Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

Can You Cultivate a More Secure Attachment Style?

If intimacy doesn’t come naturally to you, new research suggests ways to improve your romantic relationships.

When people are uncomfortable with developing intimacy and closeness in their relationships, can they work to overcome this?

The tendency to distance yourself from others is characteristic of an “avoidant attachment style,” which research traces back to childhood. When caregivers are available to respond to children’s needs, attachment theory says, children develop a secure attachment style: They trust others and feel comfortable relying on the people they are close to. However, when caregivers fail to meet children’s needs, they can develop insecure attachment: either attachment avoidance or attachment anxiety (the worry that others will fail to be there for them).

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

Unfortunately for some, attachment style seems to be relatively stable over time. Indeed, research has found that people with secure attachment styles tend to have more stable and long-lasting romantic relationships as adults, whereas people with more avoidant attachment styles tend to experience more negative emotions in social situations and often behave in less constructive ways during conflicts.

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

However, a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that people can actually start to change their attachment style over time and feel better about their relationships—and it might not be as hard as we think.

In one experiment, 70 heterosexual couples completed surveys about their relationship and then participated in a series of brief activities in the lab. Half of the couples completed activities designed to increase closeness and intimacy: They took turns answering questions about themselves (similar to these 36 questions, which other researchers have found to increase feelings of closeness). They also participated in partner yoga, where they held hands or otherwise connected to create poses. (The other half of the couples discussed more impersonal questions and participated in individual yoga).

After the intimacy-building exercises, participants with more avoidant attachment styles rated their relationships as higher-quality than they had beforehand. Meanwhile, participants with more secure or anxious attachment styles did not report increases in relationship satisfaction, nor did the couples who completed the other activities—suggesting that intimacy-building can uniquely benefit people with avoidant attachment.

The benefits of connecting through shared activities appeared to be long-lasting, as well: According to a survey of participants one month later, more avoidant participants who had done intimacy-building had actually decreased in attachment avoidance.

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

36 Questions for Increasing Closeness

To feel more connected, skip the small talk and ask these questions instead.

The researchers found similar benefits for spontaneous interactions that couples had at home. In a different study, 67 heterosexual couples in long-term relationships filled out diaries each night for three weeks about their feelings and their partner’s behaviors towards them. The researchers found that, when participants’ romantic partners acted in positive ways—such as listening to them or making them feel loved—the participants felt more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions, and rated their relationship as higher-quality. These links were most pronounced for participants with more avoidant attachment styles, suggesting (again) that they can especially benefit from good experiences in a relationship.

Importantly, the activities that helped people with an avoidant attachment style didn’t require a huge effort or time commitment. The researchers found that even simple things, like taking turns answering thoughtful questions with your partner or trying an activity together, can have benefits. (Another experiment they conducted found that simply reflecting on positive relationship memories could help reduce the elevated negative emotions that avoidantly attached people tend to experience.)

Sarah Stanton, assistant professor at the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the paper, explains that changing your relationship can start with straightforward activities like these. As she tells Greater Good, “It really can just be as simple as talking to your partner and opening up a little bit.”

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

Do you have a secure attachment style? Having a secure attachment style ensures that your relationship is based on trust, warmth, and mutual respect. This form of attachment is a result of a positive outlook of self, your partner, and your relationship.

People with a secure attachment style have certain personality traits that allow them to approach their relationships differently from those who typically form problematic relationships.

Secure people are confident, emotionally open, and loving. In turn, the fortunate person they love will feel secure, treasured, emotionally safe, and highly valued by their secure partner.

In a study by Cindy Hazan Ph.D. and Phillip Shaver Ph.D., only 56 percent of people reported enjoying secure relationship attachments.

But in order to attract someone with this list of personality traits, you need to first learn and cultivate these qualities in yourself. Emotionally healthy people tend to attract a partner and friends with the same degree of self-esteem and level of emotional health that they have themselves.

You can learn and cultivate these personality traits by observing healthy people, practicing the skills over time, and especially connecting with a therapist or relationship coach who can teach you the skills of having a secure attachment.

Some of these traits are not immediately obvious but will be revealed as you develop a healthy relationship over time.

