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How to “Earn” Secure Attachment With an Anxious Attachment Style

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

Though the symptoms of anxious attachment style can be distressful and have significant impacts on your relationships, these are not permanent traits and can be overcome with intentional work. Our attachment systems are continuously developing throughout our lives.

When big emotions come from “little things”, it can be difficult to convey the significance of the impact to your partner. You worry your feelings will be dismissed as an overreaction. Therefore, you crave validation from your partner, not only that your relationship is secure, but that your feelings make sense and are not “too much”.

As mentioned above, there may be times when your cues that something is wrong are so subtle your partner struggles to understand why your anxiety is spiking.

Below are several steps you can take to change your relationship patterns and work towards “earned secure attachment” as an adult.

Relationships with Securely Attached Individuals

Your attachment style was built through experience within relationships, so change can happen in the same way. Sometimes this change can take place naturally within a relationship with a partner who is securely attached.

Experiencing new patterns of emotional closeness and stability has the power of recalibrating your nervous system. When you receive consistent responsiveness and care from your partner, you can shift your perception of relationships and trust in your safety and worthiness of love from your partner.

Making Sense of your Relationship Patterns

It is hard to fix a “problem” when you don’t understand it. Building insight into where your relationship patterns and emotional reactions come from can be an empowering experience. Recognizing “why” your feelings make sense in the context of your own history gives validation patterns that may have been confusing, or even criticized in the past.

Beyond validation, developing self-awareness about relationship patterns allows you to be mindful of them in the moment and recognize opportunities to do something different. With awareness comes choice.

Develop and Practice Emotional Regulation Techniques

Anxious attachment style is driven by fear: that you are unworthy of love, that you will be rejected, that you will be abandoned and left all alone. The intensity of this fear inspires reactions and behaviors within relationships that create problems of their own and often achieve the opposite of what you need most.

Learning tools to self-soothe and nurture your own nervous system is one of the most impactful changes you can make. When you can recognize your feelings as they arise and slow yourself down, you create an opportunity to make a choice about how you want to approach your partner, rather than reacting on impulse. You can process your feelings and decide how you want to communicate them or what request you wish to make.

Learn to Let Go

Think Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Learning to let go of the things that are outside of your control is an important part of changing anxious attachment patterns. The impact your partner or other relationships have on your internal peace of mind makes it easy to invest energy into changing the things and people around you. However, these things are ultimately out of your control.

Learning to let go means accepting that you cannot control how people behave or engage with you. What you can control is how you interpret these things and how you respond to them. Additionally, you can control how you manage the emotions evoked in these moments.

Communicate About Feelings Not Behaviors

One of the most distressful patterns of anxious attachment styles happens when relationship conversations focus on behaviors, rather than the emotions involved. Moreover, these conversations about behavior usually involve criticism or blame.

Your partner’s behavior is often the trigger for big emotional reactions, so it is easy to understand how this happens. However, when you criticize behavior it not only misses what’s most important (your feelings!) but also tends to promote defensiveness or push people away, which is the opposite of what you need. Communicating about feelings takes blame out of the equation. When you take responsibility for your feelings, you can discuss relationship ruptures collaboratively.

Focus on How You Would Like to Change

Working on yourself can have transformative powers beyond anything one could predict beforehand. Nurturing yourself and your own needs can have a tremendous impact, even if your partner is not making the same intentional effort as well.

All relationships are systems that develop patterns based on the interactions of both. Therefore, it only takes one person changing their behavior to effect change throughout the system. Using the methods outlined above, individual changes you make can shift patterns on both sides of your relationship.

Furthermore, looking inward at your fears, insecurities, self-esteem, and self-worth can help you create your own sense of security, independent of what is fostered within relationships.

Give Therapy a Chance!

Change is hard! All these methods for achieving “earned secure attachment” are easy to write about and much harder to put into practice. Therapy can be a helpful resource to work through all these options for growth and healing.

If nothing else, therapy can be an opportunity to practice relating to another person in new ways before trying this out in your personal relationships.

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