The Three Attachments

We are all attached to who we are and to what we know in different ways. How we are attached or how we “attach” is at the heart of this. We are wired for reciprocity very early on, as we are wired for attachment to the world around us. You might say that we are conditioned from the earliest implicit memories (before our recall of memories was actually formed) and from explicit memories that we can recall. All of this “conditioned in” what we attach to and how we do it. It is these patterns of attachment that will affect our reciprocity and, for sure, our means and our surplus.

We will divide the patterns of our attachments into three categories here. There is secure attachment, insecure attachment and avoidant attachment. These categories, in  just a few words, describe our patterns of relationships to people and to things. And while everything is not as black and white as these seem, we are looking at trends or probabilities that one of these three attachments styles is predominating, and in some cases, dominating the style of choices and behavior in us- especially how we are or are not reciprocal and generous.

Secure attachment describes the ability to react and relate to others and the world in ways that are free of anxiety, fear, and discomfort. You have learned that it is secure to attach to others. Love has been consistent and nurturing and adults have not taken advantage or become fearful people. There is no uncertainty that one’s needs will be met with a loving and caring response from those who are in charge. Secure attachment tendencies happen in homes where it is secure to attach to individuals who are mature and consistent with their love.  We have learned that the world is a loving place.

Insecure attachment comes from an early environment that has been inconsistent in its expressions of love. Trust in the world has been conditioned by inconsistent signals of caring or safety. Adults have had significant problems or issues or have not always been adequate in child-rearing skills. There have been times of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that have been communicated in a variety of ways that suggest that the world isn’t always safe, comfortable, or a desirable place to live. Attachments to people, places, and things are not as “certain” in one way or another and so attaching to those who love and later attaching to those relationships and life itself will be somewhat insecure. 

Avoidant attachments are formed, as the name suggests, when we grow up learning that relationships and the world are not a safe place, and that one has to watch out a good deal of the time.  We can become hyper vigilant, always watching and waiting for what might go wrong. Avoiding close relationships becomes a learned response because the world does not seem like an entirely safe place to be, and being loved in a consistent and secure way is not assured.  People are less to be trusted, if at all, and there is great hesitancy in getting involved in personal relationships. We will always likely have found or be aware of “a way out” of any close relationship.

Can you see how, if you have experienced secure attachments, that you will see and understand how to be reciprocal in different ways than someone who doesn’t trust these attachments?  Someone who is avoidant in making close attachments may not have as much practice at being good at receiving or giving, because being reciprocal is difficult and not something that has been easily learned. 

All through our lives, positivity being helps us grow in our capacity for secure attachments and more workable, comfortable and loving relationships. Insecure and avoidant attachments come from negative feelings and from Down Spiral living. The Down Spiral narrows us, makes us suspicious and insecure, so it is easy to understand why insecure or avoidant attachments of any kind are the outcome of narrowing and negativity. Secure attachment that is easier and more reciprocal comes from living in an UpSpiral. Positive emotion and positivity being are outcomes of living in this UpSpiral for longer and longer periods of time.


1) How do you see learned patterns of attachment affecting your practice of generosity and reciprocity? Give us an example and tell us the story.

2) Describe the relationship in your experience between growing in positivity and an increasing experience of generosity and reciprocity with yourself and with others. What strengths do you have which have guided you in this shift?

3) As you have experienced greater growth in positivity, what attachments have fallen away? No longer serve? What tools have you used to support yourself in this process? Give us an example and tell us your story.

About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute