So is my Attachment Style a life/death sentence? (How do I shift?)
While the section intends to offer you information on Attachment Theory without defining specific people, it is easy to view what has been said as ‘This is who I am’. It is highly likely that anyone reading along will have attributes similar to those discussed, and will also have a specific attachment style, but that doesn’t mean that everything said about your attachment style relates to you. While this whole section may seem like a life sentence of awareness, if you are insecurely attached and want to shift into a secure attachment style there are ways to support this. Let’s take a deep breath and dive in.
One of the most helpful things you can do to build a more secure attachment style is to learn about your attachment style. If you have read through this section of the website then you have already started, congratulations! By learning about your attachment style you can become aware of any emotional patterns you have, and better understand why your self-talk or emotional regulation may be how it is. As said many times, you may not identify with everything said about your attachment style, and you can become aware of what certain parts may mean to you. When we understand how our emotions and cognitions are formed it can make it easier to challenge them, or find support.
While being aware of our insecure attachment style is essential in building a more secure style, there is still more that needs to be done to make the shift. Unfortunately, the next steps are not something that you can do alone. Studies show that the best way to shift from an insecure attachment to a secure attachment style is to be with someone that has a secure attachment style. This can be in the sense of a relationship, or with a therapist (if this is a viable avenue to take). Humans naturally look to others for validation around their existence (see the page on Mattering) and so a secure bond can not be formed by ourselves. If you are someone who wants to change their attachment style without being in a secure relationship or gaining a therapist, this is a highly challenging task. While it can be possible to push a boulder up a mountain, it is significantly easier with the right person helping you push. The aspects for shifting your attachment style come from your self-worth (including self-talk and self-esteem), your emotional regulation strategies, and how you form relationships with others. Each of these aspects needs to be worked on to become more secure.
When an insecure person is with someone who is securely attached it can help in supporting the reconstruction of a secure attachment style. This person needs to be vulnerable with their secure partner to gain this support. A close relationship with a secure base can allow the insecure partner to relearn how to regulate their emotion just as they did as a child. There is a reliance on the secure base of the relationship to allow the insecure partner to explore the world and come back when they need, knowing their partner will be there for them. A therapist can do the same thing in a more formal setting. If you are in this kind of relationship read up about your partner’s attachment style and check out the sections Parenting 102 and Relationships with multiple attachment styles (+ BONUS levels) for some advice on the best way to support the insecure partner in this relationship.
When considering your own self-talk, practice makes perfect. You have lived a long life thinking and talking the way you do, and this isn’t something that you can quickly change. Be aware of the times when you are thinking negatively about yourself and others and try to challenge these thoughts. This can be done by keeping a journal, using someone close to you as a sounding board, or even talking to your stuffed animals (if you have any). This can include talking about your personal doubts, your worries about your future (whether that be your personal future or the future of your relationship), stresses at work, or any negative thoughts you are having. If you can do this with someone close to you it will help build a secure base that can help with later steps. This can be a challenging step for those with an avoidant attachment, and it is essential in breaking down those walls.
When identifying and speaking to your own self-worth patterns, another huge step is to avoid taking things to heart, remaining authentic, and being honest with your feelings and needs. This applies to both yourself and how you speak to others. If you have an insecure attachment a lot of your self-talk is likely either negative about yourself or judgmental of others. It is important to shift away from the language you use and aim for more positive language. Here are some examples:
Insecure Self Talk
“They aren’t worth talking to!”
“I can’t believe I just did that!”
“Nobody likes me anyway.”
“Why would I talk to them about this? Like they could even help me!”
“I don’t need anyone else but myself.”
“They are mad, they want to break up with me.”
“I can’t do it!”
“I wonder what would happen if I spoke to them.”
“That was a mistake, and things will be okay.”
“I should surround myself with people I know care about me”
“If I trust someone with my emotions, maybe they could help me”
“There is no harm in making friends with other people.”
“Is this fight big enough to end our relationship?”
“What do I need to accomplish this task?”
Challenging learned behavior can be difficult, and it’s even harder when this is what we have been taught since infancy. This is not something that can be shifted from easily. When you notice any negative self-talk, find a question you can ask that may challenge your thought process. If you are doing this alone it may not always work. Even with other people, this may not always work. Building resilience takes time, and so patience is key.
Another way to challenge self-worth is to change the way you see yourself. While others are usually needed to do this as humans naturally understand themselves from their perceptions from others (whether we want to admit this or not). Seeking feedback and validation is a huge key in this vein. There is some advice on how to support yourself with this topic in the section on Mattering. Here are some great articles about supporting your self-worth through your attachment style:
When wanting to change how you regulate your emotions we need to have a secure bond that we can use as support. Thinking back to when our attachment styles form, we were infants who did not know what to do with our emotions when they presented themselves. If we grow into an insecure attachment style it can be argued that we still do not know what to do with these emotions. We either hide them away and over-regulate (avoidant) or need others to support us because we can’t face it alone as we under regulate (ambivalent). Either way, when emotions arise for someone with an insecure attachment they do not know how to correctly process them. Here is where our secure bond comes in.
