Have you ever heard of the secure attachment style?
Learning about attachment styles can be an important part of understanding ourselves, how we relate to other people, and how other people relate to us.
Attachment theory has been around since the 1950s, and it describes the bonding process between children and their caregivers.
Psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby theorized that what happens in the first five years of our lives will have a significant impact on our future relationships.
Bowlby and Ainsworth studied how caregivers reacted to the needs of their children and, in turn, how the children responded to separation from the caregiver.
These studies explored how parent and caregiver behaviors impact child development. It’s a powerful idea, and researchers have found that it has real-world applicability.
In fact, research by Hazan and Shaver (1987) went on to study how attachment in early childhood and infancy would later impact adult romantic relationships. There are four primary attachment styles:
To understand anxious, avoidant, and fearful avoidant attachment, we must first understand secure attachment, what it is, how to recognize it, and how to develop it if we weren’t able to during those early formative years.
What is Secure Attachment Style?
In attachment theory, the idea is that human beings learn much about trust from infancy.
Because infants are vulnerable and dependent on their caregivers, how their caregivers respond to their survival needs impacts the way they perceive the world around them.
Caregivers who are responsive to needs and who provide a nurturing, safe environment encourage secure attachment to form. In order words, children who develop secure attachment feel safe, confident, and trusting.
In order for secure attachment to form, children need to experience a safe environment. Safety doesn’t just mean the absence of a physical threat.
It means that children are safe to be themselves, have a trusted adult who will comfort them during times of distress, feel valued and supported, and can explore the world around them with confidence.
How Secure Attachment Works in Childhood
- The caregiver drops the child off at school.
- The child shows stress from the separation.
- The caregiver returns and comforts the child.
- The child is happy to see the caregiver again.
- The child prefers the parent to other adults.
This style of bonding doesn’t just end when we reach adulthood. Instead, we transfer this experience of early bonding into our adult relationships.
While this is good news for those who had a strong, safe bond, it can feel frightening for others to realize that their difficult experiences in childhood negatively impact their romantic relationships.
What’s encouraging to note is that anyone can learn to develop a secure attachment style as an adult.
First, let’s look at the signs of secure attachment.
Signs of Secure Attachment Style
In adult relationships, attachment styles are prominent — even if we don’t realize it. It can be easy to point out all the insecure, avoidant, and fearful avoidant people we encounter. It can also be easy to identify these traits in ourselves.
However, if we want to develop a secure attachment style or partner securely attached people , we need to know how to recognize the signs. Securely attached individuals share many traits.
1. They have healthy, long-term relationships
These are often the people who give us relationship goals.
Secure attachment can help couples stay together, work through their differences, and trust in the relationship through life’s ups and downs.
While becoming securely attached does not guarantee every relationship will be happy, healthy, or long-term, many securely attached individuals are able to cultivate this kind of relationship.
2. They tend to be well-liked by colleagues
The secure attachment can also make people friendly, outgoing, and generally likeable. Because the feel secure, they often tend to be comfortable with themselves and others.
3. They have healthy self-esteem
Attachment issues have a strong correlation with self-worth. Someone with a background of emotional and physical safety feels both loved and worthy of love. Their self-worth and esteem are strong.
4. They have strong social support
Because of their healthy self-esteem, ability to have long-term relationships, and friendliness, they often have many friends and supportive family members.
5. They are confident
The childhood sense of security can translate into adult confidence.
The self-worth reflects outward, and since they’ve had the freedom to be themselves and to explore, they tend to be comfortable with other people’s authenticity as well as their own.
6. They trust others
Securely attached individuals also see themselves and the world around them in a positive light.
They tend to trust that things will work out and can have a balanced perspective and emotional experience when things go wrong.
It may seem like optimism, but for the safely rooted individual, it likely feels more like realism based on their life experience.
7. They are comfortable with physical and emotional intimacy
A securely attached person can share their physical selves but also venture into the vulnerability of sharing their feelings.
They’ve learned that trusted relationships become stronger by sharing, and they do so with the belief that it’s safe to discuss their thoughts and feelings.
They also tend to be good at listening without judgment and holding that same safe space for others.
8. Securely attached people are self-aware
People raised this way normally have a clear sense of what they want and need.
They’re able to look at situations objectively and be accountable for their choices.
They aren’t looking for outside wisdom to make their decisions because they know and trust themselves.
9. They are able to communicate their needs effectively
Because secure individuals were able to get their early childhood needs met, they believe in a world where they can ask for what they want and get it — and often do.
They acknowledge their wants and needs and strongly advocate for themselves.
Securely attached people don’t need maladaptive strategies such as guilt, flattery, or any other manipulation to satisfy their needs.
And they are much more likely to ask without game playing for whatever it is they desire.
10. They are comfortable being alone and can enjoy their own company
People with a secure attachment style are capable of having romantic relationships that are trusting, stable, and allow for space and freedom to be alone and explore individual interests.
When single, these people are happy to spend time alone and cultivate their own interests.
They do not see being alone as a problem in need of a solution because they have self-worth, confidence, and social support to meet their other relational needs while they are capable of meeting other needs themselves.
To have healthy, lasting relationships, we need to develop secure attachment. It’s a skill set that will serve us well at work, home, and in romantic relationships.
Recommended read: Healthy Relationships: 5 Powerful Habits of Truly Happy Couples
How to Develop a Secure Attachment Style
Developing a secure attachment style as an adult may be challenging but not impossible.
In fact, anyone can learn it. To become securely attached within relationships, it’s important to establish the following.
Safety in relationships is about much more than a lack of physical or emotional abuse.
To be safe in a relationship, we have to trust that our partner returns our feelings, supports our growth, and will listen to our wants and needs.
