Coping With an Insecure Attachment Style

Do You Have An Insecure Attachment Style? What It Means + How To Heal

Coping With an Insecure Attachment Style

Having a fear of abandonment and struggling to ask for help might seem two isolated character traits, but they actually share one common thread. Most people who identify with these behaviors have the same attachment style, characterized by insecurity, called insecure attachment style.

What is insecure attachment?

An insecure attachment style is a way of approaching relationships that's characterized by fear or uncertainty. One of several attachment styles, this attachment style can make it difficult for people to make deep emotional and intimate connections with a partner, Chamin Ajjan, M.S., LCSW, A-CBT, tells mbg.

«An individual who has an insecure attachment to another typically feels anxious about the relationship and whether or not their own needs or desires can be met by the other person,» holistic psychologist Nicole Lippman-Barile, Ph.D., says. «They may expect the person to abandon them or hurt them in some way.»

Insecure attachment is an umbrella term to describe all attachment styles that are not secure attachment style. The three types of insecure attachment are anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant, which are also known in children as ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.

Types of insecure attachment:

  1. Anxious attachment:Also called anxious-ambivalent attachment style, this is characterized by anxiety and insecurity in relationships. «These people can be preoccupied with worries and are clingy and in need of validation and reassurance,» Ajjan says.
  2. Avoidant attachment: Also called anxious-avoidant attachment style, it is characterized by dismissive behaviors. These people avoid emotional closeness and intimacy and often struggle to ask for help.


  3. Fearful-avoidant attachment: Also called disorganized attachment style, this one is characterized by unpredictable and volatile behaviors.

    According to Ajjan, these people don't have strong coping strategies and struggle dealing with relationship problems. 

What causes insecure attachment?

Attachment styles are developed in childhood and formed by caregiver-child relationships. «It's essentially how we were emotionally cared for—or not cared for—as children growing up,» Lippman-Barile explains. People with insecure attachment styles generally lacked consistency, reliability, support, and safety during childhood, Ajjan says.

(Here's our full guide to attachment theory and how each attachment style is formed.)

  • Clingy to caregiver
  • Actively avoiding caregiver
  • Frequently crying inconsolably
  • Hiding or repressing emotions
  • Becoming upset or panicked when a parent leaves them
  • Appearing independent while secretly wanting attention
  • Fear of exploration, especially in a new situation
  • Poor emotional regulation
  • Low sense of self-worth and self-esteem
  • Struggles asking for help
  • Pushes others away
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Overly dependent or clingy toward a partner
  • Overly independent or resistant to intimacy with partner
  • Constantly seeking reassurance in a relationship
  • Jealous and threatened by a partner's independence

How insecure attachment affects adulthood. 

«Typically, these attachment styles (if unresolved) play out in adulthood,» Lippman-Barile says. «Being insecure as a child looks similar to being insecure as an adult in the sense that the anxiety and fear of being abandoned is still present.

» For example, a child who is clingy toward their caregiver will generally be clingy toward a romantic partner later in life. wise, a child who learns they can't rely on their caregiver may end up never willing to rely on a partner as an adult.

Regardless of the partner's behavior, a person with insecure attachment may never feel secure in the relationship, she explains. Along with interfering with romantic relationships, Ajjan says an insecure attachment can also lead to poor emotional regulation, depression, anxiety, and low self-worth.

How to fix insecure attachment. 

In order to heal, it's important to understand your own attachment style. It may be helpful to take a test to determine what type of insecure attachment style you have, whether anxious, avoidant, or fearful-avoidant.

«Knowing why it may have developed, and how, is helpful so you can start to work on these feelings and behaviors in your relationship,» Lippman-Barile says. Ajjan adds that therapy can help people unpack these underlying factors, learn new coping skills, become more mindful of their thoughts, feelings, and needs.

Investing in healthy and supportive relationships is also important, whether it's with friends, loved ones, mentors, or a partner.

«Working with your partner and communicating this is helpful as well so that you both are mindful of these patterns and have a strategy to work on them,» Lippman-Barile says.

To develop a secure relationship, she says both partners will need to trust each other and feel secure as independent individuals.

Though people can't change the way they were raised, it's possible to develop healthy coping strategies in adulthood. Being aware of a person's attachment styles may be the first step in that process.


Insecure Attachment Style: Types, Causes & Ways to Overcome

Coping With an Insecure Attachment Style

Most people who have an interest in psychology have heard of the benefits of attachment. Developed by psychologist John Bowlby, attachment theory states that young children develop attachments to at least one adult who provides comfort when they are afraid, vulnerable, or distressed.

