How We Learn To Love (Understanding Your Attachment Style and How To Change It)

In order to break the cycle we must understand the cycle. And understanding our attachment style, or attachment pattern, provides us with tremendous awareness on how we function in relationships, and why. With this information we can make real changes first within ourselves and then within our relationships. We can break the cycle of abusive, toxic, unstable, codependent and/or dysfunctional marriages, friendships, families and communities.

So what is the attachment theory?

This theory suggests that the manner in which our bonding needs were met during childhood by our caregiver(s) serves as a subconscious blueprint on how to love and connect with others and ourselves. This impacts our ability to be vulnerable, empathic, assertive, expressive, authentic, compassionate, confident, open, aware, trusting, emotionally responsive and intimate.

Basically, we love the same way we were loved.

As you read through each attachment style, keep in mind the following:

1. It is normal to resonate with more than one attachment style during different relationships/interactions. For an example, you may have experienced an anxious pattern in one relationship and a dismissive pattern in another.

2. Your attachment pattern is not a life sentence. You can change, you can grow - if you are willing to do the healing work.

3. Not all patterns form solely from childhood. Other life experiences can contribute to our bonding behavior.

4. Not all parents who didn't respond with secure attaching are awful people. Some parents were emotionally unavailable because they worked 2-3 jobs, were young and emotionally immature, were a single parent or just couldn't give the love they themselves never received.

These aren't excuses to inadequate parenting, just another perspective to consider. With that being said, don't make this about them. Understanding your attachment pattern is for you to heal, grow, and lead a joy-filled life.

So let's break each attachment down!

There are four patterns: secure, anxious preoccupied and two types of avoidant, dismissive and fearful.

Secure Attachment

Though a secure attachment is ideal, it doesn't mean that a child was raised without flaw, challenge or conflict nor that the parents were perfect. It does means that the child's needs were met appropriately and consistently with a nurturing and supportive response. As an adult, there is a positive expectation from self, others and life. However, being raised with this attachment doesn't make someone a perfect person. No one is perfect!

As a child:

  • needs are met with positive interaction

  • provided with consistent love, protection and safety

  • predicable environment

  • felt comfortable relying on close relationships

  • felt free to explore and trust

  • need for individuality and connection both acknowledged

As an adult:

  • tend to have a high self-esteem

  • comfortable expressing emotions and needs

  • more stable relationships

  • positive view of self and other

  • confident in abilities

  • views challenges as temporary and solvable

Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

An anxious preoccupied attachment develops when a child's needs are inconsistently met, which causes great anxiety, insecurity, and a deep longing for validation. Subconsciously, there is a longing for intimacy, but a fear of disappointment. The narrative of inadequacy typically leads one to become clingy, controlling, and/or bossy as a shield to avoid being disappointed, again.

But, while being clingy is seen as "crazy", it's actually quite logical how having your needs of love and validation met on and off creates anxiety, uncertainty, and fear.

You're not crazy or weak, you are just in a space that needs healing and help, and that's okay.

As a child:

  • needs are inconsistently met

  • become confused and insecure

  • never knowing what to expect

  • fear of speaking up

As an adult:

  • anticipate abandonment and rejection

  • desires constant reassurance

  • hyper-vigilant

  • self-critical

  • negative view of self, positive view of others

  • display controlling behaviors

  • display codependent behaviors

Dismissive Avoidant Attachment

This attachment develops when a child's needs are rejected and scolded due to emotionally unavailable parents/caregivers. Subconsciously, this child grows to believe that expressing emotions and being vulnerable makes one weak. That it's pointless and in fact a burden to do so. The narrative becomes, "In order to be close to people, I must take care of my own emotional needs". As an adult, emotions are buried in over working, emotional distance, distractions, bottling emotions up and in other functions that keep vulnerabilities at bay.

But again, it is quite understandable how someone who has never felt heard will refuse to speak. How someone who may have been constantly shut down learns to constantly shut down others, and themselves. It's understandable how having your needs neglected makes you cold...

As a child:

  • needs are neglected

  • parents/caregiver emotionally unavailable

  • learns to withdraw instead of express

  • taught emotions are a burden

As an adult:

  • fear intimacy (views emotions as weak and burdensome)

  • buries self in work or hobby to avoid and detach

  • positive view of self, negative view of others

  • emotionally unavailable - suppresses/push away

  • may sabotage relationship as an 'escape'

  • withdraws when relationships or connections get too close

Fearful Avoidant Attachment

This attachment style is a combination of the other two (anxious and dismissive). And to be honest, anyone with this attachment style knows it's exhausting. To be anxious and distant at the same time is confusing, draining, and frustrating for you and for those you are in intimate connection with you. It's an emotional push pull.

It's when you want to be connected to someone so badly (anxious) and as soon as you are, you push them away (dismissive).

It's having low self-trust and self-esteem in yourself and in those around you. Resonating with this doesn't make you crazy - it makes you in need of your own love, awareness and appreciation.

As a child:

  • needs are neglected

  • none to little nurturing and supportive responsiveness

  • parents/caregiver emotionally unavailable

  • felt unprotected and unloved

As an adult:

  • combination of anxious and dismissive attachment

  • fear abandonment and rejection

  • distrusting / fear of getting too close

  • emotionally unstable (often feeling on a emotionally roller coaster)

  • negative view of self and others

  • codependent habits

Which attachment pattern resonates with you?

