The 4 attachment styles: Understanding, healing, and growth

Attachment styles from developmental growth significantly shape our relationships, emotional well-being, and overall life experiences. These patterns emerge early in life and continue influencing our interactions throughout adulthood.


In this article, I explore the four attachment styles, delve into the power of positive visualisation for healing attachment trauma, and uncover the three pillars of effective attachment treatment.

Attachment styles: A brief overview

John Bowlby originally developed attachment theory and emphasised the importance of early emotional bonds in relationships between caregivers and children. These bonds significantly impact our sense of security, self-worth, and ability to form healthy relationships. Counsellors recognise four primary attachment styles:

Secure attachment

Individuals who form a secure attachment style feel comfortable with emotional closeness, trust their partners, and effectively manage conflicts. They seek support when needed and maintain healthy boundaries.

Anxious (ambivalent) attachment

People with an anxious attachment style crave intimacy but often fear rejection. They may become overly dependent on their partners, experience intense anxiety about abandonment, and struggle with self-esteem.

Avoidant attachment

Avoidant individuals prioritise independence and self-sufficiency. They may suppress emotions, avoid vulnerability, and struggle with emotional intimacy. Fear of engulfment or loss of autonomy drives their behaviour.

Disorganised attachment

This style results from inconsistent caregiving or traumatic experiences. Disorganised individuals exhibit a mix of anxious and avoidant behaviours, often leading to confusion and emotional turmoil.

Positive visualisation and attachment healing

Positive visualisation, also known as guided imagery, is a powerful therapeutic technique. They involve creating vivid mental images to evoke positive emotions, reduce stress, and promote healing. Here’s how it supports attachment trauma recovery:

Creating new internal models

Guided imagery allows individuals to imagine an ideal parent we would have found helpful  (IPFs) to engage with secure attachment experiences. By visualising nurturing interactions with these imagined figures, they can restructure their internal working models of attachment. Ask yourself what you feel is deeply missing and then work towards healing the missing parts of development.

Emotional rescripting

Patients interact with their imagined IPFs, fostering feelings of safety, comfort, and acceptance. This process helps rewrite negative internal scripts related to attachment trauma. The counsellor's role is to embody secure attachment qualities during these sessions.

Expanded time perspective

Imagery transcends the limitations of a typical therapy session. Patients can experience extended interactions with IPFs, allowing for deeper healing and emotional transformation.

The three pillars of attachment treatment

Effective attachment treatment integrates three essential pillars:

Creating a new internal working model (IWM)

Clients engage with their imagined IPFs, fostering secure attachment experiences. The therapist facilitates this process, emphasising safety, trust, and emotional connection. Patient-as-child relating to adult IPFs mirrors early attachment formation conditions.

Developing metacognitive skills

Metacognition involves understanding and managing one’s thoughts and emotions. Techniques from mentalisation-based treatment (MBT) enhance metacognitive functioning. A broader range of metacognitive potentials is explored to promote self-awareness and emotional regulation.

Enhancing collaborative abilities

All therapy is collaborative, emphasising verbal and non-verbal behaviour. Patients learn to engage in cooperative interactions, fostering secure attachment dynamics. Therapists model secure attachment qualities, reinforcing the healing process.

Understanding attachment styles, harnessing positive visualisation, and embracing the three pillars of attachment treatment empower individuals to heal attachment trauma. By reshaping internal models, developing metacognitive skills, and fostering collaboration, we pave the way for healthier relationships, emotional resilience, and personal growth. Remember that healing is possible, and secure attachment awaits those prepared to embark on this transformative journey.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London E1 & E14
Written by David Pender, MBACP, Integrative Psychotherapy | Specialising in Anxiety
London E1 & E14

David S. Pender is a qualified BACP therapist who provides counselling and psychotherapy services to adults throughout London & the UK. He has extensive experience in dealing with problems related to relationships, anxiety, trauma, social anxiety, panic attacks, generalised anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Free discovery calls

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