Mary Ainsworth later outlined different types of attachment, one of which is the insecure attachment style. Under this umbrella, there are three specific insecure attachment patterns, leading problems in adult relationships. 

What is an insecure attachment style?

The insecure attachment style describes a pattern of interaction in relationships in which a person displays fear or uncertainty. It is in contrast to a secure attachment, in which a person feels safe and comforted around their partner during times of distress.

People who receive consistent care and nurturing as children become secure in their attachments.

On the other hand, individuals who show insecure attachment patterns have high levels of anxiety in their relationships and do not feel confident that their partners will meet their needs.

This can lead to relationship conflict as well as difficulty forming close relationships with others. It is not surprising that a review of the research shows that individuals who are insecure in relationships have lower levels of satisfaction with their relationships.

Related Reading: Signs Indicating Insecurity in Relationships

3 Types of insecure attachment

An insecure attachment is an umbrella term that describes people who approach relationships with fear and distress, but there are several types of insecure attachment patterns:

1. Insecure-ambivalent attachment

In people with this attachment style, insecure behavior manifests itself in the form of clinginess. 

Someone who is insecure-ambivalent will need frequent reassurance from their partner, and they may be fearful of being abandoned. This attachment style is also sometimes called insecure resistant attachment.

Related Reading: Ambivalent Attachment in Adults

2. Insecure-avoidant attachment

This attachment style is associated with dismissive behavior in relationships.

A person with this type of attachment will avoid intimacy and have difficulty developing close relationships with a partner or being vulnerable with a partner.

Related Reading: Avoidant Attachment Style — Definition, Types & Treatment

3. Insecure disorganized attachment

Insecure behavior with this type of attachment style can be somewhat erratic.

Someone with an insecure disorganized attachment has difficulty coping with distress and will have no real pattern associated with attachment.

The three above types of insecurities can lead to difficulty in romantic relationships and intimate connections with others.

Related Reading: Types of Anxious Attachment and How to Overcome Them

What causes insecure attachment?

Insecure attachment theory provides guidelines for causes of insecurity in relationships, and many of these causes have been tested by researchers.

For example, it has been theorized that attachment begins in childhood, and the following factors can be causes of insecure attachment:

1. Abuse and Neglect

According to a review of various studies, being abused or neglected as a child is linked to developing an insecure attachment.

In fact, adults who suffered from child abuse or neglect are 3.76 times more ly to struggle with insecure romantic attachments.

Also Try: Childhood Emotional Neglect Test

2. Trauma and Loss

Experts have also reported that unresolved loss and trauma can lead to insecure attachment styles in adults in addition to child abuse and neglect.

Losing a parent, being separated from parents, or exposure to traumatic events such as war, gang violence, or domestic violence can therefore lead to an insecure attachment style. Physical and sexual abuse are also forms of trauma.

There can be several explanations for what causes insecurity in relationships, but it mostly comes down to experiences in past relationships, primarily those with a parent or primary caretaker.

A secure attachment develops if caregivers were warm, nurturing, and consistently available and responsive to a child’s needs. Insecure attachments develop when this type of care is lacking, whether because of abuse, violence, neglect, or emotional absence.

Related Reading: How Childhood Trauma Affects Relationships?

3. Lack of responsive parenting

Children whose parents or primary caregivers were not consistently responsive or supportive can cause their children to develop insecure attachments, eventually leading to attachment issues in adulthood.

For example, if a parent is physically absent from a child’s life or emotionally unavailable, the child may develop insecure attachment patterns. A parent who struggles with mental illness or addiction may be minimally responsive and increase the risk of insecure attachment in children.

Similarly, if a parent sometimes responds to a child’s needs or tends to the child during times of distress, but other times does not, the child may be unsure if their needs will be met, leading to insecure attachment.

Also Try: Attachment Style Quiz

Examples of Insecure Attachment Behaviors

Insecure attachments can lead to specific behaviors as a person attempts to cope with anxiety and uncertainty regarding intimate connections with others.

These behaviors may look different based upon a person’s age. For example, insecure child behavior can present a little differently than insecure attachment in adults.

Some behavioral signs of insecure attachment in children are as follows:

  • Actively avoiding parents/caregivers
  • Frequent bouts of inconsolable crying
  • Being overly clingy with parents/caregivers
  • Masking emotions
  • Panicking when separated from a parent
  • Refusing to explore the environment
  • Difficulty regulating own emotions
  • Coming across as extremely independent when in reality child craves attention

Related Reading: How Childhood Trauma and Attachment Styles Show Up In Marriage?

