An attachment style describes how people relate to others based on how secure they feel. Secure attachment is characterized by feelings of trust and safety in relationships.
The attachment style you develop in early childhood is thought to have a lifelong influence on your ability to communicate your emotions and needs, how you respond to conflict, and how you form expectations about your relationships.
Although the attachment style you were raised with does not explain everything about your relationships and who you become as an adult, understanding your style may help explain patterns you notice in relationships.
In This Article
What is Secure Attachment?
Secure attachment is essential for fostering healthy childhood development and adult relationships.
An individual with a secure attachment style exhibits a consistent, interdependent, and confident style of relating in a relationship.
Children who are securely attached feel safe and supported by their caregivers. Securely attached adults are capable of forming lasting relationships.
Securely attached individuals maintain a healthy balance of relying on their partner and meeting their own needs. Due to this balance, they can create deeper intimacy through vulnerability while maintaining their individuality.
Secure attachments with caregivers are believed to be essential for healthy development. It is considered that about 50% of the population has a secure attachment style, while the rest fall into one of the insecure categories (anxious, avoidant, and disorganized).
Signs in children
Infants with a secure attachment hold an internal model of the world as a safe place and a model of others as being kind and reliable.
Children with a secure attachment, having been regulated by their caregiver in times of stress,
develop skills to self-regulate their social, emotional, and cognitive behaviors.
In addition, securely attached children show balanced behavioral strategies, expressing their need for both intimacy and autonomy. Autonomy is particularly significant as it facilitates interaction with the environment.
Early signs can depict if a child is developing into a securely attached adult. These signs include:
- Positive response to the return of parents
- Comfortably interacts with others
- Comfortably explores and plays in new areas
- Prefers parents over strangers
- Seeks comfort from parents
Securely attached children use the caregiver as a secure base with
which to explore their social world and a safe haven to turn to during times of distress.
For a child to develop a secure attachment, they need to be raised in an environment where they feel protected and seen by their caregivers.
If a caregiver is not responsive to a child’s needs, the child may not be able to form a secure and stable bond.
How to raise a securely attached child
If a child is brought up in a nurturing and supportive environment where caregivers are responsive to the child’s needs, a secure bond is formed.
However, if a child perceives that their needs are not met, the child is not able to build a secure and stable bond with their caregivers.
Be a secure base physically and emotionally
Attachment figures can be seen as a ‘secure base’ which infants use to explore their social world. The more assured the infant is in the availability of their attachment figure in times of stress, the more likely they will interact with others and their environment.
Caregivers who provide a secure base allow infants to become autonomous, inquisitive, and experimental. When around their caregiver, the child should feel assured that no harm will come to them. They should know they will be fed, kept warm, and protected.
The caregiver is the child’s barrier against harm, so letting them know they are protected and loved is important in making them feel safe.
The child should be allowed the chance to develop freedom while still getting reassurance from their caregiver that they are nearby if they need to check in with them.
Ensure they feel seen and understood
A child’s signal for attention, such as crying, is their way of letting the caregiver know they require a need to be met. It is important that the caregiver reads these signals accurately and responds consistently.
If a caregiver is consistently responsive to the child’s needs appropriately, this lets the child know that when they need something, they can signal for it.
If the caregiver responds correctly, most of the time, the child should understand that their world is reliable and they can have some control over it.
The child should know that if they seek comfort, they will receive it from their caregivers.
If the caregivers are there to help soothe the child’s distress, they learn to see this as normal. When they grow up, they can use their caregiver’s actions as the template for managing their distress.
Ensure they feel valued
Caregivers can value their children by expressing happiness and pride over who they are. Healthy self-esteem can develop as a baby, which translates into later life.
Displaying pride in a child early in life can make them realize that they are unconditionally valued for what they achieve.
Support the child to explore their world
A child should be supported to explore their world in a way that makes them feel secure. Caregivers should aim to reassure the child that they believe in their abilities but stay close by if something goes wrong.
Try not to be overbearing or constantly tell them what they should be doing. Instead, give gentle guidance if they get stuck and allow them to grow while watching from a safe distance.
