Attachment Repair:

How to Repair From
an Attachment Rupture

Attachment Repair:

How to Repair From
an Attachment Rupture

When you hurt yourself as a child, what did you do? Were your instincts to run to your caregiver for cuddles and to help you feel better? As children, we have a natural desire to seek comfort and closeness from our caregivers, especially in times of distress. But what if there’s an attachment rupture in the relationship?

If our needs for warmth, safety, and connection were met by our caregivers, we knew we could turn to them–time and time again–for support. But if they met these needs with hostility, abuse, or absence, we learned that they weren’t going to support us. Such instances are known as attachment ruptures

Ruptures are a normal part of all relationships, but If attachment ruptures become a pattern or aren’t repaired quickly, we are given templates for unhealthy relationships in adolescence and adulthood.

 In this article, we’ll explore the attachment rupture and repair process, including:

  • What attachment ruptures are
  • The attachment repair model
  • Therapy for attachment issues
  • Seeking support from attachment repair groups
  • How to repair our attachment issues

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What Are Attachment Ruptures?

Attachment ruptures involve a disruption in the relationship between a caregiver and child. In healthy relationships, the caregiver and child typically restore their connection after a rupture, in a process known as “repair.” To repair a rupture, a parent may validate their child’s feelings, say they’re sorry, or reestablish physical connection through a hug.  

However, in some situations, ruptures happen continually without repair. Most of us commonly assume attachment ruptures occur because of abuse or neglect, but attachment ruptures can also happen if the main caregiver is physically or emotionally unavailable. 

There are many reasons for why a caregiver may be physically unavailable; parental separation, death, or even demanding work environments are some possible causes. On the other hand, emotional unavailability may be due to struggles with mental health conditions or personality issues such as narcisstic personality disorder (NPD).

As children, repeated attachment ruptures without repair are extremely traumatic, as they prevent us from truly connecting with our caregivers. These ruptures may also leave us feeling confused and wondering if we were to blame, internalizing that we were “bad” or “not good enough.” Additionally, if we don’t receive enough support to overcome our attachment traumas in childhood, these feelings of inadequacy can seep into adulthood

Fortunately, an increasing amount of studies are focusing on the impact of attachment ruptures and what we can do to repair our attachment issues. One theory arising from this research is the adult attachment repair model. 

Attachment Repair Model

The Adult Attachment Repair Model (AARM) is a therapeutic approach geared toward helping us manage the lasting influences of childhood attachment trauma. The model was developed by Peter Cummings, a licensed clinical social worker with over four decades of experience as a mental health professional. 

The AARM involves a bottom-up approach, meaning that it focuses on bodily sensations to help us tap into our past relationship traumas. It does so by employing a range of non-invasive techniques that stimulate the nervous system to trigger a natural biological response which informs the therapist and client about the nature of the trauma. One of the most well-known of these techniques is called “the stick” or “stickwork.” In this method, two people hold onto either end of a long stick. Just holding the stick supposedly activates the right side of the brain. But what does this mean? 

Well, right brain activation effectively gets us out of our heads and into our bodies; we become less in touch with our reasoning and language skills and more in tune with our physical sensations. This process helps us side-step the defences we typically develop after repeated attachment ruptures so that we can connect more readily with others. In essence, the AARM is a form of attachment repair therapy. But what other attachment repair therapies are out there?

Attachment Repair Therapy

Have you ever heard of attachment repair therapy? If you haven’t, you may have heard the term “attachment-based therapy”- they essentially mean the same thing. 

Attachment repair therapy and attachment-based therapy are forms of counseling that help us understand and address our past attachment traumas. However, they go further than this: They also support us in managing the common long-term implications of attachment issues, such as:

  • Mood disorders (such as depression)
  • Relationship problems
  • Anxiety disorder

Attachment-based therapy (or attachment repair therapy) can be tailored to you as an individual or with your partner in couples therapy. Attachment-based family therapy is also available for children and adolescents who have experienced attachment trauma. 

Attachment repair therapy normally involves a two-pronged approach:

Talking through your childhood memories of your relationship with your primary caregivers.

Recognizing how your relationship with your caregivers may be influencing you now. 

By focusing on the past and how this might link with your current situation, you can begin to overcome your attachment issues. You can also access this kind of support in a group setting, known as attachment repair groups.

Attachment Repair Groups

Attachment repair groups offer group therapy to help with attachment issues arising from ruptures in our early relationships. 

Attachment repair group counseling has several functions, such as providing:

  • An opportunity to share experiences of attachment ruptures and process feelings around these.
  • A therapeutic, confidential space that feels safe. 
  • Support from other people who have also experienced attachment trauma. 
  • Psychoeducation about attachment rupture and repair and strategies to repair attachment issues. 

There are usually no more than 8 people per attachment repair group and they are facilitated by a repair group therapist, meaning that everyone involved is given the opportunity to feel heard and supported. The groups typically occur for an hour each week over a 10-week period. 

But let’s be real for a moment; group therapy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some of us would much rather repair our attachment issues behind closed doors or on our own. If this resonates with you, you may find the following tips helpful.

