How To Tell If You Have A Secure Or Insecure Attachment Style (And How It Affects Your Relationships)

Photo: unsplash / Yunming Wang
The Differences Between Secure & Insecure Attachment Styles And How They Affect Relationships
Love, Self

What is your attachment style in your relationship?

Learning whether you have a secure or insecure attachment style can be vital in connecting with your partner and providing lasting happiness.

According to attachment theory, you should aim for a secure attachment in your marriage or partnership as this is the most beneficial.

So what are the signs of the different types of attachment?

RELATED: Why Understanding The 4 'Attachment Styles' Takes The Uncertainty Out Of Your Love Life

The benefits of a secure attachment bond include your essential life satisfaction, resiliency, insulation from life-threatening diseases, better sleep, better moods, better cognitive functioning, and athletic or professional performance.

The term “securely functioning” comes from the language of attachment theory. Attachment theory is the scientific theory that describes how you behave when you bond with another person.

Your attachment system is the biological system that is activated when you bond to another person and guides your bonding behavior.

Scientists divide the styles that people adopt to bond into roughly four categories. About 50 percent of the population bonds in a “secure style.” The other 50 percent of the population develop insecure attachment styles such as avoidant, anxious, or disorganized.

It's a good idea to understand your attachment style in childhood, as this will locate your starting position on your journey.

However, no matter what your childhood style of attachment was, your goal as an adult is to form a securely functioning relationship!

So what's the difference between a secure style/bond and an insecure one?

A secure style is characterized by feelings of safety, an expectation of safety, and behavior that provides safety to another.

When you are securely attached, at the core you feel understood by the other person. You feel confident that they will adapt their understanding to your evolving emotional state. In other words, they understand whether you’re excited, sad, anxious, or angry.

This understanding is less verbal and more about a felt sense of being understood.

In infancy, where attachment begins, you do not use words or concepts at all to feel understood. Understanding is conveyed through the nonverbal cues of facial expression, touch, rhythm, and the ability to soothe the infant by meeting their most pressing needs.

In adulthood, you use words to aid understanding, but do not forget that understanding at its deepest level always includes a non-verbal, felt sense! In other words, if you say you understand someone’s sadness, but they see anger or disgust in your eyes, they will not feel understood or safe!

Feeling understood is the basis of emotional safety. This means that your feeling state or your intention will not be misunderstood by the other person. Consequently, you expect that your emotional and physical needs will be interpreted correctly and met.

This experience of being understood yields an inherent ability to regulate your own emotions. This is why people who are raised in a secure bond have excellent emotional regulation skills; in other words, they look centered, calm, and resilient under a wide variety of experiences.

RELATED: There's Only 4 Types Of Love Attachment Styles — Which Is Yours?

A secure style or secure bond is also characterized by an expectation of return, which translates into physical and emotional safety.

This means that if your caregiver (as a child) or your partner (as an adult) is away, you possess the assumption that they both care about you and will return to you in a reasonable amount of time.

Children who have this secure sense of return will react in a very particular way when they are separated and then reunited with their caregiver: These children will welcome their caregivers return, and go to them for comfort.

Children who do not have this expectation and who feel overwhelmed by a sense of aloneness or neglect will behave very differently: They ignore or retreat from the caregiver when he or she returns.

You can imagine how this cycle results in a very different experience over time: Primarily, a loss of connection and a loss of needs being met.

As an infant, this expectation of return is absolutely essential to safety and survival. Because infants cannot care for themselves at all, their lives depend on the likelihood that the caregiver will return in a reasonable, predictable amount of time relative to any need (for hunger, comfort, warmth, etc.).

If this process goes well in infancy, you grow up to assume that people you’re bonded to are reliable, comforting, and caring. You're working with a basic feeling that the other person holds you in their mind and in their heart, and this assumption allows you to tolerate the inevitable absences or disappointments that occur over time.

Having a secure attachment style means that you expect others to be understanding, safe and secure, and you, therefore, behave in such a way that provides safety and security to another.

A secure bond is characterized by fairness, justice, collaboration, and prioritization.

RELATED: The Devastating Way Your Childhood Bonds Can Make-Or-Break Your Adult Relationships

When these feelings, expectations, and behaviors come together, a relationship is created in which both partners feel and give qualities of fairness, justice, collaboration, sensitivity and a firm prioritization of the relationship. This is the land of the extraordinary!

The good news is that you can learn to think and behave in this secure terms, and therefore form a secure adult bond which has the potential to rewire your attachment style as an adult!

This does require a fair amount of introspection and effort on your part. If you’re not sure it’s worth it, let’s review the benefits of forming secure bonds.

The benefits in childhood are enormous and underlie all development! Fundamentally, a secure bond allows the child to feel secure and calm enough that their nervous system can develop properly.

That’s right, in the absence of this safety and security, the nervous system fails to develop properly. The risk factors associated with this are enormous, ranging from addiction to mood disorders to physical illness.

A secure bond in childhood is linked to:

  • self-esteem
  • independence and autonomy
  • resilience in the face of adversity
  • ability to manage impulses and feelings
  • long-term friendships
  • relationships with parents, caregivers, and other authority figures
  • prosocial coping skills
  • trust, intimacy, and affection
  • positive and hopeful belief systems about self, family, and society
  • empathy, compassion, and conscience
  • behavioral and academic success in school
  • promote secure attachment with adult partners and with their own children when they become adults

These effects cascade through your lifetime.

As an adult, the quality of your emotional bonds is the primary predictor of your physical health and life satisfaction.

If there is one part of your life that gives you the most power to affect your physical health and emotional happiness, it is your closest emotional relationship.

A lack of quality connection in adults is linked to:

  • insomnia
  • heart disease
  • arthritis
  • type 2 diabetes
  • dementia
  • suicide
  • decreased self-care in older life
  • disrupted sleep
  • abnormal immune response
  • cognitive decline
  • increased antibodies
  • lowered capacity to tolerate stress
  • decreased ability to self regulate

This explains why the quality of the connection is so relevant for people in addiction recovery because addictions are primarily about an inability to self regulate emotional experience--and the ability is derived through and from your attachment relationships.

So you know that you not only want connection, but also how you truly need connection to not only thrive but to survive. And of course, you know by early life how complex, multidimensional, and often confusing relationships can be.

RELATED: What You're Like In Relationships, Based On Your Attachment Style

Subscribe to YourTango's newsletter to keep up with us for FREE

- Our best articles delivered straight to your inbox
- The latest in entertainment and news
- Daily horoscopes and love advice

Perrin Elisha is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author, and teacher who helps clients get to the root of and heal their relational difficulties. Download her free eBook "How to Be an Extraordinary Partner" or learn more about her online marriage and commitment course.

This article was originally published at Relationships Rewired. Reprinted with permission from the author.