Signs of An Emotionally Insecure Relationship With A Lover, Friend or Parent

In an insecure relationship the more attached we are to our “person” the more vulnerable we feel with them. When one partner pulls away the other partner most often will feel emotionally abandoned, disconnected and insecure of the bond, especially if this occurs often.

Secure relationships are about having a secure emotional attachment with the other person. Our emotional attachments begin with our parents or guardian, evolve to our closest friends, and eventually lead to a romantic relationship with a partner. When we have a secure emotional attachment we feel safe, cared for, and that we can rely on “our person”. In a secure attachment / relationship with someone (a best friend, a romantic mate, or a parent) we feel valued, heard and emotionally connected to one another. We feel that our needs matter.

Attachment Begins in Infancy

How we learn to be in a relationship begins with our experience as an infant and later, a child. For the sake of this article I will refer to “parents” but it translates to the primary caretakers of the child. If we felt heard, valued and cared for on a consistent basis by our parents we feel more secure in relationships later in life. If not, we feel insecure in relationships and worry we could be abandoned by our partner.

Remember, we don’t learn these concepts and skills in school. Therefore, it is most unlikely we would know how to understand these tendencies in relationships. We would just bump into them one way or another. If we were lucky enough to have a secure attachment with our parents in growing up, we would have close friends and would begin dating with fairly good experiences in early adulthood. If not, friendships and dating later in life could be very challenging, and filled with worry that we won’t be “good enough” to keep a friend or mate. We would “expect” or prepare ourselves for the inevitable loss and hurt.

What is a Secure Attachment?

  • John Bowlby, PhD was the first attachment theorist. His definition is: a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.”
  • According to Dr. Bowlby a secure attachment is about responsiveness, nurturance, and dependability that all create a sense of emotional security. It begins with the caregiver during infancy. Click HERE for more details.
  • Sue Johnson, PhD explains that in a secure relationship and bond we look for a way to reconnect when we feel disconnected. Dr. Johnson states that when we love, we look for whatever way we can to get a response from our loved one. In a healthy and secure relationship it is about reconnecting and reaching out for the other person. Not in a manipulative way, but a sincere and direct attempt to reconnect. More detail HERE.

Sue Johnson, PhD Describes an Insecure Relationship Attachment

  • First, we reach, inviting connection with another person.
  • If we don’t get a response we will push back, trying to get the response. Or we turn away.
  • If we continue to reach for the other person without a response, we begin to emotionally shut down to protect ourselves.
  • Finally, if no response, we go into “meltdown”. This may be outwardly shown, or an internal process.
  • If we continually get no response we eventually give up.   

Clinical Example of an Insecure Relationship

I heard this example from an adult client many years ago and it has always remained with me. The client reported that when she had a nightmare as a child she would sleep in front of the parents’ closed door. She was not allowed to bother them, so to her, being close to the parents’ bedroom was as much comforting as she was going to be able to have. This client definitely had an insecure relationship with her parents that carried into her dating experiences in adulthood.

Amazing and Famous Experiment on Video about Attachment

In this video you will see the mother purposefully disconnect and stop responding to the infant in an experiment regarding attachment theory. And then you see her reconnect and the infant is able to reconnect with her as well. In other words, in a secure attachment the baby easily recovers from a “disconnect”. It’s called the “Still Face Experiment”. See the video HERE.

How Does a Secure Relationship –  Attachment Affect Our Self-Esteem?

  • A secure attachment helps us to feel good about ourselves and valued.
  • It allows us to emotionally and psychologically grow and go out into the world to further develop who we are.
  • It later enables us to have a secure, loving, and fulfilling romantic relationship.

How Divorce Affects Attachment in the Children

I can’t tell you how often in my practice I hear that when one of the parents moved out of the house it changed the relationship between the missing parent and the child. A child does not know the difference between abandonment and a parent moving out because of divorce. This is especially true if the parent does not continue to have frequent contact with the child. That is how easily a child can feel that the parent doesn’t care. And that feeling can alter a child’s self-esteem for life if the child does not receive professional help and guidance, either now or later in life. The same is true when a parent often travels and is away from the child but does not know how to stay emotionally connected. Insecure relationship attachments are very common in families of divorce.

What Does a Secure Attachment Look Like?

There are various types of secure relationships. Here are the main ones:

Secure Parent-Child Relationship

  • A secure parent/child attachment allows the child to explore the world on his/her own in small ways.
  • A child who feels secure will be seen running ahead of the parents and then turning back to run and be with his parents again. We’ve all seen parents walking down the street with a child wrapped tightly around the parent’s leg. This can be a sign of an insecure attachment if it happens often. (Sometimes a child does this for fun, not related to an insecure attachment.)
  • Even when the parent and child argue they get through the argument and reconnect within a short period of time (ie: no later than the next day if it is with an adolescent). Especially with a younger child the parent will let the child know they are loved, but may have done something wrong. They are not shamed.
  • A secure parent-child relationship will be emotionally close, connected and emotionally nourishing, even into adulthood.

Emotionally Secure Romantic Relationships

  • In healthy relationships we would see a couple that reach for one another. Whether it is coming home from work, or after an argument, or “just because”. They seek out the partner to connect.
  • The couple can talk their way through a disagreement without one or both parties feeling insecure about the bond. They know they will always work things out because the relationship is worth it.
  • Secure couples value and respect one another. They go out of their way to treat the partner with kindness, appreciation and love.
  • Each partner feels their needs are important to the other person. This doesn’t mean we get our way all the time, however. It is more about feeling heard and understood.

Emotionally Secure Friendships

  • Secure friendships are consistent.
  • Friends show up and are there for you. They initiate contact with you to get together.
  • Good friends accept you for who you are, faults and all.  
  • They work out disagreements and reconnect.

Final Thoughts:

Every couple has “disconnects” in their romantic relationship. The more important element is if they try to reach for the other person and reconnect. Even if both partners grew up with an insecure relationship – attachment the couple can still learn how to reconnect and have an emotionally secure attachment with their mate, child and friends.

If you find your dating experiences or relationships have left you feeling insecure, devalued, or emotionally drained and unhappy, you can seek professional help with a psychotherapist, for either individual or couples therapy. It is never too late to learn the skills for a nourishing relationship if someone is open to learning. The model I use with my clients is Emotionally Focused Therapy by Sue Johnson, PhD. To find a therapist trained in this model use this link:

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on and on

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