Here are the 14 personality traits that identify potential candidates for your secure relationship attachment.

1. They Desire Emotional Intimacy.

They want to feel close and connected to their partner. When they feel happy or sad, they will reach out to their partner and want to spend time with them in meaningful activities.

2. They Are Emotionally Responsive.

A partner with a secure attachment style will be open and responsive to their partner, both physically and emotionally. They feel present to their partner and will be aware of their partner’s presence.

3. They Are Emotionally Secure.

According to Wikipedia, “a person whose general happiness is not very shaken even by major disturbances in the pattern or fabric of their life” would be seen as emotionally secure.

4. They Show Empathy.

A person with a secure attachment will demonstrate compassion and understanding with their mate and with others.

“To feel attached is to feel safe and secure. By contrast, an insecurely attached person may have a mixture of feelings towards their attachment figure: intense love and dependency, fear of rejection, irritability and vigilance.” – Jeremy Holmes

5. They Correctly Read Other People’s Emotions.

They are able to correctly identify the cues of how other people may be feeling. This helps them to know how to respond to their partners more easily. They are also able to pick up on their mate’s feelings and will be more adept in understanding their partner.

6. They Have A Healthy Self-Esteem.

Secure people feel good about themselves. They are confident in their abilities to succeed and are secure about their worth to others.

Being secure in themselves makes them more likely to attract a partner who is also emotionally healthy. They are more likely to feel secure in the love of their partner and to trust that love is genuine.

7. They Understand Their Own Emotions.

People with this personality trait are aware of and understand their emotions. For instance, they don’t confuse frustration with anger or lust with love.

8. They Tolerate And Regulate Negative Emotions.

This recognition allows them to make decisions about what action to take (if any). The process of how they feel before taking action.

“People with a secure attachment style are more likely than others to forgive their partner for wrongdoing. …secure people just naturally dwell less on the negative and can turn off upsetting emotions without becoming defensively distant.” – Amir Levine

How people high in neuroticism may be able to feel better.


  • What Is Neuroticism?
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Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

There’s no longer a psychological diagnosis of “neurotic,” but psychologists still investigate the personality trait of neuroticism. One of the five basic factors of personality, a high level of neuroticism means that an individual has a chronic tendency to worry, approaches the future with dread, reflects on personal weaknesses, and in general finds it difficult to enjoy life to its fullest. Although personality traits are theoretically unchangeable, as they are thought to be part of the fabric of the individual’s psyche, new research suggests some ways that people high in this quality can feel happier about themselves and their lives.

Mark Moriarty Drake and colleagues (2017), of Australia’s Charles Darwin University, investigated the role of neuroticism in making individuals susceptible to experiencing general, non-specific psychological distress. Consistent with the World Health Organization’s characterization of non-specific psychological distress (NPD), the authors regard people who experience this state as showing “elevated levels of cognitive, behavioural, and emotional suffering that are also shared with a wide range of psychological disorders but that are not specific to any single disorder.” The state of NPD can be thought of, they continue, as “predictive of a range of mental and physical problems … and may tax an individual’s ability to cope” (p. 248).

In other words, people high in neuroticism are not just chronically anxious, worried, and unhappy, but they can easily be pushed over the edge when things actually do go wrong in their lives. Because this is a chronic state of reactivity to challenging events, the Australian researchers believed that one intervention in particular could be of value in helping individuals high in this quality to cope with those challenges. Paradoxically, perhaps, they suggest that it is mindfulness, or thinking more intensely about one’s experiences, that could help highly neurotic people.

In mindfulness, you concentrate on and accept your thoughts, and feelings and consciously insert yourself into the moment. You might imagine that this is the worst thing for highly neurotic individuals to do, because it focuses their attention on their maladaptive ways of thinking. However, part of mindfulness is deciding on how to view the experience that you’re having. If you’re engaging in mindfulness, you look at an experience with acceptance and curiosity. Rather than fighting the feeling, you ask yourself where it’s coming from, and redefine the situation as one you can conquer.

