The good news is that your attachment style can change over time—although it’s slow and difficult.
Research shows that an anxious or avoidant who enters a long-term relationship with a secure can be “raised up” to the level of the secure over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, an anxious or avoidant is also capable of “bringing down” a secure to their level of insecurity if they’re not careful.19
Also, extreme negative life events, such as divorce, death of child, serious accident, etc., can cause a secure attachment type to fall into a more insecure attachment type.20
For instance, anonymous man may be more or less secure, get married to Anxious Anna, bring her up to a more secure level, but when they run into money trouble she falls back to her anxious level, cheats on him and then divorces him for all of his money, sending him into a tailspin of avoidance. Anonymous goes on to ignore intimacy and pump-and-dump women for the next 10 years, afraid to become intimate with any of them.
If you’re beginning to think that anxious and/or avoidant behavior corresponds to the fake alpha syndrome and other insecure behavior I describe in men in my book, then you’re correct. Our attachment styles are intimately connected with our confidence in ourselves and others.
Psychologists Bartholomew and Horowitz have hypothesized a model showing that one’s attachment strategy corresponds to the degree of positive/negative self-image, and the positive/negative image of others.21
Secures exhibit both positive self-images and positive perceptions of others. Anxious types exhibit negative self-images, but positive perceptions of others (hence their needy behavior).
Avoidants exhibit positive self-images and negative perceptions of others (hence their arrogance and fear of commitment), and anxious-avoidants exhibit negative perceptions of just about everything and everyone (hence their inability to function in relationships).
Using this model as a roadmap, one can begin to navigate oneself to a more secure attachment type.
Anxious types can work on developing themselves, creating healthy boundaries and fostering a healthy self-image. Instead of constantly looking for “the one” who will magically solve all their problems (and then calling them 36 times in one night), they can look for things that will make them a better, healthier person both in body and mind.
One of my most common pieces of dating advice is for men to find something they’re passionate about and good at and make that a focal point of their life rather than women. Needless to say, the same goes for women as well.
Once they’re content with who they are, anxious types can then work to become more aware of their tendency to seek partners that reaffirm their negative self-image.22
Remember what I said about insecurity finding insecurity? Anxious types will do well to break out of that cycle and surround themselves with people, friends and lovers alike, who lift them up, rather than knock them down. And to deepen those relationships. The positive emotional experiences they get from healthy relationships, especially profound ones like with a spouse, will re-shape their view of the world, reduce their anxieties, and help mold them into more secure types.23
Avoidant types can work on opening themselves up to others, and enrich their relationships through sharing themselves more. Research shows that simply not avoiding relationships can help avoidants move away from their avoidant tendency.24 And similar to anxious types, avoidants should stop seeking to reaffirm their view of the world with every single person they meet—not everyone is untrustworthy or clingy.
Another one of my most common pieces of advice to people is that it’s your responsibility to find something great in everyone you meet. It’s not their responsibility to show you. Become curious. Stop being judgmental.
For the unlucky few who find themselves both anxious and avoidant, they can follow the advice for both types above. Focus on getting to know themselves, their fears and insecurities, embrace them, and learn to work with them, rather than against them. A few simple tools to help them do this are journaling and meditation. Professional therapy can also be effective.25
And of course, some of you may be reading this and thinking, “I like being alone and being able to sleep with whoever I want. I wouldn’t change a thing.” And it’s true—many people lead happy, successful lives as avoidant or anxious types. Some even have successful long-term relationships as an anxious or avoidant.
But research shows secures are consistently more happy and feel more supported,26 are less likely to become depressed,27 are healthier,28 retain more stable relationships, and become more successful29 than the other types.
And I can tell you from my personal experience, I’ve felt myself drift out of a strong avoidant (and slightly anxious) attachment type to a more secure attachment type over the past six years of working on myself in this area. And I can unequivocally say that I’m happier and more fulfilled in my relationships and with the women I date now than I ever was back then.
I wouldn’t trade it back for anything.