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Insecure Attachment: What It Is, Types, 23 Signs & How It Affects Your Life

Based on the attachment theory, people emotionally attach to others in different ways as shaped by their primary caregivers during childhood. For some, they have an insecure attachment style. Learn if you have it and what to do about it.

insecure attachment style

Human beings are wired to need other human beings. We all have the drive to want to attach to those around us. That does not always mean that we do so appropriately. The way we attach to other people becomes a mixture of our childhood experiences and past hurts or successes. Sometimes, those things form a secure attachment style. Other times, they form an insecure attachment style.

Adult attachment styles – What is insecure attachment? 

According to the attachment theory of British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment styles help explain how a person relates to others in their life.

These different attachment styles develop in childhood and carry on for the rest of a person’s adolescence life. In a nutshell, there are two types of adult attachment patterns that we can develop— either secure or insecure.

So, what is insecure attachment? It is a relationship and behavioral pattern that causes a person to feel insecure about their relationships with other people. Because of this, they have difficulties developing important relationships with other people.

Depending on the insecure attachment type, people experience things like anxiety, avoidance, discomfort, distrust, suppression of emotions, and negative self-image or low self-esteem.

All of these traits can lead to a lot of challenges in a relationship and can hinder a person from finding or having a healthy relationship.

[Read: Why am I so insecure? 29 reasons and ways to feel secure from within]

The three types of insecure attachment

People with secure attachment often tend to find more satisfaction in their relationships throughout life.

An insecure attachment style doesn’t only make it hard for the person who has it, but for anyone who tries to get close. They crave nothing more than being loved.

But they self-sabotage and work as hard against themselves as possible. That ends in a self-fulfilling prophecy continuing throughout their adult relationships.

Often hard finding peace, those with an insecure attachment style, avoid the very thing they want most of all, connection. Unlike secure attachment, there are three insecure attachment styles. They all lead down the same path to relationship destruction if not recognized and sorted through. [Read: The 15 phases of a healthy relationship]

Starting in childhood, children who develop a secure attachment style learn they can venture out into the world. They always have the security and unconditional love of their parents to return to if they need reassurance. This is the way most people want to feel, but not all do.

Securely attached people care greatly when their partner feels distressed, and they seek to provide help and support to share the burdens in a relationship. They are independent and have their own sense of identity, but they also have a loving attachment to their partner in their life. [Read: 15 ways to tell if your love is real or unhealthy]

1. The Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style *Anxious-Resistant*

One type of insecure attachment is the anxious preoccupied attachment style. It is when people want to form something called a “fantasy bond” or an unrealistic bond, that gives them a false sense that they are unconditionally safe. 

Not trusting their partner, they often experience emotional hunger that drives them to always need more from their partner than anyone can supply. [Read: Anxious personality – 7 reasons to date an anxious person]

They are the damsels in distress always looking to be saved or to find that one person to “complete” them. They tend to cling too hard, which has the reverse effect on those they are in relationships with. Their neediness usually pushes the very people they try to hold fast to, away.

Their anxious behaviors of push and pull tend to lead to a cycle that only further perpetuates their feelings of instability in a relationship regardless of the reality of that relationship. They become way too demanding and clingy and are often only possessive.

The anxious preoccupied attachment style is constantly looking for confirmation that their suspicions that someone doesn’t love them and will leave, are real. 

Looking for clues where there often aren’t any, they see their relationship from a different perspective and tend to create a whole lot of conflict continually with others. [Read: Critical signs of an unhealthy relationship you MUST get out of]

2. The Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style *Anxious-Avoidant*

Although we all have a need to be attached to other people, the dismissive avoidant attachment style typically acts as though they need no one. Instead, they put emotional distance between themselves and their partner intentionally.

They are only “pseudo-independent.” They often take on the controlling role of a parent in the relationship. Highly focused on themselves, their own basic needs come first at all costs, and they tend not to form caring bonds with others.

The pseudo-independence, however, is only an illusion constructed because every human has a basic need to be attached to one another. But, the dismissive avoidant attachment style tends to lean more inward – Denying their need to be loved or to love any else.

They use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the psychological feeling of being connected to another, often shutting down and shutting their partner out. And they do this, instead of reaching out when their partner is in need. 

