Attachment Theory: The Blueprint for Healthy Human Connections.

Have you ever noticed that your relationships often feel rocky or stressful? Or perhaps you sometimes feel really anxious about getting close to people or trusting them? If these situations sound familiar, it’s possible that you have something called an “insecure attachment style.”

Attachment theory is a very well understood psychological model which helps explain why we feel the way we do in relationships and as individuals. It all starts in our very important formative years, when we’re babies and how we connect with our parents or main caregivers. These early connections can influence how we act and feel in our adult relationships.

In this article, we’ll explore attachment theory in a way which is easy to understand. We’ll talk about how your early experiences can still affect your adult relationships and how you feel about yourself. Whether you’re curious about why you feel the way you do in relationships, or just want to understand your own interactions better, keep reading. Attachment theory will help you figure out some important things about yourself and how you connect with others.

A woman hiding in a box because of anxiety.

Attachment theory is a concept in psychology that focuses on how our early interactions, particularly with our parents or primary caregivers during our formative years, influence our emotional connections and relationships later in life.

Extensive research and the consensus among psychologists and counselors affirm that our early life experiences play a crucial role in shaping our ability to form, maintain, and thrive in friendships and relationships as adults.

For instance, if our emotional and physical needs were not adequately met during our early years, we might encounter challenges in committing to relationships and effectively managing our close friendships and intimate partnerships during adulthood. These early experiences can have a lasting impact on our adult social and emotional well-being.

Attachment refers to the deep emotional connection we develop with others, especially during childhood with our primary caregivers, like parents. Psychologist John Bowlby was a pioneer in attachment theory, describing it as a long-lasting emotional tie between people.

Bowlby believed that the first bonds children form with their caregivers have a profound and enduring influence on their lives. He suggested that attachment also evolved to ensure a child’s safety by keeping them close to their caregiver, increasing their chances of survival. The core idea of attachment theory is that caregivers who are responsive and available to a child’s needs create a sense of security.

This sense of security allows the child to trust that their caregiver is dependable, serving as a stable foundation from which they can explore the world and eventually become well-adjusted adults.

The type of attachment we experienced as children has a direct impact on how comfortable we feel in relationships with significant others, like partners and parents, as well as with ourselves. Attachment greatly influences our ability to make healthy relationship choices and, to a large extent, our overall happiness in our close relationships as adults.

I spent several years working with young children, teenagers, teachers, and parents as a member of the NSPCC school counseling team. During this time, I developed a keen interest in the theories and practical aspects of attachment.

Through my work, I came to realise that the quality of care and nurturing we receive during our early years significantly shapes how we navigate relationships as adults.

The good news is that understanding how our early experiences have influenced us can empower us to make positive changes in how we relate to and connect with others.

If you find that you struggle with forming connections, allowing people into your life, trusting others, or if you’ve faced long-standing challenges in your relationships, it’s possible that addressing your early childhood experiences and examining your current relationships can lead to a more fulfilling life and more rewarding connections with others in the future.

Attachment theory suggests that parenting styles can have a significant impact on the formation of attachments in children. Four primary parenting styles have been identified in the context of attachment theory, and they can influence how children develop secure or insecure attachments. These parenting styles are:

Secure Attachment (Responsive Parenting):

Description: Responsive parenting is characterised by caregivers who are attentive, sensitive, and consistently responsive to their child’s needs and emotions.

Impact on Attachment: This style tends to foster secure attachments. Children who experience responsive parenting typically develop a strong sense of trust in their caregivers and feel safe exploring the world because they know their caregiver will be there when needed.

Anxious-Resistant (Ambivalent) Attachment (Inconsistent Parenting):

Description: Inconsistent parenting involves caregivers who are sometimes responsive and comforting but at other times are distant or unavailable.

Impact on Attachment: This parenting style can lead to anxious-resistant attachments. Children may become anxious about their caregiver’s availability, leading to clingy and dependent behavior.

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment (Unresponsive Parenting):

Description: Unresponsive parenting is characterised by caregivers who are emotionally distant, uninvolved, and unresponsive to their child’s needs.

Impact on Attachment: This style tends to result in anxious-avoidant attachments. Children may learn to self-soothe and become self-reliant but may struggle with trusting others or seeking comfort from caregivers.

