Many of you reading my articles have asked me if you can become securely attached while trying to attract back your ex, how long it will take you to become securely attached, and if and how I can help you become more secure. These are fair questions especially with me carrying on about working to become more securely attached in my “very many articles and very few YouTube videos” (this is a quote from a comment and it’s brutally accurate).
Before I go any further, I need to clarity that when I talk about becoming more securely attached or the stabilizer in the relationship in my articles, I’m not saying becoming more securely attached will make you some kind of super-mate who can do not wrong or is the only way you will ever be able to attract back your ex.
The reason why I encourage you to become more secure is because a secure attachment style makes relationships a lot easier, more fun and more fulfilling. When you are securely attached, the things you read in my articles on how make an ex feel safe, how not to trigger, pressure or overwhelm, how to be consistent, how to emotionally connect, how to reassure, how to communicate in a non violent way etc,. are things you do naturally, everyday, effortlessly; and not as a game, tactical strategy or method.
The risk of over-focusing on attachment theory and attachment styles
Also, when you are securely attached, you appreciate yourself and others more because you see them as an individual first, and their attachment issues as secondary. In fact one way you can tell someone who has always been securely attached (continuous secure) or earned their security and has remained secure for years from someone who has recently earned their secure attachment or believes they’re securely attached but has no clue what it even means to be securely attached is how they frame their experiences, the words and phrases they use to describe their ex, and their super focus on attachment theory and attachment styles.
People who are new to attachment styles or are still trying to figure out a healthy and secure way of being in relationships are justifiably super focused on attachment theory and attachment styles. Attachment theory, though not perfect is in my opinion the most accurate science-based relationship framework to date. If you’re trying to get back your ex and are well-educated on attachment styles, you’re steps ahead in the process.
But a super focus on attachment theory and attachment styles can also make you lose sight of your ex’s individuality and you only see them as an attachment style, and also fail to see, understand and work on why the relationship wasn’t working for your ex or why they lost interest in continuing a relationship with you. And as I’ve said in other articles, most people over-focused on attachment styles don’t often get their ex back. They give up because despite reading, studying, scrutinizing and even taking courses, they still can’t figure out what to do with a “fearful avoidant” or “dismissive avoidant”.
Securely attached people are different in this regard. They see others as more than their attachment style, more than someone who is damaged by their past/upbringing, more than someone who is hard to understand or is confusing, needs to be fixed, deserves sympathy or pity, and/or needs to be dissected, scrutinized and figured out. They also don’t lose sight of the issues that led to the break-up and give them more attention than they give their ex’s attachment style.
My continuous securely attached clients don’t even say “my ex is an avoidant” or I’m securely attached” unless I ask about their attachment styles. They tell their story and expect the way they’ve been in the relationship and/or handled the break-up to speak for itself. I guess it’s the same way very intelligent people don’t talk about being smart and very funny people don’t say they’re funny: they just are.
The point is, a secure attachment helps you recognize patterns of behaviours that are either anxious, fearful or dismissive but instead of super focusing on your ex’s attachment style, what’s ‘wrong” with it or how you work around it, you see attachment theory and attachment styles only as a tool to use to create a better relationship experience for both of you.
What being securely attached looks and feels like
Securely attached just like anxious, fearful and dismissive attachments have a distinctive way of perceiving, thinking, feeling and being, and even the words they use to frame their experiences are distinctively secure attachment.
You can easily recognize someone who has always been secure from childhood because unlike insecure attachments, secures have no childhood experiences that trigger anxious or avoidant tendencies found in other attachment styles. Because of their positive and secure childhood experiences, people with a secure attachment view relationships as both safe and rewarding because this is their experience from childhood and in adult relationships. They have reasonable expectations that others will be available, responsive, loving, caring and dependable, and will return their love and thus are not afraid of closeness or pushing someone away.
