Want to know how to change your attachment style?
Then, you’re in the right place. Today, you’ll learn the steps you need to take to experience a more secure attachment style.
Want to learn more? Read on!
Want to know what your attachment style is? Take the quiz!
What are attachment styles?
First, let’s define what attachment styles are and how they may create conflict in relationships.
The four attachment styles
There are four attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment.
These attachment styles can be defined like this:
- Anxious attachment style: You want a lot of closeness with your partner.
- Avoidant attachment style: You want more space in your relationships.
- Disorganized or fearful-avoidant attachment style: You want and fear closeness.
- Secure attachment style: You’re comfortable with closeness and separateness in relationships.
Everyone has an attachment style. And if yours is an insecure attachment style (anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment), you might slip into toxic love patterns that sabotage your relationships. In this article, we’ll look at how you can break those patterns and move towards a secure attachment style.
A brief overview of attachment theory
Attachment theory was first defined by John Bowlby and later developed by Mary Ainsworth, who studied infant-parent separations to understand attachment styles.
That’s why, if you’re wondering why you might have a certain attachment style, you should look back at your childhood. You see, attachment styles are developed early on, as well as over time based on your adult relationships. They are based on many factors, including your attachment to your parents as a child.
For instance, one study found that people whose parents had divorced when they were children were more likely to develop an insecure attachment style. Another study indicates that those who recalled more conflict between their parents in their childhood tend to have more anxious and avoidant attachment styles.
Also, insecure partners often attract other insecure partners. So, anxiously attached individuals end up in relationships with avoidant partners and avoidant partners with anxiously attached partners. This is called the “anxious-avoidant trap.”
In other words, if you have an insecure attachment style, you risk ending up in a vicious circle of attracting other insecure partners, who confirm your beliefs. As a result, you continue to attract insecure partners.
But can you change your attachment style and break this cycle?
Yes, you can. That’s what we’ll look at next.
Is it possible for attachment styles to change?
The good news is:
Research shows that you can develop a secure attachment style over time.
That’s because your attachment style can evolve; it’s not “fixed.” For instance, if you have an insecure attachment style, your secure partner can help you become more secure and vice versa.
However, it’s a process that includes a lot of self-growth, such as reframing your own identity.
Why do you need to reframe your identity?
Your attachment style is deep-rooted in your genetics, your limbic brain (“survival brain”), your autonomic nervous system, and neurotransmitters that create a euphoric attachment to inconsistent partners, just like a drug addiction.
To change your attachment style, you need to shift your identity. Right now, you’re identified with your needs, your behaviors, and your external circumstance as being definitive of who and what you are.
For instance, you might think that because you’re anxiously attached, you worry a lot. And that a secure person wouldn’t worry.
But that’s not true. The difference between anxious and secure individuals is how they approach their worry. An anxiously attached person will feel like worry is part of their identity, whereas a securely attached person will be unidentified with the same worry.
A secure person might say, “Let’s do some reality checking before we go making assumptions that might lead us down an unnecessarily painful path, or make us feel rotten about ourselves, when it may have nothing to do with us. And if it has nothing to do with us, it doesn’t mean we have no control, or agency, or that we are not special, and deserving of love. It just means it’s their problem, and they have to work it out.”
Put differently, a secure person has a better grasp of their emotional boundaries. They observe their worry and make decisions about it, instead of feeling like worry is a part of them.
Why do you need to work on your attachment style on a body level?
You can also decide to work through your attachment style more directly and effectively with body-based interventions. Here, you witness, observe, become tolerant of it, accept it, and engage your body.
I teach my own intervention methodology, The MacWilliam Method, which is based on the idea that self-mastery evolves out of a continuous loop between conscious awareness and creative expression.
We use three practical tools to maintain the momentum and heal attachment wounds:
- Cognitive reframing
- Body activation
- Arts-based experientials
Through tutorials and psycho-spiritual activities, we reframe experiences on a cognitive level to rewrite painful narratives into positive statements of self-confidence.
On a basic level, that’s how you move towards a more secure attachment style. But what does it mean in practice? That’s what we’ll look at next.
Want to know what your attachment style is? Take the quiz!
How do you fix unhealthy attachment styles?
Now you know what you need to do to shift your attachment style. But what steps do you need to take to fix your unhealthy attachment style? Let’s find out.
The four healing phases
Before we take a closer look at the steps to achieve secure attachment, as well as each attachment style, let’s look at the overarching healing phases for attachment styles in relationships. These healing phases are the steps you need to work through to move towards a healthy attachment style.
The four different phases are:
In the first phase, the wandering phase, you’re led by compulsion. You don’t reflect on how you feel; instead, you act on your impulses. Because you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, you may think “I know what it looks like when I see it.”
Unfortunately, your relationships end up being a repetition of what you’ve experienced before. You cling to fantasies about what your relationship or partner could be, versus what they really are.