Adults with insecure attachments tend to show some of the following behaviors in their relationships:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Refusing to ask for help
  • Pushing away others, instead of allowing them to get close
  • Being fearful of abandonment
  • Presenting as especially clingy in romantic relationships or friendships
  • Frequently seeking reassurance that everything is okay within a relationship
  • Extreme independence
  • Hesitant to become intimate with other people
  • Jealousy in relationships 

Insecure behavior in an adult relationship occurs because the person is fearful that their partner will leave them or fail to meet their needs.

For someone with an ambivalent attachment, this leads to anxiety and clinginess to prevent abandonment.

In contrast, someone with an avoidant attachment style will refrain from becoming close to others, so they are not disappointed or hurt if they are abandoned, or their partner does not meet their needs.

Related Reading: How Attachment Styles Affect Relationships

How insecure attachment affects relationships in adulthood

Unfortunately, it is known that an insecure attachment style that develops during childhood can have lasting effects, carrying over into adult relationships.

When someone has an insecure-ambivalent attachment, for example, they may be so anxious in relationships that they want to spend all of their time with their partner, never allowing the partner to have alone time.

This clingy behavior can be a turnoff and push away potential partners. On the other hand, a person who has an insecure-avoidant attachment pattern may struggle with loneliness because of fear of being close to others.

They may also come across as cold and uninterested in their relationships, which can lead to conflict.

Research has looked at the specific effects of insecure attachments on adult relationships. One study found that individuals who had avoidant or resistant attachment styles tended to use immature defense mechanisms when interacting with others.

For example, they may be prone to repressing their emotions or projecting their own fears and anxieties onto others. This is understandably problematic for relationships, but it is an attempt to protect themselves from being hurt by people with an insecure attachment style.

Other research suggests that insecure attachment relationships can lead to the following behaviors:

  • When a person with an avoidant attachment style is distressed, they ly will not seek comfort from their partner, nor will they offer comfort to a distressed partner. 
  • People with an insecure avoidant attachment style tend to seek less physical contact and to distance themselves from their partners when separating, such as before the partner leaves for a trip at the airport.
  • Someone with an insecure attachment style may become highly distressed when discussing a conflict with their partner, and they tend to view their relationship negatively during times of stress.
  • A person with an avoidant attachment style will disengage from their partners during times of stress. In contrast, someone with an ambivalent or resistant attachment style will tend to behave dysfunctionally, damaging the relationship.

In summary, insecure attachment styles in relationships can make it difficult for people to manage conflict, connect with their partners, and feel safe within a relationship.

Furthermore, the attachment patterns that begin in childhood tend to continue into adulthood if nothing is done to change them.

For example, a child who learns he or she cannot rely on parents to provide emotional support and protection will be resistant to rely on a romantic partner, so they do not turn to their partner for help and connection, which is generally expected within a relationship.

Outside of causing damage to relationships, insecure attachment styles in adults can lead to low self-worth, depression, and other mental health issues.

Related Reading: How to Build a Secure Attachment With Your Spouse

3 Ways to overcome insecure attachment style

An insecure attachment style typically has roots in childhood, but there are ways to overcome issues that arise from insecure attachment relationships:

1. Communication

If you are in a committed relationship, you must communicate with your partner about any insecurities you have and where they may have developed.

Being honest with your partner about your needs can help the two of you to get on the same page, so they understand where your behavior originates.

Related Reading: Attachment Based Communication Tips for Partners

2. Individual Therapy

Ultimately, you may need to seek therapy to help you develop ways of coping with distress and relationship problems.

It also helps to learn ways to overcome childhood issues that may have created an insecure attachment style.

Related Reading: How Starting Individual Therapy Can Help Your Relationship

3. Couples Therapy

You and your significant other might benefit from attending therapy together, so they can learn more about your situation and learn how to be supportive of you as you navigate attachment issues. 

Related Reading: ABT Therapy: Attachment-Based Therapy


An insecure attachment style can be ambivalent/resistant, avoidant, or disorganized.

These styles have roots in childhood when people either develop secure attachments with their caregivers or learn that they cannot rely upon caretakers to provide

Consistent, adequate support and safety, leading to insecure attachments. These attachment patterns from childhood tend to follow people to adulthood, but there are ways to cope so that the insecure attachment style does not harm your relationships.


Avoidant Attachment: Understanding Insecure Avoidant Attachment

Coping With an Insecure Attachment Style
Anxiety, Attachment, Self Development By Joyce Catlett, M.A.