In this way, the child should develop a sense of freedom to explore their world and increase their confidence in their own skills.
Limiting a child from exploration, being overprotective, or keeping them boxed in may lead to the development of an anxious attachment pattern. Children need to learn to explore independently and feel safe doing so.
The independence and individuality that comes from childhood exploration contribute to a secure attachment style into adulthood.
Signs in adults
John Bowlby argued that one’s sense of security as a child is critical to their attachment style as an adult.
Adult relationships are likely to reflect early attachment style because the experience a person has with their caregiver in childhood would lead to the expectation of the same experiences in later relationships.
Securely attached adults hold both a positive working model of self and others and therefore are comfortable with both intimacy and autonomy.
Such individuals typically display openness regarding expressing emotions and thoughts with others and are comfortable with depending on others for help while also being comfortable with others depending on them (Cassidy, 1994).
Notably, many secure adults may, in fact, experience negative attachment-related events, yet they can objectively assess people and events and assign a positive value to relationships in general.
Below are some of the traits that are characteristic of adults with a secure attachment style:
Selfless and generous
Can ask for help when needed
Confident and decisive
Assume others have positive intentions
Enjoy connection with others and also time alone
Have a strong sense of personal values
Ability to set boundaries
Can trust others
Is it too late to form a secure attachment?
There appears to be a continuity between early attachment styles and the quality of later adult romantic relationships. This idea is based on the internal working model, where an infant’s primary attachment forms a model (template) for future relationships.
During adulthood, new attachment bonds are formed, which may become a significant source of support during periods of distress or during periods of goal achievement and exploration.
Romantic partners function as attachment figures and can become a source of comfort and felt security for the other member of the relationship.
Romantic relationships are likely to reflect early attachment style because the experience a person has with their caregiver in childhood would lead to the expectation of the same experiences in later relationships, such as parents, friends, and romantic partners.
However, other researchers have proposed that rather than a single internal working model, which is generalized across relationships, each type of relationship comprises a different working model.
This means a person could be securely attached to their parents but insecurely attached to romantic relationships.
Securely Attachment Partner
A secure partner has complete confidence that their partner is there for them. They can balance the act of giving and receiving in a relationship.
Because they are securely attached, they do not experience anxiety, fear, or doubt and can focus on being present for their partner.
They are interdependent and maintain a positive view of their partner. Many other factors depict how a secure person acts in a relationship, such as:
- Maintaining a direct line of communication
- Comfortable with being vulnerable by sharing their emotions, experiences, fears, etc.
- Warm and empathetic
- Confident expressing their affection
- Can easily feel emotionally close to their partners
- Trust their partner
- Want their partner to have their own interests outside of the relationship
- Respect your partner’s needs and boundaries
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a secure person become anxious?
Yes, a secure person can become anxious due to traumatic experiences. For example, a secure person may encounter a relationship with a partner who gets very close and then withdraws or stonewalls their partner inconsistently. This type of unpredictability can be painful and lead to the secure person becoming anxious.
What are the main contributors to developing a secure attachment?
The major factors which lead to a secure attachment style are being raised by a caregiver who offers a safe base, room for exploration, and consistency. Secure attachment is maintained by fully healing and processing relationships before moving on to another person.
In conclusion, a secure attachment style is a healthy and balanced way of relating with oneself and others. They come naturally due to childhood conditioning or can be learned with psychological healing.
What is the influence of secure attachment on childhood friendships?
According to attachment theory, a child with a secure attachment style should be more confident in interactions with friends.
Considerable evidence has supported this view. For example, the Minnesota study (2005) followed participants from infancy to late adolescence and found continuity between early attachment and later emotional/social behavior.
Securely attached children were rated most highly for social competence later in childhood and were less isolated and more popular than insecurely attached children.
Hartup et al. (1993) argue that children with a secure attachment type are more popular at nursery and engage more in social interactions with other children. In contrast, insecurely attached children tend to rely more on teachers for interaction and emotional support.
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