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How Insecurity Can Make Someone More Attractive

... and who's most likely to overlook it.

Key points

  • Flattery from individuals who were insecure substantially increased their attractiveness.
  • Men may be more likely than women to overlook attachment insecurity when faced with physical attractiveness.
  • Because of the positive mate value of security, women may be less inclined to prioritize physical attractiveness.
JillWellington / Pixabay
Source: JillWellington / Pixabay

Have you ever been out with someone you are very attracted to, but who also makes you feel anxious? Maybe you perceive a difference in status, physical attractiveness, or social proficiency. Whether the difference is real or imagined, you worry your feelings are being revealed through your behavior. But would that necessarily be a bad thing? The research on this may surprise you.

The Appeal of Insecurity

Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh et al. (2014) examined the appeal of insecurity in a piece aptly entitled “Attraction to Attachment Insecurity.”[i] They begin by acknowledging that research shows that people prefer securely attached individuals when choosing between secure or insecure partner prototypes. Nonetheless, they note that in real life, not everyone chooses a secure partner. Accordingly, they sought to explore the factors that cause people to select insecure partners, specifically examining flattery, appearance, and status.

The Allure of Approval

Many accomplished, good-looking, outgoing people seem to have it all. As a result, others may fail to acknowledge or compliment a successful, attractive individual, figuring they are besieged with admirers. This is usually not the case. As a result, insecure individuals who express kindness, appreciation, and admiration are often well perceived—both emotionally and physically. Sure enough, Brumbaugh et al. found that flattery from individuals who were insecure substantially increased their attractiveness.

Appearance and Attachment

Regarding physical attractiveness, Brumbaugh et al. note that men are more likely to be inclined to overlook characteristics such as attachment insecurity when faced with physical beauty, while women might be more inclined to choose a secure man who is not overly handsome. They cite previous research showing that men are less selective than women when choosing dating partners, and also less concerned with negative personality traits, which could explain why they are willing to overlook characteristics such as attachment security.

Brumbaugh et al. also recognize that some aspects of security such as warmth are valuable qualities to have in a mate within the context of raising a child for example, or even relational functioning, making them more important to women. Accordingly, women may be more inclined to consider a prospective partner as an entire package.

Status and Security

Regarding status, Brumbaugh et al. note that interestingly, neither women nor men were attracted to individuals who were high-status but insecure. They found that for both sexes, attachment security was more important, even when secure targets were depicted as having fewer resources and less ambition. The single class of people who were attracted to insecure, high-status others were people who were highly anxious themselves.

Insecurity and Desirability

In the final analysis, Brumbaugh et al. observe that insecure partners are attractive when they exhibit desirable qualities and behaviors that could compensate for “attachment‐related shortcomings.” Accordingly, insecure people who are attractive or use authentic flattery may successfully initiate relationships despite their attachment insecurities.

Happy, healthy relationships involve more than checking boxes in all of the desirable categories. Insecure or not, viewing a prospective partner with interest, respect, compassion, understanding, and a healthy dose of humility may be more attractive than you think.

Facebook image: dekazigzag/Shutterstock


[i] Brumbaugh, Claudia Chloe, Alison Baren, And Peryl Agishtein. “Attraction to Attachment Insecurity: Flattery, Appearance, and Status’s Role in Mate Preferences.” Personal relationships 21, no. 2 (2014): 288–308.