Consider what happens when you feel that you’ve made a careless mistake, such as incorrectly calculating how much you have in your checking account. You get an overdraft notice from your bank, and now your mistake becomes not just annoying, but costly. If you’re highly neurotic, you’ll use the experience as confirmation of your weaknesses, and dwell endlessly on the consequences you’re sure that you’ll suffer as a result, counting every dollar as a black mark against your ability to manage your life.

Taking a mindful approach, though, you’ll admit that you made the mistake and acknowledge that it’s causing you to feel upset. You’ll then ask yourself, without undue self-criticism, how you can avoid this situation in the future, and in the end regard it as an important learning experience. You’ll also view your feelings of anxiety as providing information about the types of situations that upset you. It’s exasperating that you now have to pay the overdraft fee, but why does this bother you more than, say, breaking a favorite glass? Gaining insight into what provokes you (in this case, money vs. things) can help you gain greater self-understanding.

Mindfulness is a quality, Drake et al. point out, that you can have as a stable personality characteristic or as an attribute that can change from situation to situation. Their research investigated mindfulness in its invariant form, but they noted that giving people practice in mindfulness exercises could eventually help even the least mindful learn to rely on it on a daily basis. The Australian researchers predicted that, as a stable quality, mindfulness would help offset the role of neuroticism in heightening people’s feelings of distress. In other words, even the most neurotic of us could manage to cope with challenging life situations by drawing on the coping strategies represented by mindfulness.


  • What Is Neuroticism?
  • Find a therapist near me

To test their predictions, the researchers administered a set of questionnaires to a sample of 165 participants (135 of whom were female) ranging from 18 to 72 (with an average age of 39). The 14-item mindfulness inventory they used included such items such as “I am open to the experience of the present moment,” “I watch my feelings without getting lost in them,” and “I see my mistakes and difficulties without judging them.” Neuroticism (along with the other four of the five major personality factors) and psychological distress were measured as well, through standard inventories.

The findings of the Australian team supported the hypothesis that people high in neuroticism who were also high in the trait of mindfulness exhibited lower psychological distress than those individuals high in neuroticism alone. Conversely, those participants with low levels of mindfulness who were high in neuroticism showed the greatest distress of all. Interestingly, other personality traits, such as extraversion, which theoretically should be related to psychological distress, did not show a similar pattern. Overall, people higher in mindfulness regardless of neuroticism levels showed less distress than those with lower mindfulness scores.

Neuroticism Essential Reads

It’s Not the Negativity but Your Reaction to It

BDSM, Personality, and Mental Health

In summary, being mindful of both your positive and negative feelings seems to provide an important tool for combating neuroticism. Because mindfulness is a skill that can be learned, this study’s findings suggest that (should these results hold if studied over time) the highly neurotic could find a way to lessen their negative emotions and, ultimately, their psychological distress. You don’t need to remain stuck in patterns that drain your psychological resources and increase your vulnerability to moving from distress to clinically significant depressive or anxiety disorders.

You may not be able to stop making careless errors or manage every challenge that comes your way. But by practicing mindfulness, you can come closer to accepting yourself, and your limitations, in a way that allows you to achieve greater fulfillment.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, ” Fulfillment at Any Age ,” to discuss today’s blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughtsEveryone has some sense of their future, and the way that sense is experienced may have an impact on whether a person is successful or not. Does your future feel threatening or promising? Do you feel able to make plans and carry them out, or do you feel powerless to make a difference? Do things invariably get better, worse, or go back and forth? Is everything always the same?

Psychotherapy is concerned with the past, the present, and the future: how individuals experience their abilities and picture their lives unfolding. Do they feel organized, goal-oriented, powerful? Positive about themselves? Are they scared to think about the future?

One determinant of how people feel about the future is a process called “attachment.” Attachment describes the ways people connect to themselves and others. Though attachment styles develop in childhood and persist through the adult years, they are amenable to therapeutic intervention. Understanding your attachment styles and how they can affect the future is a powerful psychotherapeutic tool. Your feelings about yourself determine how you see your life path.

Styles of Attachment

  1. Secure
  2. Anxious–preoccupied
  3. Dismissive–avoidant

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Secure attachment hardly needs any explanation. People who are securely attached are easily able to form close relationships with others, and they can generally be said to have good self-knowledge. A person who experiences secure attachment is likely to know what they want and how to reach their goals.

