How Do You Model Secure Attachment In Your Relationships?

Attachment is one of the buzzwords of the decade, and for a good reason. In simple terms, attachment refers to the emotional bond between two people, and it also entails how safe and understood we feel in the world.

Research shows that attachment bonds first form in infancy. At this time, children rely on their caregivers to meet their every need. If the caregiver responds accurately, the child develops a sense of security. But if the caregiver consistently does not react appropriately- or if they become overly anxious or dismissive during such interactions- the child might internalize difficulties with emotional regulation and fears of abandonment.

People with secure attachment generally have good self-esteem and can equally balance relying on others while understanding boundaries. That said, even if you’ve struggled with attachment in the past, there are still steps you can take to improve the quality of your relationships. Let’s get into what you need to know.

Active Listening

People with insecure attachment styles may struggle to truly connect with other people. Instead, they might be defensive, anxious, withdrawn, or dismissive of other people’s needs. Often, these reactions aren’t intentional- it’s simply how some people have learned to survive in the world.

But any good relationship requires good listening, and listening is a skill that you can master with the right effort and practice. When you actively listen to someone, you give them your undivided attention without any distractions or judgment. You are mindful and engaged in the conversation.

When you succeed in this skill, you convey a sense of warmth and connection. Therefore, active listening helps other people feel understood and validated.

Here are some tips to consider:

Look at the other person: Ban distractions during the conversation and try to make eye contact instead. You don’t have to stare at the other person directly, but you should pay close attention while speaking.

Avoid any interrupting: Let them finish what they have to say. Be mindful of the tendency to “rehearse” how you respond while someone else speaks. Instead, shift your focus onto simply absorbing their thoughts.

Reflect on what they say: Instead of jumping to advice or feedback, try paraphrasing their thoughts. What I heard was that you feel…

Ask clarifying questions: If you don’t understand something, ask directly. May I ask you what you meant by…

Be mindful of your potential judgments: We all have biases and automatic thoughts that arise. But try to avoid acting on these impulses and shift away from assuming that you know what someone else feels or needs in a given situation.

Validating Emotions

Identifying emotions is an essential skill for increasing how you understand yourself and your relationships. With that in mind, validating someone else’s experience can provide powerful opportunities for connection.

Unfortunately, we often dismiss emotions unknowingly. For example, if someone is sad, you might try to distract them with a funny joke or a sage piece of advice like, try to focus on what you feel grateful for! Or, if someone feels scared, you may try to empower them by insisting that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Even if they come from a place of good intentions, these statements can dismiss someone else’s feelings. In some cases, they may result in the other person feeling worse!

Instead, the next time someone comes to you sharing how they feel, try validating the emotion. There are several ways to practice this skill, but the overarching goal is to convey that you identify and acknowledge someone else’s feelings as significant.

Validating statements sound like:

  • That sounds like it must be really hard.
  • It makes total sense that you feel…
  • I am here for you no matter what.
  • I’m so sorry you’re feeling ____. How can I support you right now?
  • It’s okay that you feel____.

Try to avoid offering unsolicited advice or sharing your own anecdotal experiences. While these actions might be helpful, many people want to feel supported when they open up about their feelings.

They don’t necessarily want to feel pressured to do something about it. Similarly, even if you had a similar experience, it doesn’t mean your feelings were the same as theirs.

Setting Boundaries

People with secure attachment recognize the benefits of limits with other people. As a result, they respect themselves and typically avoid relationships where someone might take advantage of them.

However, boundaries don’t come naturally to many people. Many times, we feel anxious, guilty, or upset about needing to set these limits. We sometimes assume other people should inherently know what we need.

Instead, consider your boundaries as a gift you give both yourself and others. You’re creating guidelines for an optimal relationship- you’re setting the stage for how you treat others and want to be treated.

Some common boundaries include:

Emotional boundaries: These are your limits around your personal feelings and needs. These boundaries include how you separate from other people, assume personal responsibility, and avoid taking on the feelings, actions, or expectations of someone else.

Physical boundaries: These are your limits around your physical body, privacy, and physical space. These boundaries may include your expectations around touch and people interacting with your personal belongings.

Financial boundaries: These are your limits around your money. These boundaries may include how you give, share, discuss, or set rules related to your finances.

Understanding and Taking Care of Your Own Needs

How well do you meet your needs? Do you assume full responsibility for maintaining your self-care…or do you expect others to satisfy that requirement?

People with secure attachment recognize that their well-being is an inside job. While it’s important to have a healthy support system, they know that it’s their obligation to ensure they advocate for their wants and needs.

Spend some time reflecting on your history with taking care of your needs. Do you tend to let other people make decisions for you? Do you ever act like you don’t care what happens only to find you resent the outcome after? Do you consistently feel like there isn’t any time left for yourself?

If so, you might need to spend more time focusing on taking care of yourself. It’s okay to start small. For example, if you haven’t had any time to yourself, commit to carving out twenty minutes a week to spend alone. You can increase this amount gradually over time.

Or, the next time your partner asks where you want to go for dinner, commit to actually providing a genuine answer! You might be surprised at how quickly you learn to break old patterns of indecisiveness or passivity.

Finally, don’t assume someone can read your mind! Even if it’s a good friend, spouse, or child, that doesn’t mean they inherently understand your needs at that moment. Having this expectation tends to lead to frustration and disappointment. It’s much better to practice asserting how you feel rather than assuming others automatically know.

Practice Challenging Your Thoughts

Insecure attachment has roots in early childhood development. Unfortunately, you may carry distorted messages from your caregivers well into your adult life.

For instance, if a caregiver often dismissed your emotions, you might find it hard to believe that others care about how you feel. Therefore, you might present as guarded or even disinterested in relationships.

Or, if you endured physical abuse, you may assume that someone you’re always at risk of getting hurt. Therefore, you may try to be extra agreeable in your relationships and avoid confrontation at all costs.

These patterns, of course, can stunt your happiness and affect the quality of your relationships. You may unknowingly replicate old habits and feel stuck despite your best efforts to grow and change.

That’s why it’s essential to continually challenge old belief systems. For example, just because one person dismisses your emotions doesn’t mean nobody cares about your feelings. In addition, a history of abuse beyond your control shouldn’t mean that you lose all rights to stand up for yourself.

Furthermore, try to avoid falling into all-or-nothing beliefs. Very few things in life are entirely black-or-white. In other words, just because one person did bad things doesn’t mean all people will react that way.

If you struggle to affirm yourself, practice considering your situation as if you were interacting with a good friend. How would you respond to their beliefs? How would you try to show them that they can try new ways of thinking and behaving?

Why It’s Important to Model Secure Attachment

We are social creatures, and healthy relationships provide invaluable support and connection. Learning how to model secure attachment can help strengthen your self-esteem and reinforce the kinds of interpersonal dynamics you want in your life.

That said, implementing these skills can be challenging, particularly if you’ve experienced trauma, abuse, or other relationship problems. Subsequently, depression and anxiety can also create barriers to creating healthy connections.

Therapy can offer support and guidance in creating a more secure attachment style. We can work on crucial skills related to trust, empathy, boundaries, and healthy communication. Contact me today to learn more and get started!

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Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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