A secure attachment style is formed when our needs are met in a consistent and appropriate way. It means our carers were able to provide what we needed, when we needed it, most of the time. As babies, our carers were able to work out why we were crying through either trial and error, or learning to read our different cries. It also meant that our carers were able to soothe and comfort us when we were frightened or distressed and gave us reassurance. This results in us learning to trust our carers, forming a close safe bond, and knowing that they are the safe people to go to when we need reassurance. Being regulated and reassured by our carers allows us to build trust and confidence that no matter what happens, things will generally be ok. This allows us to feel safe to explore our environment, looking at things with curiosity and fascination instead of with fear and distrust. It also teaches us how to read people emotionally and we are able to form good friendships and relationships, as we have a good capacity for empathy. We also learn how to have good, firm boundaries as we have a good sense of our self-worth as well as valuing others feelings.
To form a secure attachment, we don’t need these things to be in place and happen all of the time, just most of the time. We can deal with our carers getting it wrong or having a bad day as they have taught us resilience, so repair can happen very quickly.
How do you know if someone has a secure attachment?
How we can recognise this in others is through behaviours and a felt sense. People with secure attachments will have a settled nervous system most of the time, so we feel comfortable being around them.
- They are relatively comfortable in their own skin and are not overly dependant upon others approval.
- They are easy to read as they have no need to hide their emotions and they are very in tune with the emotions they are feeling.
- They will have a wide window of tolerance, so less likely to shy away from potentially tricky situations, they will also recover quite quickly from adverse events.
- They often make good long-term friendships, as they are very empathic and value these friendships highly.
- They are unlikely to be needy or demand too much from others, as they are comfortable meeting their own needs.
- They often don’t need to assert their boundaries, as others are able to sense them without them having to be stated.
- They are unlikely to have unpredictable or extreme mood swings as they are emotionally intelligent and able to regulate themselves.
This is a very clean explanation of a secure attachment, as with all the other attachment styles we are rarely just one type. As we progress through life we have a lot of different people who will respond differently to us and we will experience different kinds of relationships. Each parent may have different responses and their own attachment styles, grandparents may be involved, as will teachers, group leaders and our friends.
We usually have one dominant attachment style with others, which kicks in depending on what’s happening at the time, especially if we are upset or frightened. Our attachment styles will be activated when we are involved in relationships, often the first thing we notice is a change of behaviour. If we can see a pattern always occurring, then that’s a big indicator that it’s an attachment part showing up. Because our attachment system is hardwired into our survival limbic system, we act first, then wonder afterwards what just happened and often feel baffled as to why we did that. When we look at things through the lens of our attachment styles, then this can give us a big clue as to what’s going on and allow us to observe these behaviours.
Each attachment style has its own advantages and disadvantages and should not be viewed in hierarchal way, it has very little to do with love and should not be measured in this way. People with a secure attachment style are unlikely to be big risk takers or thrill seekers. Their levels of empathy would make certain professions very difficult, as they would be able to see everyone’s point of view. You probably won’t see people with secure attachments working as prosecuting lawyers, high court judges, stocks and shares traders, or even surgeons.
The more we understand about how we function, the more curious and open to observing ourselves we can become. We can hopefully be less critical about what we do and why we do things. Understanding can help us accept who we are and help us be open to growth and development, it can help us break cycles of behaviour and let us have more control over our reactions and behaviours.