What Secure Attachment Style Is & How To Foster It, Per Experts

True or false? There’s rarely a time where secure is the suboptimal option.

Think about it: You want the mattress lassoed to the roof of your car to be secure before you vroom, vroom on home. You want the passcode of your Spotify account to be secure so that there’s no chance of your enemies finding out your sex playlist features Ed Sheeran. And unless you’re a drama-driven diva, odds are you want your relationship to be secure, too!

Well, according to psychologists, there are some people who are more prone towards secure relationships than others. Psychotherapist Dana Dorfman, PhD, explains: In the 1950s, psychologist Mary Ainsworth and psychiatrist John Bowlby developed something known as attachment theory. There are whole books written about attachment theory, but here’s the gist: A person’s early relationships in life with their caregivers (usually, parents) impact the kind of relationships they are capable of as adults.

The theory surmises that those who had caregivers who were present and consistently (!) caring when they were wee ones are able to form secure, healthy romantic relationships as adults, also what is known as having “secure attachment.” And those who had caregivers who were MIA or a rollercoaster ride of emotions have a much tougher time forming the kind of When-Harry-Met-Sally bond we all dream of, meaning they have insecure attachment. Worth noting: There is only one type of secure attachment, but insecure attachment can be further broken down into one of three subtypes: anxious, avoidant, or disorganized.

No doubt, this attachment style stuff might sound a li’l doom-n-gloom—especially if you’ve ever made a self-deprecating joke about having Daddy or Mommy issues, but really, it shouldn’t be a rain cloud overshadowing your relationships.

Attachment theory can merely be a lens through which someone perceives their dating patterns, says Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, a relationship expert and co-creator of Viva Wellness. And because someone’s attachment style isn’t set in stone the way someone’s blood type is, for example, it’s something an insecurely-attached person can actively work on healing, he says.

Yes, fostering secure attachment is something you’re going to want to do if you desire to, at some point in your life, have a long-term partner (or two!). Heck, healing insecure attachment can even lead to more nourishing friendships, too.

Ahead, learn how to tell if you have a secure attachment style and how it shows up in relationships and breakups, according to experts. If you’re currently more on the insecure side, don’t worry, experts share their best tips for inching your way towards more secure attachment every day.

So, what is secure attachment, exactly?

At its most distilled, secure attachment is healthy attachment. “People who are securely attached tend to see the value in close relationships and work on building, and maintaining them,” explains Caraballo. “They work to embrace vulnerability in sharing and learning about the people in their lives, and generally see themselves and others as trustworthy, and relationships as meaningful and valuable.”

Typically, people who are securely attached as adults had experiences in infancy that taught them that they could trust, rely, depend, and be separate from others with whom they are emotionally connected, according to Dorfman. “Most people with secure attachment as adults internalized early positive experiences with their caregivers, and can now replicate similar dynamics with others by being reliable, dependable, responsive, and both separate and connected,” she says.

Here’s what most people get wrong, though: Being securely attached doesn’t mean you are totally free of anxieties in relationships. “We have all been hurt to some extent by relationship loss and/or grief,” Caraballo says. “Even securely-attached people can feel nervous or anxious about relationships.” The difference is that unlike individuals who are insecurely attached, those who are securely attached can usually self-soothe their way through these moments, he explains.

What are the signs of a secure attachment style?

If you want to know someone’s attachment style, Dorfman recommends taking inventory of how they handle time spent away from their loved ones. For instance: While on a bachelorette getaway or during a busy work week, how do they handle themselves?

“Someone who is still able to feel connected to their partner, even in their absence, is showing signs of secure attachment,” she says. In practice, this person might text or call their boo regularly, but not feel the need to text literally 24/7. By contrast, a person who feels abandoned, forgettable, replaceable, highly anxious, or unstable when their partner is gone exhibits signs of insecure attachment. Usually, people act out these emotions by repeatedly reaching out for assurance, she says.

A person’s hunger or avoidance of relationships can also indicate their attachment style, she says. “Someone who resists closeness for fear of being consumed or suffocated by another probably has insecure-avoidant attachment,” says Dorfman.

