It’s Never Too Late

Some people worry that the findings of attachment research indicate that the early years create a person’s destiny.  However, Bowlby’s initial assumptions that if an attachment has not developed during the period of 0-5 years there are irreversible developmental consequences have been disputed by recent research. Models of attachment are in fact changeable, but only if we come to understand them. 

Studies also demonstrate that a nurturing relationship with someone other than a parent in which the child feels understood and safe provides an important source of resilience, a seed in the child’s mind that can be developed later on as the child grows.  These relationships don’t replace a secure attachment with a primary caregiver but they are a source of strength for the child’s development.

Have a look at “The Woman who changed her brain”. 

Attachment in adolescence

Adolescent is a time of de-attachment.  Early relationship experiences that set up a secure, avoidant or insecure sense of belonging are amplified in these years.  However it is understood that young people can move from non-secure models of attachment, those states of non-integrating in their brain functions, to secure, integrated models by developing integration in their brains.  There are some things that adults within these young people’s lives can do to support this integration.

Supporting a young person who has an avoidant attachment move back towards a sense of security.

Young people who are avoidant find it hard to trust close friendships and intimate relationships.  They avoid them or, without even being aware of it, sabotage them.  As children, they weren’t cuddly kids.  They never seemed to seek out a hug or get much comfort when you gave them a hug or kiss.  Usually they found it hard to share feelings.  They can be wary and distant in conversations.  If these young people have had some trauma in their lives, they can also be highly reactive.  This means they can fly off the handle in a rage with the slightest provocation.  For some, traumatic experiences increase their wariness, vigilance and risk taking behaviours.  They may have the question is “can I rely on this person?” and the answer is “No I can only rely on myself”.

Ways to support change after avoidant attachment:

  • Be consistent and caring – focus on building the relationship
  • Be reliable – regardless of the situation – be constant
  • Teach accurate interpretation of others  - will often think that people don’t like them or disapprove
  • Build positive rituals of connection – meals at home
  • Use positive language and focus on the strengths

Supporting a young person who has an ambivalent attachment move back towards a sense of security.

The big question for insecurity attached young people is “Am I worthy?”. Many of them don’t feel loveable or desirable.  They have low self-esteem.  This can leave them desperate for love and at risk of trying to form a relationship with anyone who appears interested.  These young people are so keen to fit in that they can be led by others and influenced by peer pressure.  Some will try to buy friendships by paying for things, or providing things to please people.  If they think they can’t fit in or be desired, some become outlandish and provocative to get a reaction.  Any reaction, even a negative one is better than being neglected.  Some can also be so intense that when they do make a friend, they scare them away.  Some insecure young people cling close to their parents and don’t stray far from home.  Others seek out the wildest group they can and will sacrifice almost anything to identify with them.

Ways to support change after ambivalent attachment:

  • Stick to your word – follow through as they have a sense of uncertainty and nothing can totally be relied upon
  • Value them for who they are, not what they achieve
  • Don’t give too much space to their negativity
  • Be watchful for perfectionism - insecure teens can become perfectionists
  • Check out doubts and move on as insecure teens can ruminate over and over


Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss, Vol. 1: Attachment. Basic Books: New York

Further Resources