The way that parents interact with their infant during the first few months of its life largely determines the type of attachment it will form with them.

The relationship between the primary caregiver and the baby can create a secure, anxious, disorganized or avoidant attachment style that will form a blueprint for relationships throughout the baby’s life.

When parents are sensitively attuned to their baby, a secure attachment is ly to develop. Being securely attached to a parent or primary caregiver bestows numerous benefits on children that usually last a lifetime.

  Securely attached children are better able to regulate their emotions, feel more confident in exploring their environment, and tend to be more empathic and caring than those who are insecurely attached.

In contrast, when parents are largely mis-attuned, distant, or intrusive, they cause their children considerable distress.

Children adapt to this rejecting environment by building defensive attachment strategies in an attempt to feel safe, to modulate or tone down intense emotional states, and to relieve frustration and pain.

They form one of three types of insecure attachment patterns to their parent, (an avoidant, ambivalent/anxious, or disorganized/fearful).  In this article, we describe avoidant attachment patterns, which have been identified as representing approximately 30% of the general population.

What is Avoidant Attachment? 

Parents of children with an avoidant attachment tend to be emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to them a good deal of the time. They disregard or ignore their children’s needs, and can be especially rejecting when their child is hurt or sick. These parents also discourage crying and encourage premature independence in their children.

In response, the avoidant attached child learns early in life to suppress the natural desire to seek out a parent for comfort when frightened, distressed, or in pain.

Attachment researcher Jude Cassidy describes how these children cope: “During many frustrating and painful interactions with rejecting attachment figures, they have learned that acknowledging and displaying distress leads to rejection or punishment.

” By not crying or outwardly expressing their feelings, they are often able to partially gratify at least one of their attachment needs, that of remaining physically close to a parent.

Children identified as having an avoidant attachment with a parent tend to disconnect from their bodily needs. Some of these children learn to rely heavily on self-soothing, self-nurturing behaviors.

They develop a pseudo-independent orientation to life and maintain the illusion that they can take complete care of themselves.

As a result, they have little desire or motivation to seek out other people for help or support.

What behaviors are associated with avoidant attachment in children?

Even as toddlers, many avoidant children have already become self-contained, precocious “little adults.” As noted, the main defensive attachment strategy employed by children with avoidant attachment is to never show outwardly a desire for closeness, warmth, affection, or love.

However, on a physiological level, when their heart rates and galvanic skin responses are measured during experimental separation experiences, they show as strong a reaction and as much anxiety as other children.

Avoidantly attached children tend to seek proximity, trying to be near their attachment figure, while not directly interacting or relating to them.

In one such experiment, the “Strange Situation” procedure, attachment theorist Mary Ainsworth, observed the responses of 1-year olds during separation and reunion experiences.

  The avoidant infants “avoided or actively resisted having contact with their mother” when their mother returned to the room.

According to Dan Siegel, when parents are distant or removed, even very young children “intuitively pick up the feeling that their parents have no intention of getting to know them, which leaves them with a deep sense of emptiness.”

How does an avoidant attachment develop in children?

Why do some parents, who consciously want the best for their child, find it difficult to remain attuned or to be emotionally close to their children? Attachment researchers have identified several reasons for parents’ difficulties in this area.

In studying a number of emotionally distant mothers, the researchers found that the mothers’ lack of response to their infant was at least partly due to their lack of knowledge about “how to support others.

”  Some of the mothers lacked empathy, whereas others had failed to develop a sense of closeness and commitment that appear to be crucial factors in “motivating caregiving behavior.

” They also reported a childhood “history of negative attachment experiences with rejecting caregivers and role models,” which explained why they had “a more limited repertoire of caregiving strategies at their disposal.”

In other words, the mothers in this study were treating their infants much as they had been treated as children, and their babies were now forming an avoidant attachment to them.

Interestingly, a recent meta-review of attachment research has provided other “evidence for the intergenerational transmission of attachment style;” it has also demonstrated important links between parents’ avoidant styles of caregiving and their children’s avoidant attachment, especially in older children and adolescents.

The Avoidant/Dismissive Attachment Style in Adults   

People who formed an avoidant attachment to their parent or parents while growing up have what is referred to as a dismissive attachment in adulthood.

Because they learned as infants to disconnect from their bodily needs and minimize the importance of emotions, they often steer clear of emotional closeness in romantic relationships.

Dismissively attached adults will often seek out relationships and enjoy spending time with their partner, but they may become uncomfortable when relationships get too close. They may perceive their partners as “wanting too much” or being clinging when their partner’s express a desire to be more emotionally close.

