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Insecure in Love

Sandra Manessis

Psychologist, Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia

Many of us believe that happiness in love is unattainable. We may think that we are not interesting or attractive enough, too needy, or may be unsure of the reason our relationships never work out well. We may fear that our partners will leave once they know who we "really are".


The behaviour of babies and young children is designed to keep an attachment figure close to them in order for them to survive. Ideally, the attachment figure will be warm and emotionally available to allow the child to thrive. Attachment bonds developed in this way are felt as love, both in childhood and adulthood. Children, and adults, can experience intense anxiety and sadness when the existence of their primary relationship feels threatened.

When we are really upset, we tend to seek the comfort and love of our attachment figure. Once this figure is found to be readily available and responsive, we feel calm and comforted. This is what is required to develop a secure style of attachment. Those with an insecure style of attachment struggle to fully, or consistently find comfort in their partners, or in others.


Attachment styles are fundamentally based on two underlying working models - a model of self (how worthy you feel of being loved), and a working model of others (an expectation of whether or not others will be emotionally available to you). For some of us, there is an almost constant and unquenchable need for reassurance from, and contact with an attachment figure. Symptoms can include continually seeking reassurance from an attachment figure, feeling alone, rejected or in fear of rejection, and fearing being unable to handle rejection.

There are some who feel that others won't be there for them, often feel uncomfortable with intimacy and want to avoid it. There are those who are so certain of the emotional unavailability of their attachment figure that they determine to be fully self-reliant and avoid feeling the need to rely on others. They neither recognize nor acknowledge their need for comfort or closeness. These insecure styles of attachment tend to cause pain, confusion and greater anxiety.


(i) Secure attachment (happy in love)

Securely attached individuals are comfortable with a range of emotions. They tend to connect with partners who are emotionally there for them and who they regard as well intentioned. A high priority is placed on emotional intimacy and fidelity. Sex can be discussed comfortably and the pleasures that it has to offer are enjoyed.

(ii) Preoccupied attachment (desperate for love)

People with a preoccupied style tend to overreact to problems and underestimate their ability to cope. Those who do this habitually can feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and needy. Their sensitivity to any possible sign of rejection unintentionally instigates fights and creates distance in their intimate relationships. They are apt to see their partners as unloving (or not consistently available), untrustworthy and possibly unfaithful. This leads them to being possessive and unrealistically jealous. Sex is similarly approached as a way to gain reassurance and avoid rejection. There is often discomfort in talking with their partners about their sex lives.

(iii) Dismissing attachment (no need for love)

Those with this attachment style are proud of their independence and supposed self-sufficiency. Requests for intimacy by their partners are regarded as demands. It is very characteristic of people with a dismissing attachment style to actively minimize and avoid their feelings. This places them at risk of depression and anxiety. They are also prone to believe that their partners will not be reliably there to support or comfort them. They protect themselves by denying their attachment needs. In this way, they avoid being in the position of feeling a need to rely on an undependable partner. They remain distant, limit their interactions and intimate conversations and often denigrate their partners. Even though they engage in relationships in a self-protective way, people with a dismissing style still need comfort and connection.

(iv) Fearful attachment (conflicted in love)

A conflict between an intense fear of rejection and a desperate need for reassurance and closeness is typical of people with a fearful attachment style. They either avoid relationships or behave in contradictory or confusing ways in relationship. Prone to seeing partners as emotionally distant, they can at times try desperately to get their partner's approval and attention by using strategies such as exaggerating their distress. This is done often without awareness. When they perceive their partners are getting too close however, they feel vulnerable and instinctively use strategies to avoid intimacy. There is a constant tension between being too close or too distant, and fearfully attached people are often left feeling chronically distressed and insecure. As a result, they are also at high risk of anxiety, depression and other emotional struggles.

It is important to note that various characteristics from a number of these categories may fit any one person,and that attachment styles can change with different experiences. Intimate relationships serve as an opportunity to revise attachment styles. Research has shown that a supportive partner can help an anxiously attached person feel less anxious and depressed, and experience greater satisfaction in their relationship. It should not be assumed that a secure attachment is necessary in order to be in a happy relationship. Certainly though, it is better to be at the more secure end of the continuum.


There are two intertwined pathways to developing happy relationships. Firstly, it is important to establish a relationship with at least one emotionally available figure, such as a family member, friend or better still, a therapist who can be more objective and unconditionally supportive. It is known that therapy can help people develop more secure styles of relating to others. Having good rapport with a therapist is essential to being able to develop a sense of the therapist as a safe haven and secure base. The more you experience being accepted and protected, the more you will believe that you are worthy of love and that capable others can be available to truly love and comfort you. Also, you become more capable of being able to find and maintain a good relationship yourself.

The second way is to learn how to become more aware of your experiences (feelings and beliefs), and to respond to these experiences in a compassionate and accepting way. These two processes make it possible to be open to reassurance and support from others, to feel their support even when you are alone, and so eventually become an available attachment figure to yourself. The path to healthier relationships then, includes a more positive relationship with both yourself, and others.

If you are interested to find out about this subject, please contact Sandra Manessis either by emailing or contacting her on 0407859413.

Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mt Lawley (Perth) WA 6050

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