Attachment in Adult Relationships

Attachment in Adult Relationships

Research demonstrates attachment experiences that were established in childhood can influence later relationships and interactions throughout life. These patterns can impact romantic partners, friends, and how you are as a parent. The good news is that attachment styles are not fixed and can be healed with positive experiences and relationships and therapeutic interventions. 

Here is a quick review of each attachment style and the ways each attachment style might look like in adult relationships: 

Secure Attachment: 

According to the Attachment Project, parents who create a secure attachment make their children feel emotionally/physically safe, seen and known, comforted, soothed, and reassured, valued, and supported (enough to explore the limits of who they are). Parents of securely attached children provide this level of safety and security with as much consistency and predictability as possible. 

As adults, children with secure attachment usually have: 

  • Better relationships and report better quality of relationships (co-workers, colleagues, friends, family, children)
  • Less addiction
  • Better able to regulate their emotions
  • Better self-worth and life skills
  • More committed in relationships
  • Good coping skills
  • More open to experiences and relationships with others
  • Able to effectively communicate wants/needs to others
  • Have good insight into how they are doing as a person in relationships and the world around them
  • Able to give/receive emotional support and comfort from others
  • Have more goal-oriented behavior and know how to achieve those goals
  • Have a strong commitment to community service and making a difference 

Insecure Attachment

Studies have shown that parents tend to parent the way they were parented. When insecure attachment develops in children, it is usually because the caregiver was unable to meet their safety and security needs for some reason, or the parents’ ability to meet these needs was interrupted (e.g., death, divorce, sickness, etc.). Insecure attachment styles include: Anxious Attachment, Avoidant Attachment and Disorganized Attachment. 

Axnious  Attachment

Children develop an anxious attachment style when they have parents who were supportive and loving, and other times harsh and unkind. Children may be overly dependent on their caregiver and display clingy behavior. Children may worry about being abandoned and seek constant reassurance, often exhibiting anxiety even when the caregiver is nearby. 

As adults, children who have an anxious attachment style: 

  • Don’t think they are worthy of love or being loved
  • Believe others are untrustworthy and disloyal 
  • Believe others are disloyal, and may say things like, “I love others way more than they have ever loved me.”
  • Pervasive worry that something bad will happen in their relationship-their partner or a friend will leave despite having no evidence that this will happen, and assume everyone will eventually leave anyway
  • They’ll often complain about lack of commitment from their partners or friends
  • Easily hurt 
  • Easily angry
  • Obsessed with relationships
  • They get mad if you don’t text back quick enough
  • Almost always in a crisis-and they build more chaos in their life because essentially they create it
  • Poor conflict resolution skills
  • Need frequent reassurance they’re loved, and then unable to retain the reassurance for very long

Avoidant Attachment

People who develop this type of attachment style, usually had parents who encouraged a premature sense of independence in their children. Parents were usually unable or unwilling to offer physical or emotional comfort. Parents usually ignore their child’s cries of distress or discomfort. When the child does display emotion, the parent would usually shame the child but trying to get them to “stop it” or “suck it up.” Children may tend to avoid or disregard their caregiver. They may appear independent and distance and not require much support or comfort. They have created this emotional distance due to the unresponsiveness from their caregivers based on very early experiences. 

As adults, children who have an avoidant attachment style believe: 

  • Parents were consistently distant parents (e.g., “Children need to figure things out themselves” to depend on others is “shameful” and asking for help is somehow a “weakness”)
  • They avoid their feelings, or may not be aware of them because they fear being rejected and abandoned
  • Aloof or hard to figure out
  • Believe their needs are a burden to others 
  • Develop overgeneralizations of others (people are selfish, all women hate men)
  • Focus on their achievements and careers
  • Avoid conflict, nice but distant
  • Very annoyed with other people’s dependency needs
  • Assume relationships will fail
  • Often expect to be hurt
  • Avoid places that will activate their vulnerability
  • They are unaware of the suffering of their partners-they can have the same care and passion toward others but come across as cold and uncaring
  • Seek to have a lot of power and control in a relationship

Disorganized Attachment

People who have this type of attachment have a severe case of preoccupied and a severe case of avoidant. Parents are usually very frightening and could have been abusive. Parents more than likely had unresolved trauma or loss. Parents are scary to their children because they have provided inconsistent caregiving. Children usually display confusion or fear in the presence of their caregivers due to a lack of emotional support and comfort. 

As adults, children who have a disorganized attachment style: 

  • Negative image of themselves and others
  • Believe they are not worthy of loved
  • Overwhelmed with their feelings
  • Have no self-soothing skills
  • Diminished ability to identify feelings of others 
  • Higher levels of negative emotions that upset them
  • When they’re upset, they stay upset for a very long time and they don’t have ways to sooth themselves and by the time they work through it but then the next wave of something big happens and they go through this cycle again 
  • They’re in a constant state of fear because they have no way to cope with it
  • More likely to have addictive behaviors

While this is not a comprehensive list of all the behaviors that are seen in each attachment style, it is a starting point to gain insight into how your attachment style may be influencing your relationship with others. We know that sometimes people just react to situations without even really being sure why they had such a strong trigger to a situation or event. When this becomes a pattern, we recommend getting help from a trained counselor to help you uncover these patterns and create healthier and more meaningful relationships. 

At Peace Family Counseling, LLC, in Greenwood, IN, our counselors are trained in trauma and attachment. We’d love to help you get to the root of your trauma symptoms so you can feel better and restore peace to your life and relationship. Contact us today: 317-881-0409 or

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