People who are anxious and preoccupied may want to be close to others, but they generally find this difficult. While they might know what they want in the future, and take steps to arrive at the desired goal, these steps might be tentative and feel painful.

Dismissive-avoidant people are typically comfortable when they are not in relationships and need to feel independent and self-sufficient. They may have few fantasies about their futures. If they have goals, they expect to reach them without help from anyone. If they are helped, they may not recognize it.

People who are fearful and avoidant typically find it difficult to trust others or themselves. The future may simply feel like doom to them, and so they prefer to avoid thinking about it.

Addressing Attachment Styles in Therapy

Therapy can directly affect attachment styles. The relationship between the therapist and the person in treatment can help highlight behaviors displayed with others as well as one’s feelings about the self. We can use this process to understand the past and its effects in the present and also to understand how people see their future, develop worthy goals, and learn how to work towards achieving them.

I find in my work with people it is important to be specific about how current behaviors lead to future outcomes. I encourage people to fantasize about what kind of life they want in the future, how they see themselves in a year, or two, or five. Our expectations influence what we see.

Here’s an example:

The relationship between the therapist and the person in treatment can help highlight behaviors displayed with others as well as one’s feelings about the self. We can use this process to understand the past and its effects in the present and also to understand how people see their future, develop worthy goals, and learn how to work towards achieving them.

A woman, let’s call her Francine, experienced multiple anxiety attacks and came to me for help. Our immediate goal was to help Francine learn ways to reduce those attacks, so we talked together about her difficulties and, most importantly, I taught her a breathing routine that reduced her anxiety. Our work concerned her life in the present, and it became clear that she was anxious and preoccupied and somewhat avoidant.

After her anxiety attacks were under control, she began talking about the severe sexual trauma she had experienced. Clearly this trauma was a precipitating factor to her anxiety attacks, and as we spoke about her painful past experiences they gradually came to feel less threatening. I served as a trusted witness, which helped Francine metabolize and digest the trauma. Much of our work together was about trust, more specifically, her learning to trust herself and others.

Once Francine felt stable and clear about her past and secure in the present she could deal with her anxieties for her future and talk about her fears and her wishes. Francine had wanted to go to graduate school for a long time, but she was always scared that she would fail. She had a long list of things she thought she couldn’t do—which came down to her belief that she wasn’t smart enough and she did not know how to study.

These thoughts led us back to her past. Her father was a school principal, and he always told her she wasn’t smart and didn’t know how to study. Now she knew where and how these self-defeating thoughts originated, and she gradually became more realistic. She felt stronger and more in control, until she was eventually able to picture herself in graduate school.

She applied to an MA program and was accepted. Graduate school is demanding, but it was what she wanted, and she says this is the happiest time in her life.

Our work together began in the present, accessed the past, and progressed towards envisioning the future. Although weekly therapy is no longer necessary, Francine checks in when she needs.


  1. Murphy, B., & Bates, G. (1997). Personality and individual differences: Adult attachment style and vulnerability to depression. Personality and Individual Differences, 22(6). 835-844.
  2. Nieves, W. (2014). The future. Psychiatria, 11(3). 155-159.

Attachment styles are characterized by different ways of interacting and behaving in relationships. During early childhood, these attachment styles are centered on how children and parents interact.

In adulthood, attachment styles are used to describe patterns of attachment in romantic relationships. The concept of attachment styles grew out the attachment theory and research that emerged throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Today, psychologists typically recognize four main attachment styles.

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

What Is Attachment?

Attachment is a special emotional relationship that involves an exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure. The roots of research on attachment began with Freud’s theories about love, but another researcher is usually credited as the father of attachment theory.

John Bowlby devoted extensive research to the concept of attachment, describing it as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”   Bowlby shared the psychoanalytic view that early experiences in childhood are important for influencing development and behavior later in life.

Our early attachment styles are established in childhood through the infant/caregiver relationship. In addition to this, Bowlby believed that attachment had an evolutionary component; it aids in survival. “The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature,” he explained.

Characteristics of Attachment

Bowlby believed that there are four distinguishing characteristics of attachment:

  • Proximity maintenance: The desire to be near the people we are attached to.
  • Safe haven: Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat.
  • Secure base: The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.
  • Separation distress: Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure.