If you are in a relationship with a secure partner (or seeing a therapist you feel secure with) and you are willing to be vulnerable with them you can start trusting them with your emotions. Just like how parents support their children in regulating their emotions, the secure partner will do the same. If you read the section in Parenting 101 about the child getting a shot, this nicely sums up what it is like to hold someone’s emotions while teaching them to correctly regulate. If you are the secure partner, hold your partner’s emotions when they come up. It isn’t about trying to fix their problem for them. Offer them validation and empathy. It is okay for them to experience the emotions that are coming up for them, and let them know this. If your partner likes physical touch this can help soothe them as well. Once they have calmed and processed their emotions you can send them onto their next step, giving them their autonomy back to explore. If you are an insecure partner, don’t be afraid of bringing your emotions to your partner when they come up. If your partner has agreed to support your emotions then they are likely a trusted source. It can be difficult to experience this level of vulnerability (especially if you have an avoidant attachment style), but this deep dive is needed to build trust in others, as well as learning from others how to regulate our emotions.
There are also tools available that can help soothe us when others aren’t around. While these strategies won’t teach you how to regulate your emotions, they will help you manage your emotions when you begin over or under regulating. These tools all come from the concept of Mindfulness. Using mindful tools when feeling triggered has been shown to support us in soothing ourselves, and bringing us back to our center. Activities that involve deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or focusing on our own presence can ground our mental state and calm a racing mind. Not all mindfulness strategies work universally for all, so it is important to find a tool that works for you. Check out some mindfulness strategies here.
The next step in changing how you relate to others involves a high level of vulnerability. You need to trust the person you are building a secure attachment to. After reflecting on your attachment style and being aware of your triggers, now is your opportunity to challenge these triggers. Thinking back to Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation, you are essentially transporting yourself back to this space. In a relationship, you are two separate people with your own autonomy. You both have the opportunity to explore your own world. If you have an insecure attachment you would likely be challenged by the idea of exploring your autonomy while believing your partner will be there for you. A lack of trust in this vein is natural for your attachment style, and the key to building a secure attachment is to challenge this pattern. How this is done is dependent on your attachment style.
If you are naturally avoidant in your attachment the time with your partner can be beneficial. Shared activities and emotive conversations can allow the insecure partner to break down their avoidant barriers and begin to accept that a secure base can exist for them to be vulnerable. These moments together don’t need to be huge time commitments, but finding consistent times to safely connect throughout the week has been found to be hugely beneficial. This is also a highly challenging thing for someone with an avoidant attachment to do, so make sure you are patient and trusting of your partner.
If you are naturally ambivalent in your attachment then being present in the relationship is something that can greatly support you. As we know, someone with an ambivalent attachment can be naturally clingy and want to move fast out of fear that the relationship may end. When dating someone with a secure attachment it can allow a heavy dose of reassurance to the insecure partner as a secure base naturally forms. Trust can be difficult during this time, and so reassurance from the secure partner when needed can easily support the insecure partner.
If you are naturally disorganized in your attachment it is advised that seeing a therapist to change your attachment style is more beneficial than relying on a partner. This is because any reliance on a partner can be very overwhelming.
Regardless of the attachment style at play, rereading of Bids for Connection, Mattering and A.R.E can be helpful models too.
Changing your attachment style is by no means an easy task. It takes a lot of intention, vulnerability, care, support, and acceptance. If you are in the right environment to shift your style it is important not to put pressure on this transition. Any pressure will be more likely to do more harm than good. While one study found that they could shift someone’s attachment style in 6 months, this by no means speaks to everyone. Allow yourself to experience the warmth of a secure base, and enjoy the connection with your partner.
Is it all too good to be true?
Attachment Theory is a topic that can be used in so many different modalities. From therapy to company hiring techniques, even in schooling! While we are not responsible for the attachment styles of those we work with (or support), we can best learn how to engage with others in a way that best serves them (and us). Sounds pretty awesome! But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
By subscribing to the viewpoint of Attachment Theory, we are also taking on the idea that every child is born as a blank canvas, and so how someone attaches to others is based solely around environmental factors. A study from the Psychological Bulletin in 2016 suggests that the attachment style of a child is based on genetics, just like our IQ and personality. While some studies show that 50% of our personality is genetic, this percentage is exposed to environmental influence. For example, a fussy/less responsive child can have a warm parent and turn out great. While this warm nature is a part of the environment, it can also be argued that there is genetics at play as well. This being said, most genetic studies are not on a large enough scale to hold universal validity. It is important to remember that biology does not define a human, and so the environmental factors are also important to consider.
It has also been theorized that it is much more than the parents that shape the attachment style of a child. The peers that the child interacts with during school, day-care, and social events can heavily influence a child and affect the forming of their personality. A child can be raised with loving and attentive parents, but in an area with a high crime rate. If the child’s environment offers the experience of crime as normative and is an interest of their friends, they are likely to take this interest on as well. Children learn to behave in society from the social group they experience it with, which as a child grows into adolescents is usually their friends. While this is all valid, it speaks heavily to the personality construction of a child, which can be argued as different from Attachment Theory (and how someone forms bonds with others).
However, researchers have also found large predictors of adult depression and anxiety relate to social and economic factors, rather than their attachment style. Children from less-advantaged communities can find themselves feeling less virtuous, with a weaker sense of agency because of how they view themselves. This can contribute to poor grades at school from low motivation, hostility to their more advanced peers, and a lower willingness to work through challenging situations. These facts offer that nature is a strong factor in the internal working model of a person, rather than the nurturing suggested by Attachment Theory.
The articles found to create this section all hold validity, and there are a plethora of articles that support Attachment Theory that hold the same validity. At the end of the day, it comes down to how you choose to view/use Attachment Theory, and whether you believe it works for you or not. Make your own opinion, it’s up to you whether you take it, or leave it!