Similarly, someone who M-U-S-T be in a relationship at all times and can’t think of anything worse than being single probably has insecure-anxious attachment. Someone with secure attachment usually sees romantic relationships as a nice, but not mandatory, addition to life, she explains. In fact, it’s rare for securely-attached folks to be serial monogamists.

What does secure attachment look like in relationships and dating?

Good news: You probably don’t need to pull out your magnifying glass and khaki trench coat to discern your (or anyone else’s) attachment style. Phew. “Generally speaking, it is relatively easy to tell when someone you’re dating is emotionally ready and more securely attached,” says Caraballo.

Ahead, some common tells that you’re exhibiting secure attachment in your dating life.

1. You do what you say you’re going to do.

Do you text someone after work when you say you will? Do you share the article you said you’d email their way? These are signs of secure attachment. “In large part, people who are securely attached exhibit behaviors that line up with who they say they are and what they say they are going to do,” says Caraballo.

On the flip side, it would be common for people who are anxiously attached to wait for the other person to initiate contact. And for a person with avoidant attachment to go against their word, out of fear that it’d convey too much interest.

2. You talk about real stuff on your dates.

Let’s play a game. Use three adjectives to describe the quality of the conversations you and your boo (or potential boo) have.

If words like “trite,” “mundane,” “surface level,” or “boring” come to mind, odds are you (or you and your boo) are not securely attached.

If, however, your conversations are marked by “mutual vulnerability” and/or “self-disclosure” or can be described as “thoughtful” and/or “deep,” odds are you’re on the more secure side. “Secure people also opt into sharing themselves with other people and work to get to know the other person they say they’re interested in,” says Caraballo.

Watch this to learn more about the psychology of attachment styles:

3. You talk about your fears and concerns, if you have them.

Again, being securely attached *doesn’t* mean that you are totally free from dating fears or concerns. “Dating can, of course, make anyone anxious,” says Caraballo. But someone who is more securely attached usually feels comfortable enough to talk about their concerns.

While a dater with insecure-anxious attachment tendencies might ignore red flags, and a dater with insecure-avoidant attachment tendencies might dip at the first yellow flag, someone securely attached would name potential incompatibilities.

4. You don’t ghost.

Or bench. Or breadcrumb. Or curve. Or any other dating trend (read: trash behavior) that is at best disrespectful and, at worse, cruel.

Secure attachment can reveal itself in how you navigate ending relationships with someone you’re not interested in, too, according to Caraballo. Rather than relying on ghosting, avoidance, or lies, someone who is securely attached will usually be up-front when they aren’t feeling the spark.

Anxiously-attached people, however, often get caught up in the fear that nobody better will come along, and consequently, string people along. And avoidantly-attached people have a pattern of dropping off the face of the earth (while still watching your IG stories…).

Can you change your attachment style?

Not seeing yourself in any of the aforementioned signs of secure attachment? Don’t freak out—nearly 60 percent of people will be in the same boat as you, according to research from 2014. “The great news is that you can work your way towards a more secure attachment style,” says Caraballo. Yep, can.

The first step, according to Dorfman, is to accurately identify what your current attachment style is. “The more aware we are of our attachment tendencies and their origins, the more equipped we are to manage, shift, or alter them,” she says.

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The best way to do this is by becoming educated on the various attachment styles by reading a book like Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment And How It Can help You Find—And Keep—Love or Master Your Attachment Style. Another option would be to work with a mental health professional who specializes in attachment theory and attachment healing. “A licensed therapist can help you explore your relationship history and childhood through shadow work,” says Caraballo. And if you’re feeling impatient and wanna know right this second, you could also just take this online quiz.

If the expert or quiz finds that you’re securely attached? Date on. And if it tells you that you aren’t securely attached? Well, it’s time to inch your way towards secure attachment through self-reflection, self-esteem work, and learning how to communicate your emotions, says Caraballo.

“As you begin to feel more secure in your attachments, and your fear and/or anxiety around relationships lessens, you’ll notice that your mental health will improve,” he says. “You’ll also be able to better maintain stability in romantic and platonic relationships, which will help you sustain meaningful relationships and communities throughout your life.”

So go, begin the process of healing your insecure attachment. Doing the work will help you find the Harry to your Sally—and also the Frankie to your Grace and the Lorelai to your Sookie…

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