In an ideal world, infants would be lovingly welcomed and cared for by their main caregivers, bond well, and reap the benefits of secure attachment their first two years. They would grow up into securely attached children, and into adults who have an internal sense of feeling safe, who can self-regulate and bond well with others.
Around 55% of infants get what they need in their first two years. Around 45% do not.
What the 45% experience is parenting and care that doesn’t allow for secure attachment. Instead, the infant develops insecure attachment, which persists into adulthood as attachment disorder.
The 45% are much more likely than the 55% to experience mental health issues: anxiety, depression, anger or motivation issues, to name a few. External behaviours such as communication difficulties, relationship issues, abusive behaviour, and boundary issues may also indicate deeper issues with insecure attachment.
These issues are rooted in missing out on the important experiences with a caregiver that help the infant to feel safe. Without a felt sense of safety, it’s hard to learn social and emotional cues, or to develop the brain connections that are important for relating with oneself and others as a child, adolescent, and adult.
This can come about through having parents/caregivers with insecure attachment styles themselves (what you don’t know, you can’t model for your kids), postnatal depression, periods of parent/caregiver illness, periods of separation through absence or even death, or addiction.
As an adult, you’re probably now looking for how to heal from insecure attachment – what can help you to heal yourself at the root, so that the symptoms become less and/or fade away completely.
The options open to you for overcoming attachment disorder depend on a few factors: what you’re willing to try, what resources you have available (especially time and money), and how far you’ve got in your process already.
This may sound somewhat chicken-and-egg but you need to start where you are, with what you’ve got. If you can’t trust a person, you can find other ways so that you become ready to trust someone, or you can take the plunge and start with a person anyway. Feel free to experiment in a safe way – it’s all data for your self-knowledge bank.
When you’re ready for the next part of the path, it’ll probably present itself to you somehow. Don’t ask me how, it just seems to be the way these things work.
10 things to help heal insecure attachment in adults
These are my top ten suggestions to support healing from attachment disorder. It isn’t a complete or detailed guide. Everyone will have their individual blend of help, support and healing processes and it’s important that you develop your own path, whether that’s DIY, with helpers (friends, family) and/or professionals.
The underlying theme connecting these suggestions is safety. When an infant feels safe, they can relax and grow, instead of being on the alert for imminent danger. As an adult, when you feel safe (enough), you can grow, you can repair, you can heal. For some people, when they start to feel safe in a relationship, whether a good friendship or an intimate relationship, it may seem as though they start to fall apart. What’s likely to be happening here is that they feel safe enough to let go of some of what’s been holding them together, so they can heal deeply and more thoroughly.
On with the list:
Person-centered counselling/therapy helps you get the parenting you missed out on, develop self-awareness and understanding of what’s going on for you, and self-management. In a good counselling relationship with a skilled counsellor, you can experience positive attachment to your counsellor and this helps you develop parts of you that missed out on developing before. A good counsellor will also help you develop your communication and relationship skills so you can experience more positive family relationships, friendships, and be on good terms with your colleagues.
Build your support team
Review the people in your life. Know who helps and who doesn’t. Keep the ones who help close by! Spend time with your healthy friends, companions and relatives.
When you’re in a process of healing, it can help to think of yourself as a construction site. Boundaries are the safety fences around the site. Only skilled construction workers/helpers are allowed inside the safety fences. Everyone else stays outside, for their safety and yours. This isn’t a forever-fence: it’s yours to adjust over time as you see fit.
Learn what you need physically
Infancy is a key time for getting to know and inhabit the physical body. Get to know your body, inside and out. Recognise your hunger, thirst, tiredness, social-fatigue signs and signals.
Deep-level healing can be intense and demanding. You may need to nap and sleep more than you’re used to. Sleep is essential for brain health, growth and maintenance, that’s why babies sleep so much. Let yourself rest – avoid propping yourself up on caffeine.
As well as knowing yourself more intimately physically, get to know who you are in the world. Your moods, emotions, rhythms. Your background. Your intelligences. Your neurodiversity. Your sensitivities (are you Highly Sensitive?) Your tendencies. Your interests. Your preferences, wishes, desires, and aversions. Read up on cPTSD if you suspect your issues are greater than insecure attachment alone.
Learn to meditate
Learn to meditate from someone who’s well-established in meditation and who can help you develop the qualities and skills of kindly awareness and mindfulness. These help everything else to sink in faster and work more deeply, as well as provide you with tools you can use for a long time after.
Allow your body to move and take up the space it needs. Yoga or other activities done mindfully/with kindly awareness help you to integrate your experiences, and literally move the trauma around and out of your body.
Self-touch (both non-sexual and sexual) and receiving touch from someone you trust can be deeply healing and nourishing. Notice how present you are when you are touched: if you dissociate, come back to a safer place to touch that doesn’t trigger you. From holding hands, to hugs, cuddles, and massage, touch can be very therapeutic.
As well as the physical trauma-memories, there can be energy imprints or energetic connections to release. Working with a cranio-sacral practitioner or energy worker can help free up tangled energies, as well as unlock energies that have split off in response to your experiences. I offer Emotional Plumbing energy work to help with trauma release and reconnecting you to yourself.
This is deliberately not a numbered list. It’s not as though you can start at the first point and work your way through. It’s more like weaving, or building up layers.
At some point your process of healing from insecure attachment, you realise that you’re more or less there. You’re over the hump of it. You’re healed enough. Know that that is possible for you.