We can speak up for ourselves without feeling judged, shamed, or ridiculed. Even arguments are respectful and take our feelings into account.
This sense of safety can help us securely attach to a partner.
We’re able to allow space within the relationship without feeling insecure that our partner is leaving us or no longer shares our feelings.
There’s no jealousy, manipulation, or suspicion within a safe and secure relationship.
For someone who didn’t develop a secure attachment style in childhood, feeling safe in relationships may be difficult at first.
Seeing a therapist can help us work through childhood issues as well as any early trauma. We can also work on building stronger self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance.
Learning to love and accept ourselves will help us feel more safety in our interpersonal relationships.
It’s also important to work on not reacting to triggers within the relationship.
Rather than assuming the worst, it’s important to self-soothe and to learn what triggers are caused by present circumstances versus past experience.
Being able to tell the difference can help us respond rather than react to partners, friends, and even family members.
Most relationships have an element of connection, but this isn’t referring to chemistry or sexual connectivity.
Rather, it’s important for us to be able to openly share our emotional experiences with our partners and to have them do the same.
To develop more secure attachment, we need to speak up for ourselves, state our needs, and expect that those needs will be met within a healthy relationship.
Part of connecting with someone else requires that we stop doing the things that have pushed partners away.
Being critical, reactive, and taking everything personally won’t help us develop security. Instead, we need to learn to trust, respond, compromise, and communicate with others.
While therapy can help us build these skills, practice will make progress.
It’s important to work on connection within a safe, healthy relationship. Preferably with a securely attached partner or a partner who is working to become more securely attached.
Recommended read: Anxious Attachment Style: Your Guide to Understand It and Fix It
A healthy relationship will offer comfort and support to us when we feel upset. There’s no judgment, criticism, blaming or shaming.
It seems simple, but individuals with an insecure attachment style, can become comfortable in relationships that mimic their childhood experiences.
For instance, if we felt often ignored in childhood, we may allow relationships that neglect our needs and well-being.
People with a secure attachment don’t tend to stay in a relationship with a partner who treats them poorly.
Their self-esteem is too high, and they don’t feel comfortable in situations where someone doesn’t respect them.
While this may seem like Relationship 101, the truth is that insecurely attached, avoidant, and fearful avoidant attachment types don’t look at the world the same way that securely attached individuals do.
This is one reason why securely attached individuals often experience healthier relationships.
To develop a secure attachment through comfort, we need to practice being open and vulnerable to partners and giving them the opportunity to support and comfort us.
Often, adults who don’t have a secure attachment style will be hyper-independent and unable or unwilling to ask for help. This is often due to trust issues or fear of rejection.
Learning to open up and ask for what we need could be key to developing trust and assurance in our relationships.
Practicing assertiveness, vulnerability, and emotional intimacy could help us learn to comfort and be comforted within a safe, secure, healthy relationship paradigm.
In securely attached relationships, partners openly appreciate one another.
While compliments can be a part of that appreciation, it’s also showing happiness and gratitude that we are in the relationship.
If this is another area that seems strange to mention in terms of relationships, it’s important to note that not everyone in a relationship shows appreciation for it.
Why is this important when developing secure attachment? The primary reason is that it encourages a sense of safety and trust in the relationship.
Unfortunately, people without secure attachment often look for opportunities to be critical within their relationships.
They can withdraw and distance themselves from partners and often look for flaws to justify their behavior.
This behavior can self-sabotage relationships whereas open appreciation within relationships can encourage emotional intimacy, trust, and a feeling of security.
Another important quality of healthy relationships is the ability to support one another. This isn’t referring to financial support.
Rather, support within a secure relationship looks like encouraging a partner to explore their interests, follow their dreams, and reach their goals. In supportive relationships, both partners enthusiastically root for the other person’s growth.
Often, insecure and fearful partners don’t do this.
Jealousy, suspicion, fear, and manipulation are more likely reactions to a partner pursuing goals outside the relationship.
Part of developing a secure romantic attachment could be focusing on becoming a more supportive partner.
Allowing space and freedom within the relationship for a partner to cultivate a hobby or pursue personal growth could enrich and strengthen the relationship.
Communication is perhaps the most important element of learning to become securely attached in romantic relationships.
With every single skill we’ve discussed, communication is the primary underlying need.
Assertiveness, vulnerability, and effective conflict resolution all stand out as skill sets that could improve any relationship in our lives.
Yet, it’s important to note that to speak up for ourselves, it’s important that we first know ourselves.
The first person we may need to stand up to and be honest with is ourselves.
We’ll need to learn to address negative self-talk, the underlying thoughts that encourage us to cling to a distrustful and self-protective worldview.
We may need to accept our role in the choices we’ve made and practice self-compassion while learning new behaviors.
We may need to forgive ourselves, forgive others, and learn to identify and share our original attachment style.
In established relationships, it’s important to talk about the ways in which we’re working on becoming more securely attached.
Something as simple as asking for support can be challenging for someone without a secure background. However, it’s an important aspect of making the change in attachment style.
Opening this dialogue can also help us understand our partners’ attachment style and how they respond within relationships.
It’s possible to make a relationship thrive with two people who have an insecure attachment style but only if both people are working on attachment issues to become secure.
Secure Attachment Style: Final Thoughts
Attachment issues don’t just impact our childhood.
We experience echoes of that early bonding throughout our lifespan, often unconsciously.
It changes the way we see the world. And if we don’t like what we’re seeing, we have the opportunity to choose a new perspective.
Forming secure attachments may seem like an uphill battle. But the view from the more stable, secure ground will be worth it.
Suddenly, our childhood issues become small, and we realize that we have the power to cultivate strong, healthy, intimate adult relationships.