Earned Secure Attachment - Attachment Theory (Part 3) | Heal For Life

Earned Secure Attachment – Attachment Theory (Part 3)

What is an Earned Secure Attachment?

Parents unconsciously use empathy, bonding and reflection to regulate an infants fear, anxiety and shame, and calm the firing of the amygdala, helping the infant to discover who they are by being seen and accepted first. These attachment patterns are a crucial part of development. Before consciousness develops, the parent is modifying and regulating the emotions of the baby through their own pre-frontal cortex. The baby is “borrowing” the pre-frontal cortex functioning of the parent to regulate their own emotions and gaining reflections of who they are from the parent to develop the internal working models of who they are in relation to another. The baby can begin to begin to have self-awareness, self-reflection, and to regulate their emotions on their own as the pre-frontal cortex develops from these experiences.  Research has shown that most functions of the pre-frontal cortex are outcomes of secure attachment and that all functions of the pre-frontal cortex are strengthened in mindfulness practice (Graham, 2010).

Neural integration creates coherence in mind and narrative; this can happen when we make sense of our lives, altering our attachment status and gaining “earned secure” attachment (Siegel, 2007)

Earned secure attachment: According to Mary Main, (1995) the primary characteristics of “earned secure attachment” are metacognitional and integrative thinking. This includes the capacity to elaborate a theory of the other’s mind, decentralising, the ability to reflect on one’s mental states, and the establishment of a sense of mastery and personal efficacy. Secure attachment allows the individual to feel safe deconstructing childhood events, cognitions, and affective responses and reconsidering conclusions, then and now. The state of mind reflecting secure attachment includes:

Coherence“being truthful and succinct, having relevant narratives with a steady flow of ideas, intent, thoughts and feelings that are clear, truthful, consistent, plausible and complete. Coherence comprises:
(1) orientation – a clear setting out of the context and participants in a story,
(2) structure – events that are connected over time and in terms of causes,

(3) affect – the story contains feelings and evaluations about the events, and

(4) integration – the events, feelings, and meaning are connected together. In contrast, anorexic clients typically begin by describing the family as happy, problem-free, well-behaved and content, despite evidence to the contrary.” (Schwartz, n.d.)

Collaboration – when one values attachment relationships and experiences.

Consistency – becoming aware of different and divergent internal states and reflecting on the origins and divergent defenses, schemas, and emotions of the self and others. Being able to witness their own experience with compassion rather than shame resulting in a commitment to self-care and self-protection while maintaining healthy boundaries with others. The spiritual function of life becomes growth, play, and responsibility, along with self-forgiveness.

Reflectivity – the ability of being able to reflect on experiences and form ideas about others’ internal states – the feelings, intentions, needs, and explanations that guided actions.

Take a free attachment style test online:


Learn more about Earned Secure Attachment, Attachment Theory and Childhood Trauma in the book:

Heal For Life, by Liz Mullinar AM, B.Th, M.Couns

How to Heal Yourself from the Pain of Childhood Trauma and Abuse

‘Heal For Life’ offers practical, neuroscience based strategies that support people to heal painful emotional triggers, and offers health professionals deeper insight into the needs of survivors who seek their help.

trauma counselling book

‘Described as “essential reading” by survivors and mental health professionals alike, Heal For Life offers a model to understand trauma, how it creates emotional triggers, how to ‘de-trigger’ and feel safe, and how to permanently overcome and heal childhood trauma.

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