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Attachment in Adults

What are Attachment Problems for Adults?

Attachment is how we relate to others, and it influences the types of relationships that we form. As a baby, we start to develop mental models about others based on how responsive they are to our needs. Caregivers who are reliable, stable, available, responsive and soothing, create a safe base for children to explore the world around them, knowing that they can return to their caregiver when needed.

Many things can disrupt attachment style, such as a parent who is unable to meet a child’s emotional needs, or negative experiences that may occur throughout the lifespan such as abuse, violence, bullying, death of a loved one, etc.

As adults, we carry around these similar models in our minds. When we encounter a “threat”, be it mental, emotional, or physical, we often seek the comfort of someone close to us. A threat can be anything that our brain perceives as threatening such as criticism, someone accidentally bumping into us in the grocery store, a car accident, etc. Even good news like a job promotion can be something that moves us to seek out a loved one to share the update.

Adult attachment styles may be categorized as secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant.

Secure attachment:

Low anxiety and low avoidance. Assumes others are reliable and sees oneself as loveable.


High anxiety and low avoidance. Preoccupation with maintaining relationships can look like reassurance seeking or clingy behaviour. It involves seeing others as unstable or inconsistent, so that you need to constantly nurture the relationship in order to keep it.


Low anxiety and high avoidance. This type of attachment can look like being overly self-reliant, able to compartmentalize or repress emotional needs.


High anxiety and high avoidance. This can make relationships difficult or impossible, it involves viewing others as unreliable and oneself as undesirable.

Can therapy change Attachment in Adults?

Attachment patterns can change over time, but the process is long and slow. Therapy can help you to understand what attachment styles you use, and to better understand how that was developed over time. By having greater self-awareness you can learn to break free of unhealthy patterns and learn how to make more conscious decisions in your relationships with others, to help cultivate greater security within those relationships and within yourself.

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