Bowlby also made three key propositions about attachment theory. First, he suggested that when children are raised with confidence that their primary caregiver will be available to them, they are less likely to experience fear than those who are raised without such conviction.

Secondly, he believed that this confidence is forged during a critical period of development, during the years of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. The expectations that are formed during that period tend to remain relatively unchanged for the rest of the person’s life.  

Finally, he suggested that these expectations that are formed are directly tied to experience. In other words, children develop expectations that their caregivers will be responsive to their needs because, in their experience, their caregivers have been responsive in the past.

Mindfulness is key in enhancing emotional security in your relationship.

Posted October 24, 2012

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

Ever feel insecure in your relationship? You’re not alone. Attachment theorists believe that secure attachment, or safe emotional interaction and dependence on a loved one, is the most basic human need whether it is between child and parent or between romantic partners. In fact, feelings of insecurity or anxiety in a relationship, or anything that interferes with feelings of security are one of the greatest contributors to feeling unsatisfied in your relationship.

So how do we increase our feelings of security within our relationships? Recent research from Seattle Pacific University points to one method that may help. Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment in a purposeful and nonjudgmental way. Results of a recent study showed that the more mindful you are, the more secure you will feel in your relationship, which will in turn enhance your feelings of relationship satisfaction. Even more, the more mindful you are within your relationship will have added benefits: mindful attunement to your partner may promote the activation and growth of neural circuitry associated with safety, security, and positive affect within the romantic relationship. Think: actually paying attention to what your partner is saying (or better yet, being in the moment and paying attention to how your partner feels in bed!) rather than ticking off that mental to-do list.

Being in the moment is easier said than done. As with all new habits, practice is key.

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

-Remember, being mindful is not an avoidance strategy, but rather in-the-moment awareness. Essentially, it’s the opposite of being on “auto-pilot.”

-Engage all five senses and be aware of what is going on in your environment.

-Try not to judge what you notice, just be aware.

He said/

Want your partner to be a home base for you so you can feel a greater sense of safety and security in life? Want to feel understood, cared for deeply, fulfilled no matter what stresses are going on in your life? The key is attachment – but remember the adage, ‘It is better to give than receive.’ You take the first step and make yourself an attachment figure for your romantic partner. Everyone is looking for that safe port in the storm and if you give it to the one you love, you’re likely to receive back in kind.

How do I become this home base for my partner?

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughts

First, do as She/ said, have a mindful attitude and practice. A mindful attitude allows me to be accepting and at peace with the environment my partner creates for me, even if it’s not the optimal home base I long for. By being accepting and at peace with the environment my partner creates for me I can be more accepting of my partner and extend myself out to him or her.

Second, attune yourself to your partner. You can’t determine the quality of your partner’s life, but you can enhance it, by giving full attention to and following the ways that she or he feels deeply cared for. Giving full attention means giving fully without being distracted with what you want in return. As She/ said, easier said than done. It takes a lot of practice and patience with yourself and with your partner.

Third, be a place of calm for your partner. Sheep won’t readily drink from fast flowing water, so when a shepherd brings his sheep to a bubbling brook he may lie down, stretch his arms out in a circle and create a calm pool. The sheep drink over his shoulders. Have you created a warm protective environment for your partner, a place of solace, a refuge? It’s the main thing that romantic partners do for each other – it’s what makes life good.

Fourth, you don’t have to be perfect – just good enough. And pay attention to what She/ said!

Striving towards secure attachment how to restructure your thoughtsAbandonment fear often stems from childhood loss. This loss could be related to a traumatic event, such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce. It can also come from not getting enough physical or emotional care. These early childhood experiences can lead to a fear of being abandoned by others later in life.

How Abandonment Works

Healthy human development requires needs for physical and emotional care to be met. Unmet needs can result in feelings of abandonment. Experiencing abandonment can become a traumatic life event. The death of a parent can be a traumatic event for a child. Feeling unsafe due to a threatening situation like abuse or poverty can also cause trauma.