Securely attached are consistent in what they say and do, and let you know how they’re feeling but also have healthy appropriate boundaries. They don’t have a problem with being vulnerable and are capable of honest, open, and empathetic communication where both people feel heard, valued and their needs met. For example, they let me know when they’ll be unavailable, explain and often have a good reason for when they’re unable to respond and never pull back on connection unless you ask for space or there’s good reason to. Because they’re confident of their ability to negotiate what feels safe for themselves and how to make others feel safe without pushing (pressure) or the need to pull back from connection, a relationship with someone with a secure attachment feels emotionally safe and loving, and you feel listened to, heard, cared for, and wanted. These traits are how secures recognize each other and are drawn to other secures.
People with earned security (started with an insecure attachment but became secure) often have childhood trauma triggers but have developed enough security to not let their triggers interfere with their relationships and experiences. From time to time, earned secures may get triggered but they have “back to secure” tools that they use to respond to their experience rather than react with anxiety or avoidance.
Feeling secure and having a secure attachment are not the same thing
I’ve found that most anxiously attached say “I’m secure, my ex is avoidant” because they subconsciously or consciously don’t want their attachment issues to be the focus of attention and/or are convinced that their avoidant ex’s attachment style is why the relationship didn’t work. Others declare themselves “secure” simply because they understand attachment theory or took a course on attachment styles. Some people even take an attachment style test but because they are either self-unaware or emotionally dishonest (a trait of insecure attachment), score “secure”, but their relationship experiences say otherwise. It’s like the same relationship and same issues over and over, and only the people and a few minor things changed.
Being securely attached is the way you communicate who you are, how you are with others, and how you engage in relationships, with your reality and the world around you. As I said earlier even the way you talk about your break-up experience and/or ex is different when you’re securely attached.
That said, just because you have an anxious attachment, fearful avoidant attachment or dismissive avoidant attachment doesn’t mean you do not have some elements of secure attachment or aren’t capable of behaving securely attached. There are many traits of secure attachment that are also found in insecure attachment styles.
For example, both secure attachment and anxious attachment styles score low on attachment avoidance, meaning both attachment styles are not afraid of getting close. But while securely attached have safe and secure ways of seeking closeness, anxiously attached have unhealthy and insecure ways of trying to get close to others and often end up pushing people away and/or getting rejected.
Both secure attachment and dismissive avoidant attachment styles score low on attachment anxiety, meaning both attachment styles don’t get anxious about relationship or their partner’s response towards them. But while securely don’t get anxious because they trust their partners to do what’s good for the relationship and by them, dismissive avoidants don’t get anxious because they dismiss and suppress their concerns about trusting others and able to go through their day without getting anxious about a relationship and what their partner is doing.
And if an anxiously attached, fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant ignores their attachment tendencies, they can actually pull off acting secure for a while.
Insecure attachment sabotages your efforts to get back with your ex
The point is, you may have some traits of a secure attachment, but this doesn’t make you securely attached. They make you lean more secure but that’s different from being secure. Your insecure attachment – anxious, fearful or dismissive – will always get in the way of your relationships and unfortunately at the worst possible times when you are attached to someone and really, really want the relationship to work, or have put so much effort, time and money into trying to get back your ex, have made a lot of progress and ding, ding, ding! You get triggered and you unravel, or your ex says or does something and everything comes unglued.
This is why I write and talk a lot about becoming more securely attached. It’s a kind of self-sabotage where you get in your own way (repeatedly). It often happens subconsciously when your insecure attachment style auto-operates in ways that are familiar and comfortable and creates experience that are familiar and ironically comfortable in an unhealthy way.
But it can also happen consciously. I see it with my clients on a daily basis, especially those super focused on attachment theory and their ex’s (avoidant) attachment style. They keep insisting they’re securely attached; the problem is their ex’s fearful or dismissive attachment style. They know all about attachment styles – they’ve researched, read books and even got certification on attachment theory – but if only they knew how to deal with their ex’s fearful or dismissive avoidant attachment style or somehow help their avoidant ex be less avoidant, everything would be fine. They’d be okay and the relationship would work.
