All infants have an inherent need to attach to their parents or primary caregivers. In fact their life depends on it. Not only is the helpless infant dependent on parents for food, shelter and safety, infants are born needing much more in order to feel securely attached in relationships. We know that infants need their parents to provide affection, soothing, containment, stimulation and emotional regulation. In fact the way in which these needs are met or not met will form a template or “working model” for how we will view all other relationships throughout our life. When these needs are met on a consistent basis the infant will form a secure bond with the caregiver which allows them to feel safe in the world, safe in relationship to others and safe to experience their feelings. When their needs are not met, infants develop an insecure style of attachment which leaves them feeling unsafe in the world, unable to regulate emotional distress, unable to allow their needs to be known, and unable to form secure bonds with others.
While most of the population has a secure attachment pattern, about 48% of the population has an insecure attachment pattern, including an anxious-ambivalent attachment style and an avoidant attachment style.
People who have an insecure attachment patterns often seek out partners that mirror the early patterns of attachment figures provided for them as children–not because they want to but because it happens on an unconscious level. People with insecure attachment patterns usually crave being starved of love and attention as it provides a sense of familiarity, reaffirms unworthiness, confuses chemistry with a codependent-narcissist connection, and validates a fear of abandonment. In other words, they lock themselves into a cycle of insecure love.
If you have an insecure attachment pattern, you are not doomed. There are ways to make oneself more secure in relationships and to have an “earned secure attachment”. Furthermore, an attachment pattern is not set for life, it is conditional as it can change with experiences, traumas, and having relationships with people who have different attachment patterns.
Let us take a look at the attachment patterns and their characteristics.
Secure Attachment Pattern
People with a secure attachment pattern see themselves as worthy of love. In romantic relationships, they accept theirs and their partner’s flaws, are not reactive during a conflict, treat partners with respect, trust, and are overall more satisfied than those in insecure relationships. A person with a secure attachment pattern possesses healthy self-esteem, is capable of receiving and expressing intimacy, can draw boundaries, and has high emotional intelligence. When a relationship comes to an end, a secure person will grieve and move forward as they are okay being alone or in a relationship. This type of attachment pattern often develops from having a nurturing, loving, supportive, responsive, consistent, and attuned attachment figures.
Anxious/Ambivalent Attachment Pattern
Those with an anxious attachment pattern constantly worry if people genuinely love them or if people will abandon them. In romantic relationships, they give up their own needs to focus on their partner’s needs, invent problems to create instability and to gain attention, play mind games such as provoking jealousy or persistently texting/calling their partner and require validation or positive reinforcement. A person with an anxious attachment pattern usually suffers from low self-esteem and may be reluctant to establish a close bond with people. When a relationship comes to an end, an anxious person will become distraught, often fantasizing about the what-ifs and seeing the relationship with rose-colored glasses. This type of attachment often develops from having absent, unresponsive attachment figures.
Avoidant Attachment Pattern
The population with an avoidant attachment pattern values autonomy above anything else. In romantic relationships, they create distance between themselves and their partner, believe no one can meet their needs, suffer from commitment and intimacy issues, fantasize about others during sex, and feel trapped by their partners. A person with an avoidant attachment pattern prioritizes their projects and social life, are unwilling to share vulnerable thoughts and can turn off feelings during emotional situations while not reacting to them. When a relationship comes to an end, an avoidant person will easily detach. This type of attachment often develops from neglectful and aloof attachment figures.
How to Change Your Attachment Pattern
The first step to change your attachment pattern is to become aware of your relationship attachment patterns and dating patterns. Once you recognize that you have an insecure attachment pattern or that you have insecure tendencies within relationships, it is time to accept that your childhood experiences, or dating experiences, influenced how you are in present relationships–it is likely that these experiences were dysfunctional and toxic.
Working with a therapist can help you break your patterns and face your fears around love so that you can experience healthy love. Therapy and mental health resources can help you learn effective communication, conflict resolution strategies, and most importantly, self-empowerment tools. It is imperative to heal shame, not take things personally, set boundaries, express needs, be assertive, and to be direct in order to set the foundation for a secure relationship.
Additionally, if you have an avoidant or anxious attachment pattern, it is recommended that you seek out partners with a secure attachment pattern. This dynamic will help you understand that healthy dependency is in fact, positive.
If you’re interested in this kind of therapy, please call Trauma and Beyond Center ® for a free phone consultation. We understand that as you read this, you may have questions about whether or not what you are experiencing may be related to trauma or whether our program will be right for you. We are only a phone call away. We will be happy to speak with you about your symptoms and what may be the best treatment methods for you, as our couples therapy in Los Angeles is always individualized for each person. We are happy to speak with you about trauma informed treatments for attachment healing. Call us at (818) 651-0725.