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  • Writer's picturebencrumpler

Counselling Therapy -Attachment styles and interaction with self-worth.

Updated: May 21

There is a lot on the internet around attachment styles, so rather than reinvent the wheel I am exploring some concept around attachment styles and how that can impact on other things, such as self-worth and how we may be critical of ourselves, leading to anxiety, low mood etc.

I will briefly cover a little around attachment styles but as I say there are already plenty of resources. This short video is actually pretty good for the basics:

Essentially though generally it is believed that our attachment style is formed between the interaction between us and our primary care giver in the approximate time period between 6 months and 3 years old. The phrase primary care giver is used, only because not everyone will be raised by a parent and the important aspect is, that is will be the individual who was in charge of looking after you. In fact in the video there is an example where one of the children spends a lot of time in nursery and the nursery staff are not well trained or caring.

As is also explained in the video mentioned there are 4 main attachment styles, these are classified as:

Older man with child - attachment styles
Older man with young child - attachment

- this is the attachment style that results from a good bond with our primary care giver, where we feel safe and loved. This leads to many positive aspects in life such as from a young age feeling safe to explore the world, with the knowledge that we have somewhere safe to return to.

A secure attachment is generally associated with being able to have a successful life, as people with a secure attachment are trusting in others, and can connect with them, they generally are seen to have more confidence.

There are actually three times of insecure attachment but you won’t be surprised to learn that an insecure attachment generally leads to having less trust in others, finding it difficult to form relationships and lacking in social skills.

There three insecure attachment style are generally referred to as:

Anxious Ambivalent

Anxious Avoidant

& Anxious Disorganised, often these are referred to simply as having an Ambivalent, Avoidant or Disorganised attachment style.

The anxious ambivalent attachment style can lead to the following traits in adulthood: Fear of abandonment, needy and cling in relationships, swinging between idealising and devaluing loved ones, mood swings and difficulty regulating emotions, experience increased anxiety in relationships and an inappropriate sense of emotional and physical boundaries. Inevitable it isn’t always quite as clear cut as having all these things but it gives you a feel for how our own attachment style can impact on our lives and relationships with others.

The anxious avoidant attachment style can lead to the individual feeling fairly secure within themselves and perhaps not wishing to have a close or intimate relationships. This may lead to the individual being fairly self-confident and practice self-soothing rather than relying on others. They may not let other people into their life to support them, which can lead to loneliness or depression.

And finally the anxious disorganised attachment style, probably the least common and also often called a fearful & avoidant attachment style, which I think sums it up better, is often characterised by poor emotional regulation, seeking extreme closeness or extreme distance often with nothing in-between, highly suspicious of others intentions, inconsistency with their romantic relationships, fear of abandonment as well as fear of intimacy, low self esteem and often resistance to form secure attachments due to trust issues. As you can probably tell this attachment type is often associated with people who have been abused.

Children who develop a secure attachment will have felt safe and protected around their primary care giver. Their emotions will have been acknowledged, allowing them to feel seen and understood. They will have been comforted when they were distraught and comforted and reassured back to a calm state. The child will have been made to feel valued for whom they are, and therefore valued. They will also have felt supported and championed by their care giver and therefore able to venture into the world with bravery.

You can see how these different attachment would feed in to our own self worth and some studies have been done on self concept related to attachment styles, again perhaps it will be no great surprise that those with a secure attachment scored higher for self-esteem and also it was felt had a more accurate self concept.

There have been some studies that suggest those of anxious avoidant attachment styles have a tendency to deny or downplay their feelings of distress and that those with disorganised or fearful and avoidant attachment often have much greater feelings of distress and perhaps that isn’t that surprising.

What this shows, is perhaps not that surprising that those who feel loved, protected, safe and supported early in life have a tendency to feel more confident in themselves because they feel from a young age that they were worthy, loveable, worth protecting and were championed by their primary care giver. So it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, they are also likely to enjoy better health because all the uncertainty and stress of an insecure attachment can have a knock on effect on our health.

I think the more time that goes by the more it is discovered that our happiness and mental health really can have quite a consequential effect on our health, again another reason I see therapy as important because these kind of things can have a really positive impact on our lives when change is for the better.

When it comes to attachment styles though, it isn’t all doom and gloom because like many things in life, it is possible to change. There is a belief that as we get older there is a tendency to develop naturally a more secure attachment style and this is perhaps because as we get older and more confident we find we have less time for unhelpful relationships and closely linked to this is who we meet in life, because if we form an attachment with someone who themselves has a secure attachment style we have a tendency to also become more secure in attachment (it is learnt behaviour).

Also of course a counsellor can help you with exploring your attachment style and working on change. The therapeutic relationship in itself should mimic a secure attachment, where there is a trustworthy, congruent and boundaried, healthy relationship with unconditional positive regard.

Look after yourself out there.



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