed counselling is clinically proven to help people overcome insecure attachment, counselling will also help you to develop secure positive patterns in the place of past negative behavior. However, not everyone has the time to sit in traffic and drive to an appointment, and not everyone feels comfortable in a waiting room with other people. This is where online counseling services like ReGain offer solutions. You may access our platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"It was a pleasure working with Bradley. He is positive and encouraging. He helped us to realize key differences between me and my partner to under each other's behavior and attachment styles. Also my confusion has been mostly cleared by his insights. I would recommend him to others. It takes time to fully resolve your issues be patient."
"Denae has a strong background in child psychology. We came to her because we're figuring out how to navigate our first year with a newborn together. She understands couples dynamics, personality styles and is very knowledgeable on secure attachment and how to raise a child to feel seen, understood, safe and heard. I Highly recommend this counselor."
FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)
How do you know what your attachment style is?
Ask yourself a question: what part of you comes out in romantic relationships? How does the answer to that question make you feel? Are there common themes? Do you find that, while you are typically a secure and confident person, relationships tend to make you feel insecure? Alternatively, do you feel trusting and secure in intimate relationships? Asking yourself these questions and being honest about the answers can help you understand what your attachment style is. Our attachment styles are influenced by early childhood. It can be affected by if our parents were emotionally available or not if we experienced child abuse, and so on. What we experience during childhood years transfers to our adult relationships. It can impact our mental or emotional health in a surprising number of ways, so even if it feels silly or irrelevant to think of your childhood years, it can be helpful.
What is an insecure attachment?
Insecure attachment is fear-based. You worry that your partner will leave you secretly and don't love you, and you feel many mixed emotions about the partnership. Often, people with insecure attachment styles are codependent. That some people have traits of multiple attachment styles, you might have a secure attachment style, and anxious-avoidant attachment style, a fearful-avoidant attachment style, or a dismissive-avoidant attachment style. Insecure attachment can do a number on your mental health because it comes with a rattling amount of worry, but it is possible to change the way that you experience attachment.
If you're a person with insecure attachment - how do you get over it?
How can you love someone who has an attachment disorder?
For people with attachment disorders, it's typically beneficial for them to be in relationships with those who have a secure attachment style. Being with someone secure themselves can help you develop a sense of security. In contrast, if two people have an attachment disorder or an attachment style that could be described as insecure, things can turn sour. We all crave love and affection, and more importantly, we all deserve it. Working through your attachment issues in therapy will help both you and your current or future partner have a healthy relationship. As with anything in relationships, it takes two. If you love someone with an attachment disorder, you have to work together to make the relationship work, just as you would with any other partnership.
A licensed counselor can help you overcome insecure attachments. In the place of insecure attachment, you can create healthy, positive, and secure attachments. Whether you're having attachment problems or other mental health issues, you can learn to deal with them successfully for a more satisfying and happier life. Take the first step.