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The Role of Attachment Theory in Building Secure Relationships

From the foundation of our earliest relationships to our interactions later in life, Attachment Theory provides a significant framework for understanding how individuals relate to one another. In this article, we will delve into the origins of Attachment Theory, its role in shaping relationships, and how understanding this theory can help individuals form secure, fulfilling connections.

Understanding Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory, proposed by British psychiatrist John Bowlby, suggests that a child's relationship with their primary caregivers shapes their future relationships and affects their mental and emotional health. Bowlby proposed that a secure attachment early in life leads to a sense of safety and the ability to form trusting relationships, while insecure attachment can lead to difficulties in relationships and emotional regulation (Bowlby, 1969).

Types of Attachment Styles

The types of attachment styles initially identified by Bowlby and later expanded upon by Mary Ainsworth and colleagues are: Secure, Anxious-Ambivalent, Avoidant, and Disorganized.

  • Secure Attachment: Individuals who have a secure attachment style are comfortable with intimacy and trust, and are generally satisfied with their relationships.

  • Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment: Individuals with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style often fear rejection or abandonment but are also uncomfortable being too close to others.

  • Avoidant Attachment: Those with an avoidant attachment style may seem independent and may deny the importance of close relationships, often avoiding intimacy with others.

  • Disorganized Attachment: Individuals with a disorganized attachment style often display a lack of clear attachment behavior, showing a mix of avoidant and resistant behavior, often a result of traumatic experiences (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Main & Solomon, 1986.

The Impact of Attachment Styles on Relationships

Research suggests that these early attachment styles can significantly impact the nature of individuals' relationships throughout their lives, affecting their choices of partners, their behavior within relationships, and their responses to the dissolution of relationships (Fraley & Shaver, 2000; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007).

Individuals with secure attachment styles are likely to form more stable and satisfying relationships, while those with insecure attachment styles may struggle with issues related to intimacy, trust, and communication.

Cultivating Secure Attachments

Even if an individual's early life experiences have led to an insecure attachment style, it's important to note that attachment styles are not set in stone. Research in neuroplasticity and adult attachment demonstrates that it's possible to 'earn' secure attachment in adulthood by creating consistent, reliable, and emotionally attuned relationships (Siegel, 2007; Bowlby, 1979).

Here are some strategies that can help cultivate secure attachment:

Understanding your Attachment Style The first step is understanding your attachment style and how it impacts your relationships. Various self-report measures, such as the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) or the Experiences in Close Relationships (ECR) scale, can provide insight into your attachment patterns (Main et al., 1985; Brennan et al., 1998).

Seek Therapy Therapy, particularly forms that focus on relational dynamics such as psychodynamic therapy or embodied relational gestalt, can help individuals explore and modify their attachment patterns (Greenberg et al., 1993; Levy et al., 2006).

Practice Emotional Openness Creating secure attachments often requires a willingness to be emotionally open, express needs, and allow others to support you.

Cultivate Mindfulness and Self-Compassion Mindfulness and self-compassion can help individuals stay present with their feelings, reduce self-criticism, and promote healthier relationship patterns (Germer & Neff, 2013).

Understanding attachment theory and its role in shaping our relationships is crucial for cultivating healthy, secure connections. With awareness and concerted effort, individuals can work towards developing more secure attachment patterns, leading to more satisfying and fulfilling relationships.

Reach out today for a free consultation with a therapist in Boulder, CO.


  1. Bowlby,J. (1969). Attachment and loss v. 3 (Vol. 1). Random House.

  2. Ainsworth,M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  3. Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1986). Discovery of an insecure-disorganized/disoriented attachment pattern. In T. B. Brazelton & M. Yogman (Eds.), Affective development in infancy (pp. 95-124). Westport, CT: Ablex.

  4. Fraley, R. C., & Shaver, P. R. (2000). Adult romantic attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions. Review of general psychology, 4(2), 132-154.

  5. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Boosting attachment security to promote mental health, prosocial values, and inter-group tolerance. Psychological inquiry, 18(3), 139-156.

  6. Siegel, D. J. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. WW Norton & Company.

  7. Bowlby, J. (1979). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. Routledge.

  8. Main, M., Kaplan, N., & Cassidy, J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood, and adulthood: A move to the level of representation. Monographs of the society for research in child development, 50(1-2), 66-104.

  9. Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrative overview. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46-76). Guilford Press.

  10. Greenberg, L. S., Rice, L. N., & Elliott, R. (1993). Facilitating emotional change: The moment-by-moment process. Guilford Press.

  11. Levy, K. N., Meehan, K. B., Kelly, K. M., Reynoso, J. S., Weber, M., Clarkin, J. F., & Kernberg, O. F. (2006). Change in attachment patterns and reflective function in a randomized control trial of transference-focused psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 74(6), 1027.

  12. Germer, C. K., & Neff, K. D. (2013). Self-compassion in clinical practice. Journal of clinical psychology, 69(8), 856-867.

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