When faced with threats of separation or loss, many dismissive men and women are able to focus their attention on other issues and goals. Others tend to withdraw and attempt to cope with the threat on their own.

  They deny their vulnerability and use repression to manage emotions that are aroused in situations that activate their attachment needs.

When they do seek support from a partner during a crisis, they are ly to use indirect strategies such as hinting, complaining, and sulking.

According to attachment researchers, Fraley and Brumbaugh, many dismissing adults use “pre-emptive” strategies to deactivate the attachment system, for example, they may choose not to get involved in a close relationship for fear of rejection; they may avert their gaze from unpleasant sights, or they may “tune out” a conversation related to attachment issues. A second strategy is to suppress memories of negative attachment events, such as a breakup. In fact, adults categorized as dismissing report very few memories of their early relationship with parents. Others may describe their childhood as happy and their parents as loving, but are unable to give specific examples to support these positive evaluations.

People with this type of attachment style tend to be overly focused on themselves and their own creature comforts, and largely disregard the feelings and interests of other people. They also find it difficult to disclose their thoughts and feelings to their partner. Their typical response to an argument, conflict, and other stressful situation is to become distant and aloof.

Dismissive adults often have an overly positive view of themselves and a negative, cynical attitude toward other people. In many cases, this high self-esteem is defensive and protects a fragile self that is highly vulnerable to slights, rejections, and other narcissistic wounds.

It exists usually as a compensation for low self-esteem and feelings of self-hatred.

According to adult attachment experts Phil Shaver and Mario Mikulincer, avoidant partners often react angrily to perceived slights or other threats to their self-esteem, for example, whenever the other person fails to support or affirm their inflated self-image.

How are patterns of attachment supported by the critical inner voice?

The kinds of negative, distrustful, and hostile attitudes toward other people that are associated with a dismissing attachment style are compounded by destructive thoughts or critical inner voices.

 The overly positive and seemingly friendly views of self that are experienced by many avoidant individuals are also promoted by the inner voice and are often a cover-up for vicious, self-degrading thoughts.

 Both kinds of voices, toward the self and others, are part of an internal working model,  a person’s earliest attachments, which act as a guideline for how to relate to a romantic partner.

The critical inner voice can be thought of as the language of these internal working models; the voice acts as a negative filter through which the people look at themselves, their partner and relationships in general.

Although many critical inner voices are only partly conscious, they have the power to shape the ways that people respond to each other in their closest, most intimate relationships. Individuals identified as having a dismissing attachment style have reported experiencing such thoughts as:

“You don’t need anyone.”

“Don’t get too involved. You’ll just be disappointed.”

“Men won’t commit to a relationship.”

“Women will try to trap you.”

 “Why does he/she demand so much from you?”

“You’ve got to put up with a lot to stay involved with a man/woman.”

“There are other, more important things in life than romance.”

“You’ve got to protect yourself.  You’re going to get hurt in this relationship.”

“You’re too good for him/her.”

How can we transform a dismissing/avoidant attachment into a secure one?

Fortunatelywe don’t have to remain trapped within the confines of the defensive attachment strategies we developed early in life.

  There are many experiences throughout life that provide opportunities for personal growth and change.

 Although your patterns of attachment were formed in infancy and persist throughout your life, it is possible to develop an “Earned Secure Attachment”at any age.

One essential way to do this is by making sense of your story. According to Dr.

Dan Siegel, attachment research demonstrates that “the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences.

” The key to “making sense” of your life experiences is to write a coherent narrative, which helps you understand how your childhood experiences are still affecting you in your life today. In PsychAlive’s online course with Drs.

Dan Siegel and Lisa Firestone, they walk you through the process of creating a coherent narrative to help you to build healthier, more secure attachments and strengthen your own personal sense of emotional resilience. When you create a coherent narrative, you actually rewire your brain to cultivate more security within yourself and your relationships.

In a previous article, I noted that being involved in a long-term relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style is one pathway toward change. The other way is through therapy; the therapeutic alliance or relationship offers a safe haven in which to explore our attachment history and gain a new perspective on ourselves, others and relationships in general.

To learn more about how to write a coherent narrative and develop an earned secure attachment, join Dr. Lisa Firestone and Dr. Daniel Siegel for the online course “Making Sense of Your Life: Understanding Your Past to Liberate Your Present and Empower Your Future.”

adult attachment, anxious, attachment, attachment style, child attachment, fear of intimacy, relationship attachment


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