A few signs that you’re in the Wandering phase include:
- You feel out of control of your emotions in relationships. You act or respond impulsively, which you regret later on.
- You try to figure out your partner’s intentions and motivations. You would rather talk it through with your friends than with your partner because you fear they will leave you if you do or it will start a fight.
- You think it’s rare to find a real connection, so you’re afraid you’ll never feel it again if you leave your partner.
In this phase, you are not yet able or willing to change your circumstances. It’s hard to grow in this phase! You will need to go through some difficult lessons before you’re willing to step into the next phase. However, by acknowledging that you need to grow, you’re in a better place than many others; some people will remain in this phase their whole lives.
To grow in this phase and move on to the next, work on expanding your consciousness and building a vocabulary for feeling states and coping skills.
In the Exploring phase, you are starting to be aware of your “neediness” and you tend to try and tone it down so that you won’t get hurt again. Maybe you’ve started reading some personal development books and blogs and watching YouTube videos to learn more about why your relationships are so difficult. You’re considering or you’ve sought counseling.
You’re starting to understand where your insecurities come from, but you might still be attracted to the same kinds of partners as before. You know what dating red flags are, but you also sometimes ignore them. However, you’ve stopped wasting as much time on unhealthy partners.
In the Discovery phase, much of the knowledge and research you have done starts to synthesize. You manage to create spaciousness around your feelings and the yearnings aren’t so poignant anymore. You are more willing to sit with uncomfortable feelings.
Some signs that you’re in the Discovering phase include…
- You find it easier to be alone with yourself, going out with friends, and exploring activities you enjoy
- You seek the deeper meaning of your relationships in the context of what you’re meant to learn and accomplish in your lifetime
- You’re less and less attracted to the same kind of partners
- Sometimes, you feel like you’re doing well, but then the feelings of loss and grief bubble up and you feel you haven’t grown as much as you thought you had
You have done plenty of research, but you are now searching for a way to connect with your own body and delve into a deeper sense of spirituality. Things from the past may resurface and you struggle with feelings of failure.
In this phase, your growth revolves around the recognition that old stuff comes up because you are now strong enough to process it with a new level of sophistication, one that ushers in the spiritual maturity you seek.
In this phase, you have come to a place of understanding and forgiveness towards yourself and your previous partners. You feel fully sovereign mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
You might want to reconnect with people on a more authentic and intimate level. You give and receive love more openly along with increasing self-love and acceptance.
Some signs that you’re in this phase include:
- You have a deeper sense of meaning and spirituality than ever before and you feel as if you’re connected to something greater than yourself
- You feel comfortable acknowledging and expressing your needs and desires and no longer put energy and attention into people, places and things that don’t serve you
- Maybe you still feel a bit sentimental when you think of past relationships, but you are able to see how those relationships served you by leading you to this place in your life
- You feel confident in yourself and in your ability to establish and maintain your boundaries in relationships; you don’t feel crushed if someone isn’t “that into you” and you don’t feel like you owe others something if you’re not that into them
- You believe there are plenty of opportunities for love
Growth in the Loving phase means that you implement the skills you have learned; including prioritizing self-care, maintaining a spiritual practice, creating genuine and authentic space for a respectful and healthy partner in your life, letting go of judgment, and assuming the authority you have to be a co-creator in your relationships.
Those are the four healing phases. Now, you might fall into one or more phases simultaneously, and there can be some overlap. Additionally, you might experience these phases more like an upwards and expanding spiral, rather than a linear trajectory. With each circle around the center topic of love and relationships, you will gain a wider and wider perspective on your growth in relationships.
If you want more, here are some of my top YouTube videos on the topic:
Now that we’ve looked at the different healing steps, let’s take a look at how to overcome insecure attachment on a more general level.
How do you heal insecure attachment?
Healing insecure attachment, like anything else, is threefold. These levels address the mind, body, and spirit.
On the level of the mind, we must reframe negative beliefs about the self and the world in order to open up new possibilities in life, so as to avoid trauma reenactments through what’s called projected introjects. In other words we stop unconsciously recreating painful scenarios, because that’s what feels familiar.
On the level of the body, we must work with loosening and integrating energy that has constellated around negative limiting beliefs and patterns of energetic armoring and constriction in the nervous system and limbic brain.
This requires experiential interventions–and in my practice I use creative arts interventions, which tap into your creative, life force energy. This is vital to accessing the “real you” and healing a fundamental self wound. It also promotes bilateral integration of the brain, and creates new sensorial experiences that can carve healthier synaptic grooves in your limbic brain, while stimulating the good-feeling and socially active vagus nerve.
Sitting in a room talking for an hour a week, is not going to get it–it doesn’t matter how good the therapeutic rapport might be.
