How to Love When You Experience Insecure Attachment?

Developing and maintaining a relationship with a significant other is difficult since many of us are dealing with high personal stress, anxiety, and psychological insecurity. We all want to feel satisfied with our relationship with our partner. But what if your partner feels insecure in the relationship with you despite your attempts to understand him or her and be supportive? How can you deal with insecure attachment, improve communication, and resolve conflicts with your partner?

The attachment theory has become increasingly popular in the study of love. Love is primarily an emotional bond that originates from our early years. Researchers classified individual types of attachment into four attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

Here, you can have the opportunity to discover your individual attachment style.

Our attachment styles can pose significant challenges for our close relationships, especially because, according to some research, human love attachment can be imprinted in the early years of life.

How Can We Overcome the Feeling of Insecurity in Our Relationship?

It is possible that emotionally focused therapy and human attachment theory can provide a better understanding of how to repair and heal our complicated relationship. We experience insecure attachment when we feel blocked from doing something for our relationship. According to the theory of attachment, it is essential for our intimate relationships to experience the feelings of being seen, valued, respected, and emotionally validated.

Avoidant attachment and anxious attachment are the two types of attachment in an intimate relationship that cause challenges in our lives. People with avoidant attachment tend to pull away or shut down from their partner to keep the relationship from getting tense. Anxious attachment is the opposite. People with this type of attachment tend to move toward their partner to close the emotional gap. That deep-seated worry is still there, but it shows up in a different way.

Julie Menanno, a marriage and family therapist, comments:

 “Both strategies ultimately fail leaving us with a relationship with varying degrees of fighting and emotional disconnection.”

Julie Menanno says

Practice of Secure Love

A marriage and family therapist, Julie Menanno, in her book Secure Love: Create a Relationship That Lasts a Lifetime helps us understand our different attachment styles as well as how they affect our romantic relationships. She talks about the fears underneath insecure attachments. She explains why women tend to be anxiously attached and how couples with different attachment styles can understand each other better. To help couples who are having trouble move toward secure attachment, she gives them a practical guide and scripts for hard conversations to overcome challenges in their relationships.

What does “insecure attachment” implicate for a relationship?

This is what Julie Menanno says about insecure attachment and its implications for a relationship

“If the [anxiously attached] partner is overwhelmed with unmet needs and anxieties—experiencing intense urges to reach out and get their needs met to relieve some of this relationship fear and anxiety—the other person won’t be comfortable, because it’s not healthy communication. If they can’t navigate their partner’s behavior in a healthy way—either showing up to help them with those feelings, responding authentically, or setting boundaries, which we would consider secure attachment—the next best thing is pulling away. Because they’re uncomfortable with too much coming at them.

In contrast, if the avoidant partner handles relationship anxiety and fears of enmeshment, or fears of weakness, by avoiding—they’re sending the message to their anxious partner: I’m not here for you. I’m not here to meet your needs. I’m not here to keep you feeling safe.

If the anxious partner can’t manage that in a healthy way—from leaving the relationship because their emotional needs aren’t met, or communicating in a healthy way to create safety in the relationship, to draw the person closer—they handle it the way they know. More anxiety, more pulling for closeness, more going toward, more desperation, more protest, more blame. That’s how they’re going to show up with problems of anything from how to load the dishwasher to how to find emotional closeness with each other.

Often, avoidant partners are invested in the relationship early on, pursuing the anxious partner. Avoidant partners thrive on the feeling of being seen as a success, being seen in a good light, being appreciated.

Early on, they’re not hiding as much. So the anxious partner feels seen, heard, they’re getting enough of those needs met that some of their relationship fears aren’t showing up. Things are great—but when they start to have conflict, it sends messages to the anxious partner: “Your needs don’t matter. I don’t really want to resolve anything. You’re too much.” Now the anxious partner gets more anxious. They behave in an anxious way that sends the avoidant partner messages: “No matter what you say, you’re failing, you’re getting it wrong.” And then the avoidant partner starts to hide more.

The more the anxious partner behaves anxiously, the more they’re reinforcing the avoidant partner’s avoidance. The more the avoidant partner behaves avoidantly, the more they’re reinforcing the anxious partner’s anxiousness.”

as Julie Menanno explains.

What Is Imprinting?

Generally, imprinting (linguistically, it is a derivative of “printing”) means marking or impressing a sign or mark on the surface of anything.

Imprinting in Ethology

In ethology, the science of animal behavior, imprinting stands for a sensitive period, usually very early in the life of an animal, when instant or fast learning occurs. It is a time in which newborn animals form attachments to members of their own species. Imprinting has been used to domesticate animals and birds for generations.

A typical example of imprinting is when ducklings follow their mother duck, which they see moving within a few hours after they hatch. Young ducks tend to imprint and follow their mother duck. They also imprint the first individual of their species that they interact with during this ‘sensitive’ period of biological development. The same way they would imprint on and follow any first large object they see moving. This is how their love for and attachment to “mother” is forming. They become attracted to the movement, sound, and smell of the first-appearing object in their life.

The science of imprinting can explain “Who is your mama?”

What are the functions of imprinting in love attraction and love attachment? How can imprinting affect our kinship, mating relationships, and love?

Does Imprinting Form an Infant’s Attachment and Love Bonds of Kinship?

Imprinting seems to allow animals to instinctively recognize other animals of their own species, thus developing a model of their species’ “identity.” This identity naturally drives their attraction to their “mother”, “kin”, and others of the same kind. We can view this attraction as an animal’s early prototype of infants’ love bonds with their species’ kin.

Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian naturalist, ornithologist, and ethologist, discovered and first investigated the phenomenon of “imprinting” in the early 1900s (see for review, Bateson, 1978; Hess, 1958; Lorenz, 1935; Tzschentke & Plagemann, 2006).