Disorganised Attachment (Chaotic or Abusive Parenting):

Description: Disorganised parenting involves caregivers who are inconsistent, unpredictable, or even abusive. This style is often marked by chaotic family environments.

Impact on Attachment: Disorganised parenting can lead to disorganised attachments. Children may display erratic and confused behaviors, as they lack a consistent and secure base for emotional regulation.

It’s important to note that these parenting styles are not rigid categories but rather general patterns of caregiving behavior. Many parents may exhibit a combination of these styles depending on the context and their own experiences.

Attachment theory suggests that secure attachments provide a strong foundation for healthy social and emotional development. However, the impact of parenting styles on attachment is not deterministic; other factors, such as genetics and life experiences, also play a role in attachment formation.

Determining your attachment style typically involves self-reflection, introspection, and possibly seeking feedback from trusted friends, family, or a mental health professional. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you identify your attachment style:

Learn About Attachment Styles:

familiarise yourself with the four primary attachment styles: Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied (or Anxious-Ambivalent), Dismissive-Avoidant, and Fearful-Avoidant (or Disorganised). Understand the typical behaviors, feelings, and thought patterns associated with each style.

Reflect on Your Past Relationships:

Think about your past and current relationships, particularly your closest and most significant ones. Consider your experiences with caregivers, romantic partners, and close friends. Look for recurring patterns in these relationships.

Review Your Childhood:

Reflect on your early childhood experiences and the relationships you had with your parents or primary caregivers. Think about how they responded to your emotional needs, how secure you felt in their presence, and any significant events or traumas.

Assess Your Current Relationships:

Examine your current relationships. How do you tend to behave when you’re in a close relationship? Do you become anxious when separated from loved ones? Do you find it challenging to trust others? Do you avoid emotional intimacy?

Take Online Assessments:

There are various online questionnaires and assessments that can help you identify your attachment style. While these assessments are not definitive, they can provide insights and serve as a starting point for self-exploration.

Seek Feedback from Others:

Sometimes, friends or family members who know you well can offer valuable insights into your attachment style based on their observations of your behavior in relationships.

Keep a Journal:

Maintaining a journal can help you track your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in various relationships over time. This written record can provide valuable insights into your attachment style.

Compare Your Traits to Attachment Styles:

Compare your observations and self-reflection to the typical traits associated with each attachment style. You may find that you exhibit characteristics of more than one style, as attachment styles can exist on a spectrum.

Consider Professional Help:

If you’re struggling to identify your attachment style or if it’s causing significant distress in your life, consider working with a therapist or counselor. They can help you explore your attachment history, patterns, and feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

Remember that attachment styles are not fixed and can evolve over time with self-awareness and intentional efforts for personal growth. Identifying your attachment style is a valuable first step in understanding how your past experiences may be affecting your present relationships and emotional well-being.

Changing one’s attachment style from insecure to secure is indeed possible, but it often requires self-awareness, effort, and sometimes therapeutic support. Here are some steps and strategies that can help someone with an insecure attachment style move towards a more secure attachment style:


The first step is recognising your current attachment style and understanding how it might be affecting your relationships and emotional well-being. Self-reflection is crucial.

Identify Patterns:

Pay attention to recurring patterns in your relationships. Are there certain situations or behaviors that trigger your insecurities or anxieties? Identifying these patterns can help you address them.

Challenge Negative Beliefs:

Insecure attachment styles often involve negative beliefs about oneself or others. Work on challenging and reframing these beliefs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful for this.

Mindfulness and Emotional Regulation:

Practice mindfulness and emotional regulation techniques to become more aware of your emotions in the moment and learn how to manage them effectively.

Communication Skills:

Improve your communication skills, particularly in expressing your needs and feelings to others. Open and honest communication can foster more secure attachments.

Build Supportive Relationships:

Surround yourself with supportive and understanding individuals who can provide a secure base from which you can practice healthier attachment behaviors.


Prioritize self-care and self-compassion. Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being can improve your overall attachment security.

Take It Slow:

Be patient with yourself. Changing attachment styles is a process that takes time. Avoid expecting immediate results or perfection.

Practice Secure Attachment Behaviors:

Actively practice behaviors associated with secure attachment, such as being emotionally available, responsive, and supportive to the needs of others in your relationships.