Some degree of abandonment fear can be normal. But when fear of abandonment is severe and frequent, it can cause trouble. It may impact how a person’s relationships develop. When this is the case, the support of a therapist or counselor may help.

Emotional Abandonment

A pattern of emotional abandonment or neglect can also be traumatic. It can qualify as a form of abandonment. Emotional abandonment can occur when parents:

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  • Stifle their children’s emotional expression
  • Ridicule their children
  • Hold their children to standards that are too high
  • Rely too heavily on children for their own sense of worth
  • Treat their children as peers

People who felt abandoned as children may be more likely to repeat this pattern with their children. But some emotionally abandoned children recognize this pattern. They can go on to nurture their own children and break the cycle of abandonment. Many of these signs of abandonment may also play out between people in a relationship.

Stress or overwhelm can contribute to emotional abandonment. People with unmet needs often have a difficult time meeting the needs of others. Practicing self-care is an important part of making sure one’s own needs are met. The person who practices self-care can then meet the needs of their child or partner in a healthy way.

Abandonment Anxiety in Relationships

Adults who did not experience abandonment as children may still have feelings associated with abandonment. These can come from losing an intimate partner to separation, divorce, or death. Abandonment may occur in childhood or adulthood. Either way, the impact can be pervasive. It may negatively affect any other relationships a person develops, whether they are intimate, social, or professional.

Fear of abandonment can impact an otherwise healthy relationship. People may worry their partner is having an affair. This anxiety can come from experience with previous affairs. It may also come from previous loss or anxiety issues. Adults who are afraid of being abandoned may work to keep their partner from leaving. They may pour hard work and effort into the relationship. Then, they might worry their partner does not appreciate or reciprocate their efforts.

Signs abandonment may be affecting a relationship include:

People who were abandoned as children may also seek partners that treat them in a similar way. This can lead to a cycle of abandonment. A cycle like that may be difficult to get out of.

Fear of Abandonment in Children

Children may worry about their parents abandoning them. This can be natural, as children form attachments to their parents from birth. Young children may get anxious about their parents leaving for a short trip. They may get anxious when a parent drops them off at daycare or school. It is possible for children not to be impacted long-term by these worries. This can mean making sure they have a secure caregiver attachment. This will help them learn social skills and have healthy relationships later in life.

Signs a child may have abandonment issues include:

  • Clinging or separation anxiety
  • Worrying or panic
  • Fear of being alone
  • Getting sick more often due to stress
  • Difficulty concentrating

If your child shows these signs, there are things you can do to help. It is possible to address fear of abandonment early. This can help children form a secure attachment. One way to help children with this fear is to reassure them of your love and role in their life. Parents may also find it helpful to let children know what the “plan” is on any given day. Knowing what to expect may help children feel reassured of their parents’ presence. They may start to feel more secure even when their parent or caregiver is not present.

Some children experience what is called “abandoned child syndrome.” This may take place after the loss of a parent or caregiver. It can also develop due to physical or emotional abandonment by a parent. Symptoms may show as isolation, low self-worth, and unhealthy coping mechanisms like eating issues or addiction. If not addressed early, symptoms may become severe and make it difficult to form relationships or lead a healthy life.

Long-Term Effects of Abandonment Issues

A person who has experienced abandonment may be more likely to have long-term mental health issues. These are often based on the fear that abandonment will recur. A child who was abandoned by a parent or caregiver may have mood swings or anger later in life. These behaviors can alienate potential intimate partners and friends. A child’s self-esteem can also be affected by lack of parental support.

Abandonment fears can impair a person’s ability to trust others. They may make it harder for a person to feel worthy or be intimate. These fears could make a person prone to anxiety, depression, codependence, or other issues. Abandonment issues are also linked to borderline personality (BPD) and attachment anxiety. Someone who lacks self-esteem due to childhood abandonment may seek relationships that reinforce their beliefs.

Many theories of attachment involved an all-or-nothing process. This means researchers have often focused on why some attachments are able to occur or why they do not. Mary Ainsworth went against this body of research because she believed that attachments were formed through a process that was much more complex than previously discussed.

The Mary Ainsworth attachment theory focuses on providing an explanation as to why there are individual differences in attachment.

