How to Change Your Attachment Style
Updated: Apr 6
Caitlin Weese LCSW-C, 200 RYT
If you read last week's blog, I talked about attachment styles. We went over everything from what they are, how they form and the different types. You might be wondering, "okay great but what do I do if I have an insecure attachment style?" If so, this is for you!
Our Attachment Styles Can Change
Remember that crappy school photo from 6th grade you were stuck with despite hating it? Cue the jungle background your Mom always picked for photo day. Was this just me?! Our attachment styles are not like that. Regardless of how we feel about our attachment style, we can change it through focused effort and work with a professional.
Now on to the details...
1. Examine & Challenge Your Beliefs About Relationships
Assuming you’ve already identified your attachment style, see this article if you haven’t, the first step is begin to identify your beliefs about relationships. Attachment styles are sort of like a lens through which we view ourselves and the world. As a result we have a lot of beliefs tied to this attachment style that we project onto our relationships. If you have an anxious attachment style they could be beliefs like, “everyone leaves in relationships,” or “I’m an undesirable partner.” If you struggle with avoidant attachment they might be something like “relying on others leads to hurt,” or “relationships mean a loss of self.” These beliefs often come from our experiences growing up, so analyzing relationships we saw growing up can be the key. Here are some things to ask yourself: What did I learn that love meant growing up? How did people communicate their love for one another? How do I see this mirrored in my relationships today? From there, it's up to us to work to challenge those beliefs. We can do this by asking ourselves some simple questions when those beliefs arise. You can learn more about questioning thoughts here. Look below for some ideas.
What is the evidence to suggest this belief is true? False?
What evidence might I not be looking at?
How might someone else interpret this?
Where did I get this belief from? Do I agree with it?
Did I get this belief from a reliable source?
2. Reparent Yourself
We form our attachment styles as a result of our relationships with our primary caregivers. Therefore, in order to shift this, we need to provide ourselves with the support we did not receive as children. What does this look like? It can vary from person to person, but a general guideline is when you notice your insecure attachment coming up, be compassionate with yourself. Imagine yourself as a young child and talk to yourself the way you would to them.
3. Practice Opposite Action
Once you’ve offered yourself compassion and challenged the beliefs you hold about relationships, it's time to take action. The opposite action. This means if you struggle with anxiety, resisting the urge to reach out to your partner or friends for reassurance and providing that to yourself. If you struggle with avoidance, when you notice the tendency to shut down or isolate come up, do the opposite. While you do, offer yourself compassion and notice what that part of you needs to feel more safe connecting with other people. Remind yourself regardless of what happens with others you will be okay. If you struggle with a mix of both, it means being aware what situations tend to bring out what, and proceeding accordingly. If you want to learn more about opposite action you can visit this link.
4. Seek Out Healthy Relationships
One of the best ways to work on developing a more secure attachment style is by being in relationship with others who are securely attached. However it can be hard to know what that looks like. If you’re unsure what a healthy relationship looks like, take a look at these relationship “green flags” that can be a good sign of secure attachment. Given that we develop our attachment style from relationships with other people, it follows that we can shift our attachment style through relationships with other people. This is helpful because it allows us to see how they react to situations which would bring up avoidance or anxiety for us. From there we can try adopting some of these behaviors. As you do, notice what comes up for you. Get curious about what those parts of you need and honor them.Through relationships, we can also learn how to openly and compassionately communicate by looking at their communication. Try some of these techniques on and make them your own.
5. Work with a Therapist
Lastly, working with a qualified professional can be a huge help in creating secure attachment. A therapist can provide a neutral third party to aid you in identifying and questioning beliefs about relationships. A therapist can also serve as a model for secure attachment, as they demonstrate a healthy relationship and boundaries with you. Because our attachment styles show up in EVERY relationship they will come up in therapy too. This means you’ll demonstrate, or at the very least, feel those patterns of avoidance or anxiety coming up with your therapist. Talk frankly about this with your therapist. While this might feel counterintuitive, this creates an opportunity to work through old patterns and programming. Most therapists will be well aware of attachment styles and happy to talk about how this is coming up for you in sessions. Lastly, therapy can provide a non-threatening space to practice working on skills like assertive communication and vulnerability. With our therapist we can practice role-playing difficult conversations and discuss potential difficulties we might come in contact with.
When implementing any or all of these tips, the most important thing is to be patient with yourself. Our attachment styles take time to form and so it will take time to shift them. Futhermore, we all developed the attachment style we needed at that moment. Have compassion for yourself and understand these changes may feel difficult or scary. So those are my thoughts, what would you add to this list?
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