4 Helpful Tips on How to Repair From Attachment Issues

Repairing from attachment issues isn’t easy; it takes time and energy to change the narrative you learned during childhood. Although many people find getting support from a mental health professional hugely beneficial, it is still possible to start the attachment repair process on your own. Here’s how:

1. Explore How Your Attachment Issues Relate to Your Past Experiences

Attachment ruptures in childhood can influence our development, perspectives on what relationships should look like, and view of ourselves. This can cause problems in many areas of our adult life, including our relationships, self-confidence, and ability to manage stress.

By taking time to explore our attachment issues, we can identify how they relate to our present difficulties. Only when we have done this can we can begin to work toward developing a more secure attachment style

You can explore your attachment issues by getting to know your attachment style and working toward transforming your insecure pattern of attachment.

To identify your attachment style, check out our Attachment Style Quiz.

2. Develop Your Self-Awareness

Spending time developing your self-awareness can help you understand your early attachment experiences and how they play into your present-day difficulties. It can also help you get to know your triggers, which can be highly useful in finding ways to manage stressful everyday situations. 

You can adopt various practices to improve your self-awareness, such as:

  • Mindfulness meditation: This can help you become more aware of your internal thoughts and feelings, including how you’re feeling in the present moment.
  • Ask for feedback: Asking for feedback from your loved ones and coworkers can help you become more aware of how you are perceived by others, as well as your strengths and weaknesses (but make sure you’re in the right frame of mind when doing so, as difficulties receiving feedback can create ruptures in adult relationships).
  • Take psychometric tests: Psychometric tests like the Myers-Briggs personality test can help you understand yourself better.

3. Invest Time and Energy in Self-Care

Attachment trauma occurs because your emotional (and perhaps physical) needs went unmet when you were a child. One way to heal from early attachment ruptures is to meet your own emotional and physical needs through effective self-care. In fact, self-care can have many benefits when it comes to attachment-related issues, for example, evidence shows that it can enhance resilience in people with insecure attachment. 

Self-care often looks different for everyone. For some, self-care may be taking a walk or having a bath. Whereas for others, self-care may be meeting a friend for coffee. 

4. Identify Your Emotional Needs and Learn How to Communicate Them

When our emotional needs go unmet as children, we may fall into a similar pattern in adulthood. However, this time, instead of our caregiver not meeting our needs, it’s us who aren’t tending to them. By identifying our emotional needs as well as how to communicate them, we can feel safer and more connected in our relationships. 

Schema therapy proposes that our fundamental emotional needs are to feel safe, play and act spontaneously, have boundaries, have the freedom to communicate our emotions and needs, and have a sense of identity and autonomy.

To identify if you’re meeting your emotional needs, you can ask yourself:

  • Does my life make me feel safe and secure?
  • Do I get the opportunity to play and act spontaneously?
  • Do I have boundaries within my relationships?
  • Can I express my emotions and needs freely?
  • Do I know who I am and show people the real me?

If you answered “no” to any of these, one or more of your core emotional needs may be going unmet. By recognizing which emotional need (or needs) this is, you can focus on providing this for yourself.

Once you know your needs, there will come a time when you want to communicate these with your loved one. When doing this, remember to use “I” statements, such as “I feel” and “I want.” This shifts the responsibility solely onto your shoulders, steering clear of blame, and making them more likely to respond non-defensively.

Final Words on Attachment Rupture and Repair

When our caregivers don’t meet our emotional needs during childhood, we experience attachment ruptures. If attachment ruptures aren’t repaired and become a pattern, this can cause trauma that has lasting implications in our relationships, views of ourself, and way we experience the world.

Fortunately, many resources are available to help us overcome our attachment issues. If we want external support, we can turn to attachment-based therapy or attachment repair groups. 

But if we’d prefer to tackle our attachment issues ourselves, we can do so by exploring our past experiences and developing our self-awareness. Spending time on self-care and identifying our emotional needs helps can also help in this process.

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Diamond, G., Russon, J., & Levy, S. (2016). Attachment-Based Family Therapy: A Review of the Empirical Support. Family process, 55(3), 595–610.

Glennon, A., Pruitt, D. K., & Polmanteer, R. S. R. (2019). Integrating self-care into clinical practice with trauma clients. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(1), 48–56.

Guarnotta, E. (2022, July 18). Attachment Trauma: Signs, Causes, & How to Heal. Choosing Therapy.

Patricia Worby PhD. (2021, August 12). Patricia Worby Alchemy Therapies – Adult Attachment Repair Method AARM [Video]. YouTube.

Porter, E. N. (Host). (2021-present). The Energetics of Business: Adult Attachment Repair Model with Peter Cummings [Audio Podcast]. Apple Podcasts.

Shafir, H. (2022, November 2). Attachment-Based Therapies: What It Is, Techniques & Effectiveness. Choosing Therapy.

Young, J., Rafaeli, E., Bernstein, D. P. (2010). Schema Therapy: Distinctive Features. Taylor & Francis.

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