Explore Past Experiences:

Explore your past experiences, particularly early relationships with caregivers, to understand how they may have contributed to your attachment style. This can be done with the help of a therapist.

Set Realistic Expectations:

Understand that no one is perfect, and relationships will have ups and downs. Setting realistic expectations for yourself and others can reduce anxiety and insecurity.

Therapy or Counseling:

Consider seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling. A trained therapist can assist you in exploring the root causes of your attachment style and guide you in developing more secure attachment patterns.

Changing attachment styles is a gradual and ongoing process. It may require effort, self-reflection, and at times, professional guidance. It’s important to remember that developing a more secure attachment style can lead to more fulfilling and healthier relationships in the long run.

Attachment counseling, also known as attachment-based therapy or attachment-focused therapy, is a type of psychotherapy that specifically addresses attachment-related issues and aims to improve a person’s ability to form secure and healthy emotional connections with others. It is primarily rooted in attachment theory, which was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and focuses on the importance of early relationships and emotional bonds in human development.

Here are some key aspects of attachment counseling:

Understanding Attachment Patterns: Attachment counselors help individuals understand their own attachment patterns and how they may be affecting their current relationships and emotional well-being. These patterns are often rooted in early childhood experiences with caregivers.

Exploring Early Experiences: In attachment counseling, clients may explore their early experiences and relationships with caregivers to uncover any sources of insecurity, anxiety, or attachment-related trauma.

Identifying Attachment Styles: Counselors work with clients to identify their current attachment styles, such as secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganised. Understanding one’s attachment style is a fundamental aspect of the therapy.

Promoting Secure Attachments: The primary goal of attachment counseling is to help individuals move toward a more secure attachment style. This involves learning to trust others and communicate effectively, regulate emotions, and develop healthier relationship patterns.

Improving Relationships: Attachment counseling often focuses on improving the client’s relationships, whether in romantic partnerships, friendships, or family dynamics. This can include addressing issues like trust, intimacy, and communication.

Emotional Regulation: Counselors may teach clients strategies for regulating their emotions and managing anxiety or distress related to attachment issues.

Healing Attachment Trauma: For individuals who have experienced traumatic events or neglect in their early attachment relationships, attachment counseling can be a therapeutic space to address and heal these wounds.

Building Self-Esteem: Developing a positive self-image and self-esteem is an important component of attachment counseling, as low self-esteem can be linked to insecure attachment patterns.

Parent-Child Attachment: Attachment counseling is not limited to adults; it can also be used to improve the attachment between parents and children, helping parents understand and meet their child’s emotional needs.

Trauma-Informed Approach: Many attachment counselors use a trauma-informed approach, recognising that attachment issues can be intertwined with past traumas and adverse experiences.

Attachment counseling is often provided by licensed therapists, psychologists, or counselors who have training and expertise in attachment theory and therapeutic techniques tailored to address attachment-related challenges. The therapy process is highly individualised, with the therapist working collaboratively with the client to achieve their specific therapeutic goals related to attachment and relationships.

I’m Paul Parkin – A therapist and life coach. This is why you should work with me:

Paul Parkin Online CounsellorYou can thrive, even if you had a tough start in life. Many people who had difficult beginnings have gone on to achieve great things and live happier lives.

If you feel like your early years experiences have left you with some challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. My expertise in attachment has helped many people who faced these issues. Together, we can make sense of your past and work towards a happier future.

What some of my recent clients have said about our work together.

I contacted Paul at online counselling, because of my relationship problems, I have been having problems with relationships for as long as I can remember, Paul helped me to see that my early attachments were affecting my ability to create and maintain a good relationship.

His relationship check-in tool has made such a difference already, its looking like we might save my relationship and make it what we both want.

I’m continuing my work with Paul, just needed to say a big thank you for the work already, it’s so convenient too, all done on Skype from my iPhone.

Rob. Hong Kong.
October 2018.

When I initially contacted Paul, he could not have been more helpful.

As time passed and we worked through my life-long issues of low self worth and my troubles with making and maintaining relationships, I have now learned that my childhood and the attachment I experienced all had a major impact.

Paul has equipped me with a useful array of therapeutic tools and strategies to help me make better choices.

I would not hesitate to recommend Paul’s service to anyone needing support and practical solutions. Thank you, Paul.

Art. USA.
September 2018.

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