No, that’s NOT how it works. Articles, books, podcasts, courses, YouTube videos etc., can definitely help with learning to self regulate, control your own triggers and navigate an avoidant’s triggers or give them space, set boundaries and/or finally have the courage to remove yourself from people who aren’t safe for you and generally become more secure, but developing a secure attachment requires deep inner work.
The break-up should be a catalyst for becoming securely attached
To become more securely attached, you need to not just manage attachment-related triggers but slowly disable the subconscious auto-pilot processes and mental representations (internal working models) that power your attachment style. You need to work on:
- What you believe about yourselves, people and relationships in general
- How you make yourself happy and fulfilled outside of a relationship
- How your brain processes attachment/relationship-related information and experiences
- How you deal with and respond to relationship threats and unwanted emotions and feelings
- How you communicate your needs and negotiate both of your needs in a relationship
- What you allow and what you won’t allow to make yourselfer feel safe (create safe boundaries)
- How you respect the other person’s boundaries – way of being, space, time, feelings.
- How you love and care and how you allow yourself to be loved and cared for etc.
The break-up experience and trying to get with an ex is in my opinion a favourable environment for dealing with some deep-seated attachment related issues and triggers that you may or may not know you we have but haven’t dealt with and triggers issues related to separation and reuniting with an attachment figure which are similar to those studied by Dr. Ainsworth. If you haven’t heard of Dr. Mary Ainsworth, you don’t know as much about attachment styles as you think you know. Without her strange situation experiment, there would be no “attachment styles”. Google Dr. Mary Ainsworth or read up on her strange situation experiment and how it mirrors adult romantic break-ups and attempts to reunite with an ex in some of my articles (use my site search tool).
A study that looked at attachment styles and personal growth following romantic breakups (Marshall, Bejanyan and Ferenczi, 2013) found that people with an anxious attachment experience greater personal growth after a break-up than all the other attachment styles. And based on what people working on changing their attachment style say online, an anxious attachment responds very well to many different types of interventions, therapies and treatments models.
The late Dr. Dan Brown who was a Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School and a leading expert on hypnosis says, “People with dismissive attachment turn out to be the easiest to treat. They’re harder to engage in treatment, but once they get started, people with pure dismissive move to secure.”
If you have a fearful avoidant attachment, you will likely require more work and more time to change your attachment style because of the complex (layered) trauma associated with having a disorganized attachment style.
How long does it take to become securely attached?
Needless to say, everybody learns differently, and everybody heals and grows at their own pace, but every time I read “become secure in 5 easy steps” or “become securely attached in 2 weeks/90 days” my heart breaks for people who believe that becoming more secure is that easy.
Becoming secure or achieving earned security takes months, years. Thinking that all it takes to become securely attached is tweak your insecure attachment style may actually do more harm than good. You think you’ve earned your secure attachment, but you keep finding yourself in the same unhealthy experiences and dynamics. But because you think you’re secure, you’re stuck unable to see how you can possibly change anything. You start thinking the problem must be your ex and what you need is to learn even more about your ex’s attachment style, and how you can help them (fearful or dismissive avoidant) be less avoidant. You take more classes, read more books, sign up for more courses or one-on-one sessions with an attachment coach or therapist. At some point, “self-improvement” becomes an obsession and even an addiction – and you’re still stuck.
Therapy with a good well-trained attachment-based therapist is probably the most effective way of permanently changing your attachment style. But even with the best trained attachment-based therapist, it takes months to years to peel through undiscovered layers of trauma, rewire your brain to reframe your experiences, learn a new way of relating with yourself and healthier ways of attaching to others.
There is no simple way or short-cut for going from insecure to secure attachment
Becoming more secure is still possible without therapy but it takes longer to work through subconscious auto-pilot processes and triggers without those triggers happening in real time or someone e.g. a trained professional bringing what’s in the subconscious to conscious awareness, and for you to identify, manage and disable them with consistent secure behaviours.
