A secure attachment pattern is widely considered to be one of the hallmarks of emotional health and development. Primarily formed within the bond between an individual and their early caregivers, attachment is shaped by the quality of the attunement, reliability, and responsiveness present during the first months and years of life. For those fortunate to have had early experiences that included adequate levels of physically and emotionally attuned care, a secure pattern of attachment is typical. This security facilitates a sense of safety and resilience in later relationships with a healthy balance of closeness and separation. Individuals who develop an insecure pattern due to a less optimal early environment tend to experience relationships that are marked with abandonment fears, as well as general dissatisfaction and instability. This happens because early attachment needs for connection and comfort that go unmet and are frequently transferred to adult relationships, most notably onto romantic partners.

It is important to acknowledge, while patterns of attachment are most malleable in infancy, they can evolve over the lifespan in response to new experiences and important relationships. This means secure attachment qualities can develop, despite adverse early experiences, to form what is referred to what is referred to as earned secure attachment pattern in adulthood.

The following are important considerations for moving from insecure to earned secure attachment:
1. Identify and explore your attachment pattern. With insight into how early experiences with caregivers shaped the ways you engage in current relationships it is easier to notice any insecure patterns within them. One common one is frequent and persistent anxiety around too much or too little closeness or separation in relationships. Any recurring themes in patterns of communication, as well as behavioral and emotional responses are important to pay attention to.

2. Tend to your nervous system. Emotional regulation is key to a strong sense of self and critical to healthy relationships. There are a variety of ways to decrease physiological and emotional responses to stress, anxiety, and intense emotions. While focusing on slowing the breath is the best tool you have for calming your nervous system, a quick google search will provide countless other options to choose from. Practice a few of these daily to increase your overall sense of calm and wellbeing. You may find you are less reactive to stressful situations over time.

3. Express yourself. Practice communicating openly and honestly in your relationships. Work toward identifying and sharing your feelings and needs, as well as identifying and implementing boundaries in your relationships. Encouraging others in your life to share in these ways as well will help you build and strengthen mutually healthy relationships.

4. Seek Support. Consider working with a supportive therapist to help you explore your attachment history and experiences of trauma, as well as to develop healthier communication and other relational patterns.

5. Build healthy relationships. Engage in relationships that feel supportive, nurturing, and respectful to your feelings and boundaries. Trust, empathy, and mutual respect are essential components of strong and healthy relationships. The more you recognize these characteristics, the more likely you are to seek them out.

6. Be patient and kind to yourself. Working toward changing relational patterns takes dedication and persistence. Remember that your current patterns have developed throughout your entire life to this point, and it will take time to shift toward healthier ones. Acknowledge small changes along the way.

Developing earned secure attachment patterns requires self-awareness, diligence, and a willingness to explore and challenge yourself. With support and commitment to change, it is possible to cultivate stronger, healthier, and more fulfilling relationships in your life.

Written By:
Carrie Niles, MA, LPCC
Individual and Family Therapist
Lakes Center for Youth & Families