Working with the mind and body requires psychoeducation and emotional skill-building that will allow you to develop a more robust emotional vocabulary. A bigger emotional vocabulary allows you to name, claim and organize your energetic and emotional states more effectively. That means you finally understand what your needs and your boundaries are, and can articulate them. This reduces your anxiety internally, but also in relationships, because you can finally let your partner know what’s really going on with you, and they can try to meet those needs effectively. It also reduces the likelihood of getting triggered in stressful situations.
On the level of spirit, you must strive for post-traumatic growth. Which means adopting an entirely new belief system and identity that promotes increased organization, mental and emotional coherence, and a deeper experience of personal meaning and connection to the collective consciousness. This is also supported by accessing creative life force energy, which is an integrative and holistic influence in both your inner and outer worlds.
In other words, you learn how to orient yourself in relationship to your inner wisdom and spiritual compass, rather than obsessively preoccupying yourself with attempting to control everything and everyone outside of yourself, in order to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
Working with self parts, such as with the wounded inner child or the inner critic, is a particularly effective method of accomplishing this goal, and blends well with creative arts approaches.
You learn to view your emotions as energy moving through your body, offering you important information about your proximity to your own spirit. Once you learn to act on that information more objectively, life satisfaction improves exponentially.
Next, how do you heal each attachment style? That’s what we’ll look at now.
Want to know what your attachment style is? Take the quiz!
How do you fix your anxious attachment style?
If you’re anxiously attached (or, as I like to say, an Open Heart), you want attention and affection. You frequently need reassurance and you’re constantly seeking approval. You also rely on your partner to be the primary source of your emotional wellbeing.
In your relationships, you might feel that you’re walking on eggshells, which only leads to unhealthy people-pleasing. You suppress your emotions to avoid conflict, but instead, you become increasingly anxious, depressed, obsessed, and clingy. Often, you feel jealous and possessive of your partner.
Just like with all attachment styles, you can break your anxious attachment style. For instance, that’s what my student Stacy did:
But how do you change your attachment style from anxious to secure? Because you’re overwhelmed by emotion, you avoid anxiety by searching for temporary relief. This reinforces the fortress that anxiety erects around deeper feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth, so that these uncomfortable feelings are never fully realized or addressed.
The solution is to assume more personal authority, while rejecting what isn’t your responsibility so that you become less dependent on others, increase your personal agency, and establish boundaries.
How do you fix your avoidant attachment style?
Avoidantly attached individuals typically enter relationships quickly, but after 3-6 months, they start to focus on the flaws in them. You might feel a fear of commitment and you’re sensitive to simple requests because you feel that your partner demands too much of you.
You typically fall for people who are “challenging” and make you work for it. Deep down, you feel you have to work for love and approval. And if someone is too nice, you see them as boring and question if you can make them happy.
You’ve essentially learned that to connect means self-abandonment, failure, or criticism. So you reject connection — but connection is a basic human need. As a result, you fall into a painful cycle of disconnecting from the source that could give you the connection you yearn for. The problem is that you over-control your emotions to avoid anxiety.
The answer? To improve your relationships, open up to partnership and allow your partner to participate, contribute to, and enhance your experiences.
This way, you become less susceptible to the influence of your partner’s feelings and you allow yourself to access a full emotional range. Your boundaries become bendable, rather than breakable.
How do you fix your disorganized attachment style?
Disorganized attachment is a combination of anxious and avoidant attachment. You have both high anxiety and high avoidance in relationships. And as someone with a disorganized attachment style, you’re usually desirous of love and affection, while at the same time terribly afraid of it.
Typically, disorganized individuals have experienced dissociative behaviors in their childhood. These can stem from a parent’s unresolved trauma or loss.
You might see your partner as a place of safety one moment and a villain the next. You go from hot to cold.
In relationships, you might cling to your partner, then suddenly withdraw. Or you keep scores, act hostile, manipulate your partner emotionally, or act in a people-pleasing manner. Maybe you say you don’t want to commit, but act as a committed partner or you focus on the flaws of your partner. You idealize past partners and you might be hypo or hyper-sexual.
Can you change your disorganized attachment style, though? Yes! That’s what Joe did:
The challenge for you is to stop living in survival mode and start trusting and welcoming a relative state of stasis and equilibrium. And the solution is to start by practicing self compassion and establishing supportive non-romantic relationships (such as with a therapist). You’ll become less sensitive and susceptible to your own inner critic (which can be very harsh) and be more trusting and able to relax and enjoy the emotional stability in your relationships.
Over to you!
There you have it! Now you know how to change your attachment style.
What it comes down to is detaching yourself from the identity you’ve created around your attachment style, recognizing that it’s a process, and consistently expanding your consciousness.
Now, I’d love to know:
What’s your #1 question about attachment styles?
Let me know in the comments below!
Want to know what your attachment style is? Take the quiz!