When it comes to our relationships, however, nurture seems to play a greater role. For example, individuals who grow up in healthy households tend to develop secure attachment bonds and attachment styles that typically lead them to have stronger, longer-lasting relationships in adulthood.
On the other hand, if you grew up in a household with inconsistent or unreliable parenting, you may have greater difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships. People in this category may have experienced insecure attachment bonds to their parents or primary caregivers.
Insecure attachment is a negative, fear-based relationship style—the deep, even unconscious fear of abandonment or unmet needs. This fear-based style is based on the formation of an insecure attachment bond in early childhood, and it’s surprisingly common.
Living with the weight of a fear-based attachment bond can be very frustrating and feel overwhelming, but there is hope. While some experts believe that attachment styles and the original attachment bond remain consistent throughout the lifetime, recent research has actually found that individuals with an insecure attachment style can actually form secure bonds through intimacy-building activities.
Understanding Insecure Attachment
As mentioned previously, an individual’s attachment style appears in early childhood and is the result of the formation of an insecure or secure attachment bond; infants and young children develop a secure attachment through repeated positive experiences with caregivers. This secure attachment bond gives infants an early outlook on life. Early in life, they learn that their needs will be met on a consistent basis, and as children, they don’t live in fear of being neglected, abused, or abandoned.
When caregivers fail to provide consistent care and emotional support, an insecure attachment bond and insecure attachment style form. Babies and young children who are insecurely attached learn to expect inconsistency in relationships, leading them often to operate from a place of fear. This is especially true of children who have been left by their caregivers (by choice or by death) and those who were abused or neglected. It can be difficult, but not impossible, to overcome the effects of developing an insecure attachment bond.
Ways To Create A Secure Attachment
Later, we’ll share how therapy can help individuals who are living with an insecure attachment style break a negative attachment bond and create a secure attachment bond, but first, we’ll talk about strategies you can use to help you form and maintain strong, lasting bonds.
Focus On Healing
Childhood situations and experiences that promote insecure attachments also tend to create shame and self-esteem issues. Living with shame can result in self-neglect (focusing on everyone else’s needs while ignoring your own), self-criticism, self-sabotage, and even self-destructive behaviors. Beginning to heal from these symptoms will help you lay the foundation to form secure attachments.
These feelings and behaviors are often connected to a deeply rooted, self-imposed belief that an individual does not deserve happiness or healthy relationships. While healthy guilt can help an individual make better choices, the shame and self-loathing that often accompany an insecure attachment style can make a person feel perpetually stuck in insecurity.
Many people wonder how to forgive themselves for mistakes they’ve made in the past. While the process of self-forgiveness is a highly personal one, the following steps are a great place to start:
- Evaluate your past decisions. Were some of the factors involved out of your control? Did you do what you felt was best at the time? How do you see your actions differently today?
- Earn your forgiveness. Steps toward forgiveness include taking responsibility for your actions, apologizing, and making amends. If you find that forgiving yourself is difficult, try writing out a meaningful apology to yourself. You can also apologize to anyone else who may have been hurt, and you may be able to identify actions to make things right. Finally, vow to move forward.
Aim for progress, not perfection. If this process seems easier said than done, use self-compassion exercises to keep you moving through the healing process, such as this meaningful exercise offered by the Nonviolent Communication Organization (NVC).
Self-forgiveness provides a fresh start. Once you’re no longer bogged down by the pain of the past, you can work on building yourself up. You might have years of experience with negative self-talk, shame, and criticism, so it’s time to turn things around. Here are some practical ways to build self-esteem and help create a secure attachment style:
Make yourself a priority: People with low self-esteem tend to neglect themselves. They can ignore their health, hygiene, and emotional wellbeing because they don’t feel worthy of self-care or self-compassion. If you‘re in the habit of neglecting your personal needs and desires, make a list of the things you’ve neglected. Do you need to go to the dentist? Does your diet need adjustments to keep you healthy and satisfied? Would you like to give up drinking or smoking? Once you have a list, commit to tackling these issues one by one, and practice self-compassion if you find yourself falling into old patterns. Remember, it’s not about perfection.
The three compliments journal: This exercise is included in a great self-esteem building article. You’ll need a blank notebook and a pen or a pencil to get started. Then all you have to do is jot down three compliments to yourself each morning. Looking in the mirror can be part of the ritual, but if this practice seems awkward or uncomfortable, a mirror isn’t required. The goal here is to acknowledge your positive attributes on a regular basis. This practice will help you see yourself in a more positive light.
Acknowledge Your Attachment Style
A third way to flip your type of attachment is by confronting the negative aspects of your insecure attachment style. If you’re an anxious, insecurely attached person who is overly focused on your partner and his or her needs, try shifting your focus inward. By acknowledging your own needs and building your own self-esteem, you’ll feel more content, which will help you to form and maintain healthy relationships.
Many free and low-cost resources can help you on your healing journey. Here are a few:
- Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion.org is a great resource for anyone in need of extra self-compassion. Neff offers seven well-structured guided meditations that are completely free.
- Attachments by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy is an eye-opening resource for people who struggle to form and maintain close relationships.
- Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller is a user-friendly guide that explains the science behind attachment and how to find love based on attachment style. This book is particularly helpful for individuals who seek a lifelong partner.
How Online Therapy Can Help
In addition to the resources above, therapy can accelerate the healing process and help you shift your attachment style, in order to create a more secure attachment bond. Research has shown that Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can make a big difference in improving relationships for those dealing with attachment issues. Online therapy services like have made these outcomes more accessible than ever.
Online therapy has several advantages over in-person services. Online therapy is convenient and confidential; because you can arrange your sessions with a therapist around your schedule and lifestyle, you can meet whenever and wherever you’d like, from the privacy of your own home. You can work with a therapist at BetterHelp by video chat, phone call, or text messaging. Here are reviews from BetterHelp users who have found support for their attachment journeys.