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Patterns of Insecurity

If a person develops an insecure style of attachment, it can take one of three forms: avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized.

  • Avoidant. People who develop an avoidant attachment style often have a dismissive attitude, shun intimacy, and have difficulties reaching for others in times of need.

  • Ambivalent. People with an ambivalent attachment pattern are often anxious and preoccupied. They can be viewed by others as "clingy" or "needy" because they require constant validation and reassurance.

  • Disorganized. People with a disorganized attachment style typically experience childhood trauma or extreme inconsistency growing up. Disorganized attachment is not a mixture of avoidant and ambivalent attachments; rather, a person has no real coping strategies and is unable to deal with the world.

Signs of Insecure Attachment

People with an insecure attachment style generally have trouble connecting emotionally. They can be aggressive or unpredictable toward their loved ones—a behavior rooted in the lack of consistent love and affection they experienced in childhood.

Each form of insecure attachment is characterized by its own behaviors and patterns of behavior in relationships.

Avoidant Attachment

People with an avoidant attachment style tend to:

  • Fear and avoid commitment

  • Avoid making friends

  • Struggle to accept criticism

  • Don't like to show emotions

  • Accuse their partners of being to clingy or needy

  • Dislike touch or physical closeness

  • Prefer to be alone when they are stressed or upset

  • Don't invest in relationships and prefer to remain independent

Ambivalent Attachment

Signs of an ambivalent attachment style include:

  • Craving close relationships but feeling unable to trust others

  • Becoming overly focused on romantic partners and losing sight of another important aspect of life

  • Problems recognizing and honouring boundaries

  • Feeling jealous or anxious when separated from your partner

  • Using guilt trips or other manipulative tactics to control your partner

  • Seek constant reassurance from your partner

Disorganized Attachment

Signs of disorganized attachment include:

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Frequent outbursts and erratic behaviors stemming from the inability to clearly see and understand the world around them or properly process the behavior of others or relationships

  • Poor self-image and self-hatred

  • The perpetuation of trauma in relationships, especially related to parenthood (for example, struggling to form healthy attachments with their own children, which perpetuates a cycle of dysfunctional attachment)

Overcoming an Insecure Attachment Style

No one has to be a victim of their past. No one is unable to change or grow. A person who does not have a naturally secure style can work on "earned security," which means developing a secure style through relationships and interactions in adulthood. For example, security can flourish in the context of friendships and psychotherapy.

When a person undertakes intensive psychotherapy, a therapist helps them identify past traumas, recognize where their behaviors are anchored and move forward in life with a more positive self-view and world-view. This work will ultimately help the individual learn to form healthy, secure attachments.

The strategy for creating an earned secure adult attachment style involves reconciling childhood experiences and making sense of the impact a person's past has on their present and future.

  • Understand your childhood experiences: To earn security, you must develop a coherent narrative about what happened to you as a child. You also need to explore the impact it has had on the decisions you might have unconsciously made about how to survive in the world. You must think critically about how your upbringing affected your attachment style and work on breaking those patterns.

  • Consider the impact on current relationships: For example, couples sometimes get into repetitive patterns of interactions. They might reflect and not know how things "go so out of hand." While they might not be aware of it, their childhood memories and experiences of insecurity can influence feelings and interactions in their adult relationships.

  • Look at what drives relationship problems: Even though the couple is fighting about a "surface issue," insecure attachment triggers might be underlying the interaction. The emotional arousal and reactivity levels can seem disproportionate to the situation. If it's severe, the couple's therapist (particularly if they are attachment oriented) might need to facilitate change in the safe environment of the therapist’s office.

  • Keep working to build new habits: Earned security can take time. Getting married and becoming a parent are critical elements to shifting one's attachment style. A good marital relationship can be important in supporting your sense of security.

A healthy relationship is one where partners are mutually caring, supportive, respectful, and loving toward one another. For people with insecure attachment patterns, these characteristics can help shift them from feeling negative about themselves.

Establishing earned security after a lifetime of insecure attachment patterns can be tough. While it requires risk-taking and vulnerability, it can also bring you the kind of love and security you have always wanted. An earned, secure attachment style can forever change your life and your relationships for the better.

The brain will begin to change as a person changes their behavioral patterns and beliefs, thanks to neuroplasticity. An insecurely attached person can build the security they need by integrating new, supportive, loving experiences into their lives.

With time, they can trust that a reliable and consistent person (such as a partner) will be there for them in times of distress (the opposite of what they had as a child).


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