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  • Judy Ho, Ph.D., ABPP,

What We Know About High Achievers and Attachment Styles

The pros and cons of constantly striving for the next goal.

What We Know About High Achievers and Attachment Styles

  • Are you an extreme perfectionistic or a chronic workaholic?

  • If so, an avoidant attachment style might be the underlying culprit.

  • Learn the pros and cons of the avoidant attachment style and how to achieve unconditional self-acceptance.

High achievers consistently strive for excellence and excel in various aspects of life. They possess many admirable qualities that others look up to. In our hustle and bustle culture, it seems like the quintessential characteristic everyone wishes they had. But some high achievers might put too much stock in their achievements—so much that their self-esteem is often predicated on what they do. When they reach a goal, they start planning for their next one. They can become prone to workaholism, as their relationships fall to the wayside.

If this sounds like you, the roots of these behaviors may come from an avoidant attachment style.

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Not sure if this is you? Think back on your childhood. Do some or all of these ring true?

  • As a child, did you often use achievements or accolades to get your parents, caregivers, and other important adults to pay attention to you and give you positive reinforcement?

  • Were you asked to take on adult responsibilities at an early age or made to feel responsible in some way for the feelings and well-being of other people in your family (including, to some extent, your parents)?

  • Were you given direct or indirect messages about emotional expression? Were you taught to hold back on talking about negative feelings? And when you did express negative feelings, were they dismissed or waved away—or did you otherwise get the sense that important adults in your life viewed talking about emotions as some type of character weakness?

If you resonated with any of the above, it's quite possible that over time, your self-concept became mostly or solely based on how much you can accomplish. Rather than having a constant, internal sense of your value, you’ve come to believe that you’re only as worthwhile as your accomplishments are.

Here are some of the potential downsides of this attachment style. As you go about life, your self-worth can become so entangled in what you do, that you can’t stop doing it. You might find yourself committing to even bigger personal and professional aspirations, often at the expense of important aspects of your life—your health, friendships, family, and romantic relationships. It's also possible that you've taken the viewpoint that it's easier to invest in yourself and your goals rather than in others. You may fear letting your guard down and relying on others, only to be disappointed—so why bother in the first place? You may constantly beat yourself up when you don't achieve as much as you planned, perhaps thinking on some level that this will motivate you to do better. But then you find that you're self-sabotaging more than ever.

There are wonderful parts of being a high achiever. But how do you retain that without suffering the other consequences and achieve balance in your self-concept and your life in all important aspects?

The Answer is Self-Acceptance

Self-criticism is the opposite of self-acceptance. By turning down the volume on that part of you that's fixated on your next goal—harshly prodding you to do more, better, and faster—you can make room to see that you are worthwhile, lovable, and deserving of care from others even without any accomplishments. You can hold space for your emotions, both positive and negative, and become more mindful of all of your experiences in the process.

There are no conditions required to give yourself grace, empathy, or compassion, and no hoops to jump through before you can feel good about who you are.

Divesting yourself from the armor of your achievements can feel terrifying, but it is one of the most transformational opportunities for your healing.

Here’s a simple exercise to do just that.

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Self-Acceptance Exercise

1. Find a comfortable place to sit.

2. Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. (If thoughts pop into your head, gently guide your attention back to your breath.)

3. Once relaxed, think back to the first time you remember thinking or feeling that you needed to achieve, to do something productive or constructive, or perhaps take on a responsibility that a child usually doesn’t take on to feel safe, protected, and loved.

4. Turn your attention to the child (or younger) version of yourself in your memory. Ask your inner child how they felt having to do something to earn support and safety. Ask them to share their thoughts or feelings about what they think would happen if they didn’t do these things.

5. Once you identify this, read the following out loud:

Whatever you are feeling, my inner child, know that nothing you can do can increase or decrease your unique worthiness. You don’t need to prove your worth because you have worth just by being. Your worth does not depend on your achievements or others’ judgments. Your worth is not based on your degrees, titles, performance, wealth, actions, or the opinions of others. Despite your good qualities and your not-so-great qualities, you are no more or no less worthy than any other human. Your approval of yourself does not come from any external source—it comes from you. Unconditional self-acceptance means that you accept and celebrate yourself as a living human being. You can choose to accept yourself any time of the day, at any moment, and even during difficult times.

6. Close your eyes and bring your attention back to your breath and feel the flow of air moving into your lungs and then back out into the world. With each exhale, release any negative self-talk, self-criticisms, and self-judgments. With each breath, tell yourself, “I am worthy just as I am. I am worthy of being happy.”

7. When you’re ready, take a few more deep breaths and then open your eyes and come back into the room.

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Write down one thing your adult self will do to show unconditional self-acceptance to yourself today. It might be an affirmation, or you can simply permit yourself to take a break from productive tasks to engage in a hobby.

Repeat this exercise whenever you need just a little grace, and you might just find that day by day, you'll achieve more balance in your life and begin to build toward secure attachment.

Judy Ho, Ph.D., ABPP, - Website - Book -


Ho, Judy. (2024). The New Rules of Attachment: How to Heal Your Relationships, Reparent Your Inner Child, and Secure Your Life Vision. Hachette Book Group.


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