To heal from insecure attachment as an adult takes time, tenderness, and tenacity.
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.
External behaviours such as communication difficulties, relationship issues, co-dependency, 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.
Without secure attachment, the brain doesn’t develop properly.
The infant misses out on social and emotional cues. The brain connections – the ones that are important for relating with oneself and others as a child, adolescent, and adult – don’t develop.
Whether you had parents/caregivers with insecure attachment styles themselves (what you don’t know, you can’t do for your kids), postnatal depression, periods of parent/caregiver illness, periods of separation through absence or even death, or addiction, the effect is the same: insecure attachment, and attachment disorder.
As an adult, you’re probably now looking for how to heal from insecure attachment.
What can you do to heal yourself at the root, so that the symptoms become less intrusive in daily life, 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.
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The list below shares my top ten suggestions to support healing from attachment disorder. It isn’t a complete or detailed guide.
Everyone has their individual blend of help, support and healing processes. Develop your own path that meets your needs in overcoming insecure attachment.
A few pointers before we dive in:
Start where you are, with what you’ve got.
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.
You might work on it solo, with helpers (friends, family) and/or professionals, or find safety in the broader perspective of a shared humanity.
The underlying theme connecting all 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.
On to the list…
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10 things to help heal insecure attachment in adults
1. Know yourself
Who are you?
What do you think, feel, want, or need?
Get to know who you are in the world.
Your moods, emotions, rhythms.
Your preferences for solo, 1:1, small group, being part of a bigger crowd – what mix of these sustains you most?
Your preferences, wishes, desires, and aversions.
Find out who you are.
2. Learn what you need physically
Infancy is a key time for getting to know and inhabit the physical body. If you missed out on that, now’s the time to get to know your body, inside and out.
Recognise your hunger, thirst, tiredness, social-fatigue signs and signals.
Your rhythms: daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally.
If you menstruate, your cycle and its effect on your energy levels, mood, and outlook.
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. Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps The Score is a great read on this.
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.
If your sleep is disrupted, monitor yourself. When do you sleep? How long for? Is there a pattern to what affects it?
Let yourself rest – avoid propping yourself up on caffeine, sugar, other substances, or overwork.
4. Learn to meditate
Meditation helps develop the qualities and skills of kindly awareness and mindfulness, focus, redirecting your attention. These help everything else to sink in faster and work more deeply.
As an added bonus, these tools last you for a long time after.
Learn to meditate from someone who’s well-established in meditation, guiding others in meditation, and trauma-informed.
You might like to dive in to my Top Meditation Tips Guide.
Join me for online meditation: check out the Online Retreats I have on offer.
Prefer 1:1 guidance? Here’s what’s on offer.
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 kind of touch that doesn’t trigger you.
From holding hands, to hugs, cuddles, and massage, touch can be very therapeutic.
Dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, and many other animals offer a safer kind of touch than humans, if you find it hard to trust humans. Find an animal therapy service, book in for a horseride, spend time with your pets.
6. Educate yourself about insecure attachment and related issues
The more you understand yourself, what you’ve been through, and how it’s affected you, the easier it can be to heal from insecure attachment. Read up on it – and pace yourself. Remember to have fun too!
Read up on related issues such as complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (complex PTSD) – the trauma induced by ongoing, unpleasant, inescapable conditions, and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) – what happens when you weren’t cared for, weren’t tended to, weren’t witnessed or validated in the ways children need to grow into emotionally healthy humans.
Dive into communication skills: learn how to communicate helpfully and kindly, how to be assertive, how to defend and protect yourself skilfully.
Watch movies and series which portray positive relationships.
Follow people on social media, if you use it, who post about trauma-informed recovery.
Equip your capable mind to help you heal.
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 your 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.
8. 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. Animals count too!
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.
Watch out! When some insecurely attached adults begin feeling safe in a relationship, whether a good friendship or an intimate relationship, they fall apart.
They feel safe enough to let go of what’s been holding them together, and they begin to heal more deeply and thoroughly. It’s messy, but good longer term.
9. Counselling or therapy
Person-centered counselling or 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.
A good counsellor will help you develop your communication and relationship skills. These help you experience less loneliness and depression, better family relationships, close friendship, and work better with your colleagues.
Working 1:1 with a trained professional helps you with the process of reparenting yourself: when you’ve missed out on some of the fundamentals as a child, you can still learn them as an adult. This is part of what I offer: read more about 1:1 consultations.
Read this article about how to reparent your inner child.
10. Energy therapies
As well as the physical trauma – unresolved emotions stuck in the body – there can be energy imprints or energetic connections to release. This is especially true if you’re highly sensitive or have empath traits.
If you feel that you have a good mental grasp of what, why and how you went through, and yet you don’t feel quite free of them, energy work might be useful. It can bring your energy system in line with your mental one.
Energy work helps to find and integrate inner child parts, free up tangled energies, and reintegrate and unlock energies that split off ages ago in response to your experiences.
I offer energy work as part of my 1:1 counselling & support work with clients, helping with trauma release, disentangling from previous relationships, and reconnecting you to yourself. Check out what’s on offer.
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Although this is a numbered list, it’s not that you start at the first point and work your way through to the end. It’s more like weaving, or building up layers.
Healing is a process of taking unnecessary layers off, and allowing the necessary layers to fill out and grow. You’ll circle back round through these plenty of times.
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At some point in your process of healing from insecure attachment, you realise that you’re more or less there.
You’re over the hump.
You’re healed enough.
That is possible for you, too.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.
Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, giftedness group programmes, speaking and bespoke support for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.
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