Without directly dealing with these triggers and working through the trauma that installed then into your subconscious, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you are secure. This also happens when you go no contact and insulate yourself from all attachment triggers. After a while you feel emotionally regulated, more secure and ready to re-establish contact with your ex, but you quickly realize that you are not as secure as you felt when you were in no contact. The same things still trigger you and you struggle to stay regulated and/or respond and engage with your ex from a place of someone more secure.
When doing your self-work on your own, it’s important to remind yourself that when you get triggered or engage in old insecure behaviours, it doesn’t mean you are not becoming more secure, it just means that even if you feel secure, you still need practice in real life situations where you are being safe and providing safety to be sure you’ve earned your security. This is why you need to really be patient with yourself and your journey to secure attachment.
Continuous secures are the way they are because they’ve had a lifetime of practicing being secure. You’ve had an insecure attachment for so many years, it’s going to take a while to change what’s been familiar and to change the way your mind processes attachment-related experiences, how you react to triggers, what you believe about yourself, believe about others and believe about relationships. The most important thing is keep taking one-step, the next and the next until you’ve earned your security.
In addition to self-work and/or working with a therapist, you might want to consider learning how to be secure from a platonic relationship with someone who is securely attached – a friend, mentor, co-worker, spiritual advisor etc. Study after study shows that a long term relationship with someone securely attached can actually change our attachment style to earned secure. Just like any other skill, there are things you can only learn from being around people who are successful at what they do.
Find someone who is securely attached, observe their behaviours, ask questions to learn what they’re thinking and feeling, keep an open mind and learn from how they are with themselves, with others especially in close relationships and generally how they operate in the world.
This brings us to the question, “how can I help you become more secure?”
Can you become secure while trying to get your ex back?
Yes. You can, and I’ll explain why and how working on becoming securely attached and trying to get back your ex at the same time is an effective strategy.
First of all, I’m not a personal development coach. I don’t have podcasts, YouTube videos, courses or one-on-one sessions on how to become more secure. I’m a relationship coach who works one-on-one with people who want their ex back. I’ll from time to time point out what areas you may want to work on to better yourself, but I don’t specifically work with you to heal, transform or change your attachment style. What I do is help you consistently model a secure way of understanding and framing your experiences, put secure behaviours in practice , and learn how to be secure from your mistakes and successes.
Over the years, I’ve found that learning-by-doing in an authentic context that is relevant to your experience combined with the self-work and/or therapy you’re doing is more effective and a faster way to becoming more secure because you’re actively practicing how to be secure – observing, experiencing, self soothing in real time, building self worth, taking initiative and risks, making decisions, setting boundaries assuming responsibility, setting boundaries, creating spontaneous experiences, encouraging opportunities for growth, facilitating accountability etc.
Talking about your experience and observations, discussing feelings generated, asking me questions that emerge, and us role-playing on how to deal better in attachment-related interactions with your ex will help you develop secure behaviours and relationship skills that you can transfer to similar or different situations and relationships.
In addition to practicing being secure with your ex, I also try to be the secure base or “surrogate” attachment figure – available, responsive, caring and consistent – someone you can turn to when something goes wrong and also share your progress when things are going well with your ex.
Many clients open to learning-by-doing over time start to feel more secure because they’re more able to connect attachment theory, what they learn on their own through research, self-work and/or in therapy and real-relationship situations and scenarios. Gradually attachment theory and attachment styles doesn’t feel like some grand abstract theory but a practical and useful tool they can apply in everyday situations naturally and effortlessly.
You earn your secure attachment while attracting back your ex at the same time; and whether you end up getting back together or not, you continue becoming a more securely attached person in general because you’ve been practicing being safe, providing safety and creating a safe emotional environment, a safer dynamic and safer relationship.
Why Are Dismissive Avoidants Attracted To Securely Attached?