Which pattern(s) do you recognize in those around you? Really take a moment to reflect on how you've engaged in your previous and current relationships and who you choose to engage with.

Founder of Navigate YOU, Trillion Small stated in her book "The Caged In Heart" (a book about how childhood wounds affect your adult life - check it out!) that the following are also effects of attachment injuries: compulsive self-reliance, maladaptive perfectionism, fear, shame, egocentrism, low ability to regulate emotions, impulsivity, rumination, dissociation, fight, flight or freeze modes, silent anger, fear of compassion/closeness from others, low self-compassion/self-esteem, unhealthy relationships and walls.

That means, our attachment injuries can cause havoc in our adult lives if they remained unhealed! It's time to pull back the curtain on our wounds so that they may be tended to and healed.

But, don't beat yourself up if seeing your pattern is a hard pill to swallow. You had no control over who your parents/caregivers were and how they choose to love you. The learned behaviors and beliefs of withdrawal or anxiety served you back then as a child. It was your minds way of surviving and figuring out how to get your needs met given the environment.

Now as an adult, those unhealthy attachment techniques are no longer needed and are now counter-productive. Just drop them and develop a healthy secure bonding pattern. Choose to break free of a pattern that doesn't serve you and take a step towards being as happy, healed, whole and free as you were meant to be.

Though each attachment has specific needs in healing, here is an overview (in no particular order) on some steps you can take no matter your attachment pattern.

  1. Deeply unapologetically love and care for yourself. Truly acknowledge what you think, feel, want and need. Not with an irrational selfish impulsive attitude but with a compassionate awareness to your well-being. Love yourself by tending to your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs - really set S.M.A.R.T. goals that will take you to the next level. Think and say positive kind words about yourself. Give yourself more credit for all that you well. Acknowledge your strengths with celebration and accept your flaws with grace. Treat yourself the way you want that dream lover to treat you - like a number one priority. Learn yourself. Take time to do more things that makes you feel good and in flow. Be kind to yourself. Just be nicer to you.

  2. Practice mindfulness and stress reducing techniques. Anxiety doesn't just effect people who are anxious preoccupied, anxiety has become cultural disease! We ALL need to practice mindfulness and stress reducing techniques no matter your attachment pattern. Mindfulness is simply tuning in to your body and thoughts to become present.

  3. Develop empathy and understanding for others. To be honest, just be nice. It's not that deep. Treat people the way you want to be treated. If this is challenging for you, then allow yourself to open up bit by bit, day by day. Start by finding nice things to say/think about others, then start telling them! Even if it's just a small compliment. The point is to respect that others feel the same emotions you feel and to put yourself in someone else's shoes - just like you want someone to respect you.

  4. Develop a spiritual practice. Stop trying to do this life thing without faith. Connect with God, the Universe and I promise your world will completely change for the better. Set a daily prayer time. Meditate daily. Read inspirational literature. Find a church or spiritual community to connect with. At the end of the day, we are spiritual beings have a human experience. Everything is done by vibration first. Tap in to that.

  5. Learn and practice healthy boundaries. Check out my previous blog How to Take Your Power Back: Setting Boundaries . Also, I've posted on Instagram @coachingthelittleyou several books that helps in this area! Developing healthy boundaries has helped me to make major progress in releasing trust issues.

  6. Guard your heart and protect your progress. If someone triggers you back in to your old pattern, acknowledge that and then guard your heart. Ask God/your Higher Power on wisdom on how to engage with that person. But don't go backwards. Also, guard your heart by monitoring what you watch on TV, who and what you follow on social media and the music you listen to. Protect your growth in all ways.

  7. Re-parent yourself with the embrace of love you desire and deserve. Give yourself the deep love and validation that you needed. Refer to number 1 on how to do that. :)

  8. Educate yourself. Read. There are sooooo many books available not only on attachment patterns but on all self-development and healing your inner child. Grab one! Set a goal to read at least 2-3 books this year to invest in your healing. You are worth it.

  9. Practice speaking up. Start expressing yourself. Stop holding everything in. If this is new or challenging to you, then start with trivial more casual matters. When someone asks you a question give your real answer, not what you think that other person wants to hear. You are the only advocate for you - speak up.

  10. Quit judging folks. Honestly, judging is just a distraction that keeps us small. It distracts us from bettering ourselves and being in connection with others. We live in a culture now that fuels on judging and criticizing others. Yuck. That's not true inner peace and healing. Our objective is to relearn connection in a healthy secure way, so judging just has to go.

  11. Examine your childhood from a new perspective and forgive your parents for not loving you the way you wished to be love. Check out Can’t Forgive Your Parents? blog and many others through the website!

  12. See a counselor. Get real support from a licensed counselor that can walk you through each step in your healing process. If that's out of the budget, then find a support group or trusted friend.

  13. Renew your mind in dating and relationships. The same blueprint we learned from our caregivers on how to love and connect with others is the same blueprint we subconsciously use in our romantic relationships. Not because it's right or good but because it feels normal and predictable. The mind attempts to recreate the same structure of love and then attracts a partner who can provide that. So, follow "steps" 1-12 first so that you may create a relationship built on a better foundation.

  14. Actually do the work. Don't just read the blogs and the posts and be inspired for the 52 seconds. Read it and commit to make a real change. Decide you want to be free. Nothing works unless you do.

You deserve a full life and only you can give that to yourself.

LOTS of healing Love,


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