They turn their emotions completely off and do not react at all and say things like “I don’t care” if someone tells them they are hurt or need them.

3. The Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Style *Disorganized-Insecure*

This individual lives in a constant flux state. They are afraid to be too distant and too close to someone at the same time. They work tirelessly to keep their emotions in check but are unable to.

When they can no longer shut their emotions off, they explode emotionally. They have unpredictable moods and send mixed signals.

They believe and understand that you should reach out to others to have your needs met. When they get too close to someone, they are fearful of being hurt. Then they push the other person away. [Read: The hardships of being afraid of love]

The fearful-avoidant attachment style has no “plan of action” for getting their emotional needs met. In fact, they are in a constant state of anxiety, pulling and pushing other people away.

People with a fearful avoidant attachment style often tend to have tumultuous relationships that are overly dramatic and with extreme highs and lows. So afraid of being abandoned, their struggle is automatic and subconscious. 

When they feel potential rejection, they cling to their partner harder. Then they feel smothered and push the other person away. [Read: Fear of losing someone you love – why you feel it and ways to get over it]

The way that you form an attachment to other people has a significant impact not just on how your relationship starts and develops, but, in some instances, why it ends. 

If you can’t seem to be in a stable intimate relationship, examine what type of attachment style you have. See if there is a glitch in the way you seek to get your emotional needs met.

The good news is that your attachment style will change if you put the effort into figuring out what you want. So the most important thing is to learn how to effectively get your needs met instead of being on attachment autopilot.

What causes insecure attachment? 

Now you’re probably wondering what causes insecure attachment. Well, childhood experiences that we have with our parents or primary caregivers shape all types of attachments that we have. These continue into adulthood as well. [Read: Insecure women – 15 ways to stop damaging yourself and be glorious]

The causes of this insecure attachment sometimes depend on what type it is. So, let’s break it down.

If someone has an avoidant insecure attachment style, they often had childhood experiences where their caregivers or parents were emotionally unavailable. Because of this, they felt rejected and unloved when they were children.

Their parents might have been closed-off, distant, hurtful, or dismissive when the child wanted and needed their help the most. This could include times when they felt hurt, scared, or even sick.

Some of the things that parents or caregivers might do during childhood could lead to this avoidant attachment style. [Read: Do you have an insecure girlfriend? 30 signs and ways to help her]

Some of these include making fun of or scolding a child when they are being emotional, telling the child to “get over it” when they are sad, ignoring the child’s distress, fear, or crying, and avoiding the child when the child is distressed and expressing their emotions.

Next, people with an ambivalent attachment style *anxious attachment* probably had a parent or caregiver that was inconsistently responsive to the child’s emotional needs. In other words, sometimes the parent would be emotionally available to the child, but other times they weren’t and would be cold or closed-off.

When the child often experiences this inconsistency, it confuses them because they don’t understand why their parents aren’t always emotionally available to them. [Read: What does it mean to be emotionally unavailable? 19 signs and fixes]

They don’t understand why they get their love on some occasions but not on others. As a result, they grow up being fearful of the times when they don’t get the support and love that they need and desire.

A person with a disorganized insecure attachment style exists because their parent or caregiver is consistently neglectful of their child’s needs whenever they have distress. 

They might also use fear tactics or intimidation to make the child stop expressing their emotions. This could include things like yelling at the child to stop being upset.

Sometimes, this style of attachment develops because of physical, verbal, or even sexual abuse as a child. Strangely enough, the child may still feel connected to their parent or caregiver despite their abusive behavior. [Read: 23 Raw psychological effects of being ignored by someone you love]

But they are also fearful of them as well. This leads the child to constantly switch from wanting love and fearing for their safety. People with disorganized attachment styles could even develop some personality disorders later in life. 

What are the symptoms of insecure attachment style?

The range of behaviors that someone with insecure attachment may vary quite a bit. Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for.

1. Highly critical of people

Because they have had negative experiences with their caregivers or parents growing up, they tend to be critical of other people.

Their parents were critical of them, so they picked up on that behavior. Plus, they are distrustful of people, so they try to bring them down. [Read: How to be less critical – 15 reasons why you judge and how to stop it]

2. “The grass is always greener” syndrome

They might idealize other relationships besides their own. In other words, they look at other couples and wonder why their partnership isn’t as good as theirs. They think the grass is always greener somewhere else.

3. Afraid of commitment 

Some people with insecure attachment styles, such as the avoidant one, are afraid to commit to anyone. They think that if they commit, then they will just get let down and be disappointed. So, they avoid that more extremely than a normal person.

4. Mind games to get partner’s attention

The anxious attachment style might resort to mind games in order to get their partner’s attention. Because they are insecure and crave affection, they might have to do things in order to get it, even if they have to resort to manipulation. [Read: 14 signs a narcissist is playing mind games with you and gaslighting you]

5. Disorganized

Some who develop an insecure attachment don’t have very good organizational skills. They might have messy homes or offices, and they might not be very good at budgeting their time or planning their schedules. This is especially true of the disorganized-insecure attachment style.

6. Come here… go away

When they are in a romantic relationship, they will send mixed messages to their partners. One day they will be all affectionate and want to be with you. But the next day, they will push you away and want their distance.

7. Inability to communicate well

People with this kind of style also usually don’t have good communication skills. They don’t know how to verbalize their needs and wants. In fact, they might not even be aware of what they are.

So, their actions might be confusing to their partners because they don’t tell them what they are feeling or what they want. [Read: How to communicate in a relationship – 16 steps to a better love]

8. Suppresses emotions in front of other people

Some insecure attachers are overly emotional, but some of them are the opposite. They don’t feel comfortable expressing their emotions with other people.

This is most likely due to the fact that their parents strongly discouraged doing that while they were growing up.

9. Passive in relationships

Their parents were not always kind to them and were mostly aggressive. Because of that, they are more comfortable in the passive role in relationships. They were so used to their parents being dominant, that they can’t find their own strength.

10. Keeps issues to themselves

As children, their parents and caregivers didn’t respond well – or not at all – to their needs and wants. So, they learned that talking about their problems doesn’t help.

They think no one is interested in them, so they keep them to themselves. [Read: 19 secrets to open up to someone you’re dating even if you’re scared]

11. Prioritizes their desires over their partner’s

They fear that their desires or needs won’t ever be fulfilled because they never were as children. So, some people might be overly selfish and put their desires before their partner’s. They think they have to do that in order to get them met.

12. Can’t trust others

Another symptom of people with an insecure attachment style is that they have a difficult time trusting other people. This is understandable considering the fact that they couldn’t even trust their own parents when they were a child.

13. Low self-worth

They experienced a lot of negativity from their caregivers growing up. And as a result, they heard a lot of bad things regarding who they are as a person. This usually leads to them having low self-esteem and self-worth. [Read: How to build self-esteem and love life with simple life changes]

14. Abandonment issues

They could never count on their parents, and because of that, they feared that their parents might abandon them someday.

And even though they aren’t children anymore, they transfer this fear to their current and future relationships as well. 

15. Overly dependent in relationships

In relationships, they are not very independent. They want their partner to take care of them and don’t want to do much themselves. In fact, some of them don’t even like being single at all.

16. Craving closeness and intimacy

When your parents don’t give you a lot of love and affection, a person can become desperate for it from other people. This can make them look clingy and needy to other people because they are craving closeness and emotional intimacy in their relationships. [Read: 37 ways to stop being clingy and holding on so tight you push them away]

17. Need for constant reassurance

Because they have low self-esteem, they have to get their sense of self from other people. They can’t talk to themselves and feel good. So, they have to rely on others for constant reassurance that they are okay.

18. Overly sensitive to partner’s actions and moods

They can also be paranoid about other people’s actions and moods. For example, they might overanalyze everything their partner says or does. When there is something they don’t like, they are overly sensitive to it.

19. Highly emotional, unpredictable, moody, and impulsive

People with this style grew up in a very unstable environment. They never knew what was going to happen from day to day or hour to hour.

That makes them on edge and also quite emotional and unpredictable. They might even be impulsive in a lot of situations. [Read: Why are girls so moody? 17 reasons and ways to help you deal with them]

20. Avoidance of close relationships 

For some with this attachment style, they might try to avoid emotional relationships altogether. They didn’t have good experiences with their parents, and probably with other people in their lives.

So, they might think that it’s just easier not to get too close to people so they don’t get hurt.

21. Fear of rejection

No one likes to be rejected, but this emotional attachment style can make people who have it even more fearful than the average person. Because they have this deep-seated fear, they might act jealous, possessive, clingy, or needy.

22. Extreme loneliness

If someone has more of an avoidant style, that means they might not have a lot of close relationships – if any. So, it is likely that they might experience extreme loneliness because they spend a lot of time alone. [Read: How not to feel lonely – 30 ways to chase the lonely blues away]

23. Negative self-talk

How someone talks to themselves is directly related to their self-esteem. Because their parents did not make them feel good as a child, they have internalized their parents’ negative communication – inside their own heads.

How the insecure style of attachment affects adult relationships

The adult attachment styles that develop in childhood have lasting effects that carry over into adulthood. And as a result, these attachment styles affect your relationships.

For example, if someone has insecure-ambivalent attachment, they might be so anxious in relationships that they want to spend all of their time with their partner. [Read: How to feel secure in a relationship when you feel insecure inside]

They can end up smothering them because they never allow them to have alone time. This clingy behavior can be a real turn-off for their partners. It can even push them away. 

On the other hand, a person with an insecure-avoidant style might struggle with loneliness because of the fear of being too close to other people. They might seem cold and uninterested to other people if they get into a new relationship, and that can cause a lot of conflicts.

People who tend to have avoidant or resistant attachment styles tend to use immature defense mechanisms too when they are communicating with other people.

For example, they might normally suppress their emotions or project their own anxieties and fears onto their partners. They do this to try to protect themselves from being hurt. [Read: How to stop being insecure in a relationship and be happy together]

How to overcome the insecure attachment style

Some experts think that a person’s attachment styles can’t be changed. They think that once a person becomes an adult, they will be at the mercy of their style, and it will affect every relationship they ever have.

However, other experts disagree. There are some ways that people can overcome or at least cope with an insecure attachment.

One of the best ways to do this is by using psychotherapy. One, in particular, cognitive behavioral therapy, is very useful. It examines and challenges distorted thoughts and negative behaviors. [Read: Relationship therapy – 25 clues to know if it will help your romance]

Different types of psychodynamic psychotherapies, such as transference-focused psychotherapy, have been shown to help patients understand and rework problematic patterns in their relationships. It can help uncover traumas that shaped their attachment patterns and help them change the way their subconscious mind works.

One of the main things that an insecurely attached person must do is to “earn their security.” This can be done by examining the impact of their subconscious decisions on their life and relationships.

Then, they will have to accept the events from their childhood that led to those views and feelings.

Communication is also key to overcoming the insecure attachment style. If someone is in a committed relationship, they have to talk to their partner about their insecurities they have and where they came from. [Read: Communication exercises for couples – easy games to be a better lover]

It’s important to be honest with their partners about their needs because it can help the two people get on the same page and understand each other better.

Couples therapy is also a great option for overcoming this if you find it difficult to communicate on your own. A trained, unbiased professional will help you learn more about your situation and how a person can be supportive of their partner’s negative attachment issues.

How to help your partner form a secure attachment

While you might wish that you had a magic wand to make your partner overcome their insecure attachment style, you don’t. There’s no easy fix. [Read: 22 signs to see a troubled relationship and the best way to fix it ASAP]

But if you’re in a relationship, then you have a responsibility to do what you can to help. And it can be just as simple as being there for them.

Talk to your partner about it – but carefully. Communicate, be kind, and reassure them of your love. If this isn’t enough, then they should seek help through counselling. Couples counseling can help too.

At the end of the day, you can only do so much to help a partner who is constantly feeling insecure. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re trying everything you can to make them feel safe and secure, but they still don’t. [Read: How to deal with an insecure boyfriend without frustration]

Don’t feel guilty – it’s not your fault. Their feelings aren’t about you and your actions. Instead, it’s all about them. Just try to work together and remind them that they are loved and that you’re always there for them. 

However, just remember that you also can’t hold yourself responsible for their feelings. You deserve a balanced relationship where both partners make the other feel loved and supported. Don’t go overboard just to make them happy at the expense of your own happiness.

[Read: 50 secrets and early signs of a good relationship that make a great one]

Form and develop a more secure attachment if you can recognize where you are now and where you want to be in a stable, healthy, and meaningful relationship. Finally, let go of insecure attachment for good.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...