A person of the secure attachment type (who we will call a Secure) is self-confident, empathetic, and observant of the feelings of others. Having been brought up with responsive caregivers and feeling safe in relying on others for comfort and care, the secure person has confidence that she can be herself and disclose her own inner thoughts and feelings to those close to her without fear of rejection—and when she is rejected by someone unfamiliar, know that she is worthwhile and not feel much hurt by others’ moods and negative feelings. Confident of her worth, she can roam the emotional world freely and assist others with her strength and empathy; lacking the fears and preoccupations of the other types, she can communicate honestly, empathize completely, and love unconditionally.
How did these people reach their secure state? Some children seem to be naturally resilient, and will find enough good caregiver role models even in a less-than-ideal childhood to overcome, say, a negligent mother. But others not born with a secure predisposition achieve it by the attention of responsive but not overbearing parents. And yet others grow into a secure style in adulthood by overcoming their initial, less functional attachment type through therapy or a significant centering relationship with a partner.
It is the ability to “see” into the feelings of others that separates the secure type most from the others. A quiet, calm attachment center allows the secure person to attune themselves to others, making them better parents, partners, friends, and employees. And the ability to freely express both positive and negative feelings enhances their relationships. This is the skill called emotional intelligence.
If the secure adults had unhappy attachment histories, they seem to have understood and worked them through, at least to the extent that they could speak about them without getting into a stew, often demonstrating insight into the effects their negative experiences had had on them as well as some forgiveness or understanding of the parent’s behavior.
Both Fonagy and Main believe that the most important quality distinguishing the secure from the anxious adults is their capacity to understand what makes themselves and others tick. They are better able to recognize their own inner conflicts and to have a sense of why their parents behaved as they did.
The benefits of the secure style accumulate over a lifetime. Secure children are more liked and have more friends than others, and tend to have happier family lives.
Kobak found that secure teens—those who were able to speak coherently and thoughtfully about their experiences with their parents—were better able to handle conflicts with both mother and father. They were more assertive and more capable of listening to their parents’ point of view. And they showed less dysfunctional, critical anger. They also made an easier transition to college.
Secures find partners and friends more easily, form attachment bonds more readily, and tend to have longer and happier marriages.
In working with others, Secures use their ability to reflect on their own (and others’) inner emotional states to more effectively communicate. Their emotional intelligence lets them work in teams, understand the emotional messages sent by others and respond appropriately, both verbally and nonverbally—others understand their feelings better and have a greater sense they can be relied on. Thus, on the whole, Secures are more successful in a group work environment. Secures also have higher incomes, on average.
If you are dating a Secure, he puts his cards on the table, and will show interest if interested, or decline to go forward if not. Secure people don’t withhold or manipulate to get what they want—they tell you what they want, and offer what they have to give freely once a relationship is underway. A Secure wants you integrated into his life—he wants his friends and family to be your friends and family, if possible. A Secure does not try to keep you from knowing them, or live a compartmentalized life where you are not welcome in some settings, like work or family. When there is conflict in goals or plans, the Secure will make an effort to understand your point of view and find a compromise that satisfies you both. A Secure does not put up barriers or constantly talk of “boundaries”—if you press on him too hard, the Secure will let you know your error, but not hold it against you. A Secure can speak freely about his feelings and memories, and explain how he feels or felt so you can understand it, and he values your understanding of who he is and how he got to be that way. Secure people tend to show anger in a relationship more easily, but quickly recover their calm and don’t hold grudges—someone who is honestly angry at you for a good reason is communicating their distress in a healthy way, when a less secure type might suppress it and add to a secret store of resentments you will never be told about directly.
Levine and Heller have a nice list of the ideal characteristics of Secures:
• Great conflict busters—During a fight they don’t feel the need to act defensively or to injure or punish their partner, and so prevent the situation from escalating.
• Mentally flexible—They are not threatened by criticism. They’re willing to reconsider their ways, and if necessary, revise their beliefs and strategies.
• Effective communicators—They expect others to be understanding and responsive, so expressing their feelings freely and accurately to their partners comes naturally to them.
• Not game players—They want closeness and believe others want the same, so why play games?
• Comfortable with closeness, unconcerned about boundaries—They seek intimacy and aren’t afraid of being “enmeshed.” Because they aren’t overwhelmed by a fear of being slighted (as are the anxious) or the need to deactivate (as are the avoidants), they find it easy to enjoy closeness, whether physical or emotional.
• Quick to forgive—They assume their partners’ intentions are good and are therefore likely to forgive them when they do something hurtful.
• Inclined to view sex and emotional intimacy as one—They don’t need to create distance by separating the two (by being close either emotionally or sexually but not both).
• Treat their partners like royalty—When you’ve become part of their inner circle, they treat you with love and respect.
• Secure in their power to improve the relationship—They are confident in their positive beliefs about themselves and others, which makes this assumption logical.
• Responsible for their partners’ well-being—They expect others to be responsive and loving toward them and so are responsive to others’ needs.
Roughly half of the population is secure, but since Secures are more successful at getting into and maintaining happy relationships, Secures are less and less available in older dating pools.
[Note: if you’re secure yourself but looking for insight into a dismissive spouse or lover, I’ve just published a book on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. Right now available from Amazon Kindle for $3.99, and a trade paperback is also available.]
For more on the other attachment types:
Other relevant posts:
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
“Bad Boyfriends” – Useful for Improving Current Relationships
Asian Culture and Avoidant Attachment
Attachment Type Combinations in Relationships
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Limerence vs. Love
Rules for Relationships: Realism and Empathy
Perfect Soulmates or Fellow Travelers: Being Happy Depends on Perspective
Mate-Seeking: The Science of Finding Your Best Partner
My book, Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner, goes into greater detail on how Secure communications works, and how to cope with insecure partners of all types.
Dr. John Gottman’s book (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) is a great guide on how to strive for secure attachment with your partner.
For discussion of this page, go to Jeb Kinnison Boards: Secure.