All About Secure Attachment: What it Is and Common Examples
All humans form attachments to each other – that’s a good thing! Our attachments help to shape and define our lives. But our upbringings impact how we form those attachments and how our attachments can impact our emotional health, mental wellness, and other factors.
Let’s break down secure attachment style, explore it, and go over some common examples so you can identify it in yourself or others.
What Is Attachment Theory?
In a nutshell, attachment theory is a psychological theory that describes how young children (typically infants) form bonds with their primary caregivers. The bonds they form and the details surrounding those bonds affect the child’s ability to form healthy relationships and their emotional well-being in childhood and adulthood.
Put another way; attachment theory says that a child’s first months and years of interaction with caregiving adults impact their socialization and expectations about emotional relationships for the rest of their life.
Psychologist Mary Ainsworth first proposed attachment theory in the 1970s. She conducted various experiments with infants to see how the bonds they formed with caregivers affected them later in life. For example, one experiment had Ainsworth watch a baby’s response when a caregiver left the room and when the same caregiver left the same room when a stranger was with them while noting the differences.
Ainsworth ultimately concluded that bonding with a primary caregiver, such as a mother or father, impacts a child’s emotional attachment style. In essence, children’s emotional needs include:
- Feeling safe and protected
- Feeling seen and known by their primary caregiver
- Feeling comforted, reassured, and soothed
- Feeling valued by their primary caregiver
- Feeling supported to explore the world
Without some of these elements, babies and, eventually, children risk developing negative or potentially unhealthy attachment styles.
What Is Secure Attachment?
Secure attachment is one of the four attachment styles proposed by Ainsworth’s theory. Unlike the other attachment styles, secure attachment is the overall healthiest and most stable attachment pattern possible.
Put simply, secure attachment is an attachment style where a child:
- Feels comforted when they see their caregiver
- Feels protected by their caregiver
- Prefers the caregiver over strangers or other people
- Actively seeks comfort from the caregiver
- Is comfortable exploring the environment so long as the caregiver is present
In other words, early childhood — and whether a child’s needs are met/they have a secure base from their parent — is key to determining attachment security and their eventual adult attachment style.
To many child psychologists, developing and maintaining a secure attachment style is highly important because it has lasting psychological and emotional impacts on individuals as they develop.
Securely attached children find it much easier and more comfortable to explore and navigate the world around them, which extends into personality traits and confidence in adulthood. In fact, adults with a secure attachment style tend to see many positive benefits, ranging from higher self-esteem to a greater likelihood of forming healthy long-term relationships to an increased ability to trust others to secure social support.
Perhaps most importantly, securely attached children can often replicate healthy bonds with their children and others, spreading the positive effects.
What Other Types of Attachment Styles Are There?
The other three attachment styles are as follows:
Avoidant Attachment Style
According to the attachment theory, avoidant attachment is one of the insecure attachment styles. Avoidant attachment style is characterized by behavior in which the child doesn’t seek comfort from the caregiver and avoids them if possible. They also don’t show any preference for a caregiver over a stranger. This can also be called anxious attachment.
Ambivalent Attachment Style
Ambivalent attachment is another insecure attachment style. It’s also sometimes called anxious preoccupied attachment style. Kids with this style tend to be clingy with their caregivers but remain distressed when that same caregiver tries to comfort them, leading to a negative interaction cycle.
Disorganized Attachment Style
Disorganized attachment is also called fearful avoidant attachment style. Kids with this style show inconsistent connections with caregivers or loved ones and may feel fear toward them. Since the caregiver is both a source of survival resources and fear, this can significantly negatively impact a child’s emotional well-being.
These attachment styles can lead to the development of commitment issues, imposter syndrome, and other problems. Early attachment childhood experiences can impact their development well into their life.
Overall secure attachment is best for mental health, romantic relationships, and other close relationships in one’s life. Since the attachment process begins during child development, it’s impossible to control your type of attachment until much later.
What Are Signs of Secure Attachment in Adults?
Adults with a secure attachment style often display many positive traits or signs that make them easy to trust and recognize. Some of the most common examples of secure attachment in adults include:
- The ability to regulate feelings and emotions, particularly in a deep relationship
- Demonstration of strong and goal-oriented behavior when isolated or on one’s own
- The ability to bond or open up to other people, including strangers
- A sense of self-purpose
- The ability to communicate personal needs effectively and calmly when needed
- A feeling that one has an impact on the world around oneself
- Comfort with mutual dependency and closeness with trusted people, like friends and family members
- Active seeking out of emotional support from both romantic partners and from others, as well as the ability to give emotional support to one’s partner
- Personal comfort being alone
- A capacity to reflect on relationship goals, decisions, and ways to improve
How Can You Know if Someone Has a Secure Attachment Style?
When interacting with adults or when analyzing yourself, there are three clues you can look for to identify a secure attachment style.
Securely attached adults have a positive but not inflated view of themselves, first and foremost. Put another way, securely attached adults don’t need external reassurance or words in order to feel worthy of love or valued (at least most of the time). Simultaneously, securely attached adults don’t reject emotional closeness or intimacy; they still take these gifts for what they are.
Secondly, securely attached adults have a positive view of other people by and large. They trust their partners and friends and don’t feel jealous or doubt the intentions of their loved ones. Securely attached people can accept affectionate displays without any fear or insecurity. Thus, these individuals are usually loving and warm, even to people they have just met.
Lastly, a person likely has a secure attachment style if they have a positive view of their childhood. If they can take the good and the bad of their childhood and take self-improvement lessons from what they experienced, they likely have good feelings about their parents and others as well. In adulthood, this translates to an ability to move on from the bad in life.
Is Secure Attachment Desirable?
Yes. A secure attachment style is highly desirable in both kids and adults, as it is the only truly positive attachment style outlined in the attachment theory.
Put simply, secure attachment means a person has an overall healthy life outlook and strong control over their emotions without being repressed or overly controlling. A secure attachment style indicates that a person can form healthy bonds with others while providing emotional support and well-being to others when needed.
Because secure attachment is so desirable, parents must try their best to cultivate a secure attachment style in their kids when parenting them from the earliest ages.
Can You Achieve a Secure Attachment Style in Adulthood?
Yes, but it’s often difficult and never a clear-cut journey.
If you don’t have a secure attachment style, you don’t need to feel bad about yourself or worry about your relationships. However, you might already notice some areas where you can improve the way you deal with emotional situations compared to the “ideal” secure attachment style alternatives.
Even well into adulthood, it’s possible to change your intuitive or subconscious expectation of deep relationships by seeking out and staying with positive relationships as often as possible. For example, if you have a loving, deep, healthy relationship with your spouse, that relationship can replace the negative experiences you may have known as a child.
New attachment bonds are formed in adulthood all the time. These can be significant sources of support in the tough times of life. In fact, romantic partners often function as attachment figures and can improve security or comfort for the other partner.
Therefore, spending time with people who respect you and who demonstrate secure attachment style characteristics could be a way to change your own attachment style over time. Practicing other mental wellness strategies, like positive self-talk and meditation, can also help.
Secure attachment style is a healthy, desirable attachment style type that everyone should try to cultivate. Whether you already have a secure attachment style or you are looking to change your attachment style to a healthier variant, 1AND1 can help.
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