How to Develop a Secure Attachment in Adulthood

If you have an insecure attachment style, you'll often suffer and experience problems in your relationships. If you want to know how to develop a secure attachment, read on.
How to Develop a Secure Attachment in Adulthood
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

We all have a distinct type of attachment style; a way in which we emotionally bond with others. This style was determined by the relationship we established with our main figures in childhood. It was also formed, to a lesser extent, by later experiences with friends, colleagues, and romantic partners.

If your bonding style isn’t the most appropriate, you might find you’ve suffered a great deal throughout your life. Therefore, we want to show you how to develop a secure attachment in adulthood.

In reality, it’s no easy task to change an attachment style that you developed in your early years. To do it, you’ll need to undertake important personal work that, at times, will be uncomfortable. However, qualifying your attitudes so you can learn to relate to others based on trust can lead to a huge and positive change.

Hands of a couple holding
Securely attached people bond with others in healthy ways.

Attachment styles

Your attachment style began to form during your early years, based on the attention and care you received. There are four types of attachment.

  • Secure Attachment. It forms when caregivers are sensitive and responsive to a child’s needs and they respond consistently. Therefore, the child grows up feeling loved and safe, is able to trust others, and has a good self-concept.
  • Avoidant attachment. In this case, the caregivers ignore the needs and calls of the baby and don’t care about or respond to their emotions. As the child grows up, they learn to suppress what they feel and become excessively independent. They avoid, at all costs, feeling vulnerable and can’t trust others. In fact, they’re unable to be emotionally intimate.
  • Ambivalent attachment. It’s created when caregivers are inconsistent and unpredictable. For example, sometimes they respond quickly and lovingly to the child’s demands, and at other times they’re hostile and disinterested. This creates feelings of anxiety and insecurity that lead the child to feel unworthy and to constantly have to assure themselves of the affection and presence of those they love.
  • Disorganized attachment. This kind is formed when the child experiences abuse, serious neglect, or abandonment. They present a mixture of ambivalent and avoidant symptoms. For instance, they might exhibit explosive behaviors, and show great frustration. In addition, they might reject (even though they long for) emotional bonds.

How to develop a secure attachment in adulthood

The ideal, in terms of personal happiness and success in relationships, is to have a secure attachment. Any of the other types will bring you complications, pain, and frustration. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to adjust your attachment style, even as an adult.

Starting from an avoidant attachment

If you have an avoidant attachment style, you have issues with learning to trust and allowing yourself to create emotional intimacy. Thus, you should address the following issues:

  • Understand where your avoidant attachment comes from and start to heal your childhood wounds. You must accept that, at a certain point, you started to feel rejected or belittled, and that’s why you now flee from intimacy. At the same time, you should be aware that this kind of rejection doesn’t have to happen again and that, if it does, you’re now an adult and can face it. You need to recognize that the walls you’ve built aren’t protecting you, they’re keeping you isolated.
  • You must stop practicing avoidance. Indeed, this mechanism doesn’t allow you to move forward. Think about what situations you avoid. For example, arguments involving feelings or commitment in relationships. Allow yourself to face them. You must take these steps, even if they remove you from your comfort zone.
  • Acquire a tool to help you manage the insecurity you feel about bonding emotionally with others. Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple technique that allows you to return to your center and make better decisions when the urge to flee arises.
  • Learn to express your emotions without hiding or showing vulnerability. Your partner needs to know what you feel and what you want and need. Be assertive and start opening yourself up to them.

Starting from an ambivalent attachment

If you have an ambivalent attachment style, your challenge is to overcome emotional dependency and stop desperately seeking love and the presence of other people.

  • Understand that your attitudes stem from a wounded child who felt confused, lacking in affection, and not unconditionally accepted. That’s why today, you always feel insecure and you need to constantly make sure that others love you and are there for you. Remember that you’re now an adult and you don’t depend on anyone to survive.
  • You must strengthen your self-esteem and begin to give yourself what you long for from others. That’s unconditional love, acceptance, comfort, and support. Prioritize yourself, take care of yourself and your needs, and improve your relationship with yourself.
  • Pay attention to your internal dialogue and the inferences you make from the behavior of others. With this attachment style, it’s common to be hyper-alert to the behavior of others and worry and blame yourself for any change in them. So, instead of thinking that it’s your fault, that you’ve done something wrong, and that they’ll stop loving you, try to adjust your thoughts and not get carried away.
  • Try and expand your social circle to include nurturing and enriching people. After all, you need and enjoy emotional intimacy, so having meaningful relationships is important to you. Increasing your circle of friends will help you not to load all your expectations and responsibility onto your partner.

Starting from a disorganized attachment

If you have a disorganized attachment style, you’ll probably have to work on both of the previous aspects to develop a secure attachment. That said, since this attachment style arises from a complex trauma experienced in childhood, it’s best to seek professional support.

Healing the past, learning to manage anxiety triggers, and healthy bonding can be especially difficult in this case. Consequently, psychotherapy will be of great help.

Woman doing therapy
Psychological therapy helps to work through the traumas experienced in childhood.

Developing a secure attachment is possible

Without a doubt, working on attachment is a really complex issue. That’s because it’s been so ingrained in you for so long. However, you can overcome an insecure attachment style and move toward greater security, trust, and well-being.

Obviously, change will take time. Furthermore, you’ll find those old tendencies will occasionally resurface. Nevertheless, with awareness, perseverance, and personal work, you can increase both your well-being and the quality of your relationships.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bowlby, J., & Ainsworth, M. (2013). The origins of attachment theory. Attachment theory: Social, developmental, and clinical perspectives45(28), 759-775.
  • Fraley, R. C., & Roisman, G. I. (2019). The development of adult attachment styles: Four lessons. Current opinion in psychology25, 26-30.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.