Newborns often attach to people and have a primary attachment point, which is usually their mother. Young children also form numerous attachments to certain family members and friends. Unlike adults, however, these infants and youth are unable to verbalize why they make these attachments.

To create her attachment theory, Ainsworth would create an observational technique that she called the Strange Situation Classification. Devised in 1969, it would become the foundation of her ideas about individualized attachment.

Attachment is Complex Enough that It Comes in Multiple Forms

Ainsworth wanted to investigate the security of attachments in young children. This caused her to develop an 8-step procedure to watch how children would display attachment behaviors and what their individualized style happened to be.

Each step in the strange situation scenario would last for about 3 minutes, except for the initial stage that included the experimenter, which would only last for a minute or less. The mother and child would start out alone. Then a stranger would join the mother and the infant. The mother would then leave the child alone with the stranger.

In the next stage, the mother would return to the child and the stranger would leave. Then the mother leaves and the child is left alone. The stranger then returns, which is followed by the mother returning and the stranger leaving.

Ainsworth designed a scoring scale that could then be used during the observations made during this 8-stage process. There were four points of emphasis that were based on the interaction behaviors that the child would direct at the mother when she returned and was reunited with the child.

  • The proximity of the child to the mother and any contact-seeking behaviors that were evident.
  • How long that contact was maintained.
  • If there was any avoidance of proximity or contact with the mother.
  • Resistance to contact from the mother by the child or resistance to comforting efforts.

Each behavioral episode was directly scored for 15 seconds using the attachment theory from Ainsworth. Then each behavior would be rated by the observer on a scale of 1-7 based on the behavior intensity that was displayed.

Ainsworth also noted that there could be exploratory behaviors, searching behaviors, and affect displays offered by the child as part of the behavioral process.

Ainsworth Identified Three Primary Attachment Styles

Through her observational work, Mary Ainsworth discovered three primary attachment styles that may affect children.

  • Type A attachments were those that caused the child to be insecure and avoidant.
  • Type B attachments were those that were secure.
  • Type C attachments were insecure and resistant.

Ainsworth then believed that the attachment types would form based on the early interactions that the child would have with its mother.

Research into the Mary Ainsworth attachment theory in 1990 would produce a fourth attachment style: disorganized.

Each type could be identified based on specific behaviors the child would display. In secure attachments, a child would be distressed when the mother left and be avoidant of the stranger. When the mother returned, the child would become happy again.

For ambivalent attachments, the child would be intensely distressed when the m other leaves. The child would be avoidant of the stranger, then approach the mother upon reunion, but resist contact.

In avoidant attachments, Ainsworth discovered that the child would not be concerned if the mother left. The child would also embrace the stranger and play with them. When the mother returned, the child would show little interest.

Ainsworth discovered that 70% of children tend to have a secure attachment to their mother through her studies. The other 30% of children were equally distributed between Type A and Type C attachments.

What We Have Learned Through Attachment Theory

For children to develop a secure attachment, an initial attachment figure must be present for a child from the very beginning. This attachment figure must be available a majority of the time, be responsive, and also be helpful. It is usually the mother, but could be a father, a sibling, or someone else important in the child’s life.

If one of those attributes is not present, then the attachment of the child changes. This is what we have learned through the attachment theory proposed by Mary Ainsworth.

A 19th-century master describes how Dzogchen meditation can free you from delusional thinking.

In this traditional teaching, revered master and scholar Patrul Rinpoche (1808–1887) distinguishes one form of meditative awareness from another, placing clear emphasis on which, in his eyes, is most superior. As a lineage holder in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Patrul Rinpoche describes the meditator’s ultimate goal as that of Dzogchen, the “Great Perfection,” which is both the fully manifested enlightened mind as well as a philosophical guide for Nyingma students.

Dzogchen builds on the relaxed focus that is attained through shamata, or “calm-state meditation.” Patrul Rinpoche says that shamata practices—like counting the breath or body scanning—can stabilize the practitioner’s mind temporarily, but karmic thoughts will eventually return, entangling one’s awareness with delusion-based distraction. In Dzogchen, a practitioner combines the calm of shamata with insight into the emptiness of all phenomena, including thought. The aim is to cut through the delusional perception of a concrete self. As such, one “liberate[s] thoughts just as they arise” and is disburdened of their karmic imprint.