Lorenz revealed that when young birds—little ducks or geese—came out of their eggs, they became attached to the first moving object they encountered. It is typically their mother. Natural selection prepared the hatchlings to form an instant and strong bond with their mother. We can consider this effect as an early form of “attachment love”—the loving attachment of an infant to a mother.

However, when Lorenz placed himself as the object of their attraction (instead of their mother), the young birds attached to him as a mother substitute. Working with ducks and geese, Lorenz showed evidence that such attraction and attachment happen during sensitive periods in their lives. Once such attraction and attachment were ‘fixed,’ they persisted for a long time. Geese responded to Lorenz as a parent and followed him about everywhere. When they became adult birds, they preferred to court him over other geese.

The same way, they would easily attach to any inanimate object, such as a white ball, a pair of gumboots, or even an electric train. The most crucial aspect of such attachment is that these objects appear at the appropriate time.

Does Imprinting Affect an Animal’s Sexual Love for Its Own Species?

Those early imprinting studies revealed that early imprinting forms not only family love bonds but also sexual preferences in mating. This can explain why animals do not mate with any other animals except those of their own species. From an evolutionary perspective, genetic similarity is vital for sexual attraction and mating in birds and mammals. Such mating preferences help select the proper mate. They cannot reproduce offspring with anyone. They can only do this with those with whom they have a higher chance of mating success than with others (Lampert 1997).

Birds and mammals cannot mate with animals of other species. They are genetically too distant to produce offspring. This mechanism explains the genetic secrets of attraction and love.

Let us consider the example of sexual imprinting among birds. Early works by Konrad Lorenz demonstrated that the early experiences that birds and animals have in their lives could significantly affect not only their “kinship” bonds. Such an early imprinting experience could also form their mating preferences and their love for each other. Lorenz suggested that sexual imprinting gives adults a predilection to recognize their own species (Lorenz, 1935).

Lorenz found that geese responded to him not only as parents, following him everywhere, but later in their lives, when they became adult birds, they preferred to court him rather than other geese.

Thus, sexual imprinting of attraction and the shaping of love happen in the early periods of birds’ and animals’ lives.

Here Are More Complex Effects of the Imprinting

Experimental studies of the mid-20th century supported early findings on imprinting. The early experiences of animals can certainly have long-lasting impacts. Nonetheless, those later studies indicated that birds may show their preferences for members of their own species even if they don’t have experience with any of them except themselves (Immelmann, 1969; Schutz, 1965).

This means that birds may have a predisposition for their own species without prior experience. But the early years’ sexual imprinting merely refines this predisposition under natural conditions.

Another explanation suggests that sexual imprinting plays a role in the recognition of close kin. This way, the selection of mates that are slightly different allows the animal to reach an optimal balance between inbreeding and outbreeding. Birds have the strongest mating preference for

“something a little different (but not too different) from the object with which it had been imprinted.”

(Bateson, 1978, p. 659).

The studies found that a bird does indeed mate with a slightly unfamiliar female. The bird prefers this unfamiliar female to the one that appeared in the early life of the bird. Nevertheless, the bird prefers both types of these females to those with a markedly unfamiliar type of plumage (Bateson, 1978).

These findings show the power of genetic similarity and genetic diversity in attraction and attachment.

Imprinting of Love Attachment

We tend to perceive people who look familiar to us as more attractive than those who look unfamiliar. This is the familiarity principle that also guides our mating, sexual preferences, and love. The phenomenon of imprinting is at the root of this basic psychological mechanism of attachment development in childhood.

The love attraction to familiar people also stems from the familiarity principle, grounded in both imprinting and mere exposure effects

Imprinting as an Attachment

Since early studies, researchers have more likely attributed imprinting to animals than to human infants, and more likely to early periods of development than to the later years of life.

Studies of infants replaced imprinting with the concept of attachment, which has been considered the foundation of love. Initially, it is the love of an infant for a caregiver, while later in life, it is the sexual (often romantic) love of a man or woman for their beloved ones.

Classical Studies of Love Attachment

Among the pioneers of these studies of love attachment were

Harlow along with his colleagues who studied infant monkeys (e.g., Harlow, 1959; Harlow & Zimmerman, 1959; Suomi et al., 2008) and Bowlby along with his colleagues who studies human babies (e.g., Ainsworth, 1989; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1988/2008)

(see for detailed review, Karandashev, 2022a, Ch 3 and 7).

Modern Research of Love Attachment

Further progress in human attachment theory and research on love continued in the works of Shaver, Mikulincer, and Hazan, along with their colleagues. They developed the model of attachment based on the individualistic, middle-class concept of psychological autonomy as a cultural value (e.g., Shaver & Mikulincer , 2006; Shaver, Hazan, & Bradshaw 1988).

Heidi Keller, professor at the University of Osnabrueck, Germany, along with her colleagues, developed a new culture-sensitive model of attachment that characterized culturally different models of attachment (Keller, 2013, 2018).

Imprinting of Sexual Attraction

The studies have shown that imprinting can be associated with optimal breeding (Bateson, 1978).

However, imprinting can be both positive and negative in terms of the role such experiences play in sexual attraction.

Researchers have shown the role of early imprinting in attraction, suggesting that childhood experiences can influence sexual attraction in adulthood. The studies have demonstrated effects of imprinting on attraction

Early Love Attachment of Infants

Infants are generally open to attachment to any kind of figure in their early lives. They don’t have cultural prejudice in their attachment and love if they are exposed to racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in childhood.

Genetic similaritiy and genetic diversity also play role in love attraction and love attachment.


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