The Crucial Points of Practice

I take refuge in the guru.

I bow down before the Omniscient One,
Spiritual father, sons, lineage holders,
And my illustrious master,
Who taught me the meaning of Dzogchen,
The inconceivable naked essence,
Primordially free.
The total integration of view and meditation practice­—
Beyond cultivating good qualities
And eliminating bad ones—
Is continuously to remain in wakefulness,
Naturally free, in this very immediate presence
Of awareness, just as it presents itself,
Unaltered, uncorrected.

To know a bit about meditation practice
Without knowing how to set thoughts free
Results in the meditative absorptions of the gods.
Gaining certainty in one’s realization
Comes with gaining skill in
How to set thoughts free just as they’re arising.

Focusing wandering mind through calm-state meditation
May muffle negative mental states for a while.
But as soon as circumstances change,
Ordinary discursive thoughts will just rear up again
Like poison that’s lain dormant,
Until you’ve really understood the subtle crucial point—
How thoughts are set free just as they arise.

Like ripples on water,
Ordinary discursive thoughts
(Wanting this, not wanting that)
Pop up, all of a sudden.
But once you’ve learned how to liberate
Thoughts just as they arise,
They cannot take hold, and so they vanish.
This is a vital point that must be understood.

When “bad” thoughts arise, they will not accrue bad karma,
Since discursive thoughts
Set free just as they arise
Have not yet taken hold.
Who is helped or harmed by a mere flash of thought?

Until you master this crucial point—
How to set thoughts free just as they arise­—
Your habitual mental chatter,
The constant undercurrent of thoughts,
Grows into a flood of negative emotions.

If you merely notice thoughts with mindfulness,
Positive thoughts keep creating hopes
Negative thoughts keep creating fears.
By doing this, you keep accruing and compounding karma;
This process is the true source of samsara.

This is why an instant of awareness
That sets thought free in its own condition
Is superior to a thousand calm-state meditation experiences.

Since primordial liberation, spontaneous liberation,
Liberation upon arising, direct liberation, and the rest,
Are each and all the crux of view, meditation, and action,
Develop meditation by practicing this crucial point:
Freeing thoughts into their own condition.

Apply this crucial point and there is no need
For any other view nor any other meditation.

As all beneficial thoughts arise,
You are free of attachment to them;
Though still striving for virtue, you are free of conceit.

As all negative thoughts arise,
They become unraveled naturally,
Like a tangled snake unwinding.

Should even the five poisons [desire, anger, ignorance/delusion, pride, and jealousy] arise,
In an instant they are released into their own condition.

Neutral thoughts, too, self-settle naturally
Subsiding into the expanse of awareness.
Set free just as they arise, they leave no more imprint
Than the flight of a bird through the sky.

Deluded thinking is the very root of samsara.
Once you are certain how to bring discursive thought
Onto the path, through this self-liberation,
That is “freeing samsara and nirvana in the absolute expanse.”
Until you master this vital point—

Becoming certain about this method of
Self-liberating discursive thoughts
And thus bringing all circumstances onto the path­
Though you may be able to blather on about emptiness,
Your “realization” is mere theory.
Your hidden negative qualities will be naturally exposed.
In the end, the five poisons will prevail
If you mistakenly regard their apparent solidity to be real.

Why? Only from the error of not knowing
How to liberate thoughts just as they arise.

Therefore, the most important point
About view, meditation, and action,
Which brings about the confidence of realization,
Boils down to mastery of this way
Of self-liberating [thoughts just as they arise].

Applying this in all circumstances of your life,
Keep bringing everything onto the path toward realization.

Even though I myself have not yet mastered this,
Inspired by the words of the omniscient master, the very Buddha,
I have written down these words.

Take these words to heart, since
This is the most crucial, essential point of practice.

May all be auspicious!

From Enlightened Vagabond: The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche by Matthieu Ricard © 2017 by Shechen Publications, Inc. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications , Boulder, CO.

To learn more about Dzogchen and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, sign up for “ The Essence of Awakening ,” Tricycle’s online course with Tibetan Buddhist scholar and teacher John Dunne.