Everything You Should Know About Anxious Attachment In Relationships
Do you often find yourself in relationships that are unsatisfying or even painful? Perhaps you wind up in with men who are not ready for commitment even when you feel that there is a great connection between you two. Or, maybe you just can't get yourself to break up with someone even if you are not happy and know that the relationship is going nowhere? These are some signs of anxious attachment in relationships.
Attachment theory started with baby experiments
Attachment theory was first described by John Bowlby in 1969, who came up with it through his observations of children with caregivers and psychologists. Since then, attachment theory has been widely studied in child development, family therapy, and adult relationship theory.
From his observations, he was able to define different attachment styles and understand the behaviors that came with each style. Once children become adults, they would still exhibit these behaviors in adult relationships.
Four attachment styles
- Anxious Attachment
- Avoidant Attachment
- Disorganized Attachment Style
- Secure Attachment Style
In this article, we’ll explore what an anxious attachment style looks like in real life. I will give a brief explanation of what it is, how it looks in relationships, and how we can manage, so you can create a happy lasting relationship. Guess what?! You can actually acquire a secure attachment if you work on it and if you make sure you find a good partner. This is exactly what I help my clients within my coaching program.
What is anxious attachment style?
Anxious attachment styles are characterized by a fear of abandonment and a need for constant reassurance. Someone with an anxious attachment may often feel insecure, especially in their romantic relationships, and may experience a lot of anxiety about their partner leaving them. They may also have difficulty trusting their partner and may feel like they are always on the lookout for signs that their partner is going to leave them.
There is an attachment pattern where the person may feel constant jealousy and may often feel that they are not good enough for their partner. They may try to control their partner or be overly clingy in an attempt to keep them close and will constantly question if their partner likes them. Oftentimes, they will also wonder if their partners are looking for reasons to break up with them, may read too much into their partner’s emotions, and indirectly assume that every little thing they do is a signal that they want to end the relationship.
People with this type of attachment can easily feel insecure and anxious in their relationship. It affects their self-esteem and their ability to trust which is why it is so important to address these attachment issues.
What causes anxious attachment?
This is a complex topic and there are so many things that influence us, but we usually talk about our primary caregivers and how they treat us. So what exactly does that mean? It means those who have this type of attachment style often have parents or caregivers who were too busy, distracted, or distant.
This can happen even if your parents had the best intentions and they loved you. Their behaviors may be related to their own upbringing, anxieties, and fears. Basically, there could be various types of interactions that can affect you as a young child. The most damaging part is that parents are unaware of how they affect the child.
Different types of interactions that can lead to an anxious attachment in adults include:
- Inconsistent Parenting. Children need consistency from their caregivers; from being supportive on some days and unsupportive just as frequently, children become confused. They don’t know how to process these extreme changes in their environment and oftentimes believe there is something wrong with themselves when they are no longer receiving care or affection.
- Parenting Styles. Sometimes parents have a difficult time letting their children grow up, while other times they've been too busy to be with their child. Either way, the child can become emotionally damaged by their parent's behavior, can form maladaptive ways of coping, and may grow up with low self-esteem.
- Traumatic Experiences. Abuse or stressful situations can cause people to develop an anxious attachment style. Experiencing these events can change how you think about the world and those around you.
Stressful events and interactions can put a strain on any relationship. Those who have anxious attachment styles experience more stress in their relationships, which makes it even harder to trust anyone else in the future. One of the best ways to alleviate this is by taking care of yourself and learning how to manage your emotions and reactions.
Limiting beliefs are the consequences of misaligned parenting
All parents make mistakes, but when parents lack ability to attune to their baby or a child, then child doesn't feel safe to be themselves. In order to survive, children feel that they need to maintain the bond with the caretaker. Because of this, we make an unconscious decision that we can't be ourselves. We develop shame about some parts and we learn to cut them off.
This is why we develop limiting beliefs that cause us to struggle in relationships. For instance, I know so many of women who want to find that genuine soulful love, but they deep down they don't even believe that they are worthy of that love.
There are various versions of this particular belief, but there are others such as:
Five things you must understand about anxious attachment
If you recognize yourself as one of us, with anxious attachment style, I want you to know four things. Keeping this awareness will help you grow and understand yourself. Only then you can communicate effectively and create a secure healthy relationship.
- Romantic relationships will trigger you to feel like you are going crazy. You need to remember this because if you don't you will allow yourself to sabotage your chances to be happy in love and life. I know so many high-achieving women who are doing so well until they start a relationship. This is when their attachment trauma becomes triggered and they feel out of control in their lives.
- You need to remember that your attachment style developed as a set of survival strategies that helped you adopt to the environment you grew up in. When you honor yourself and acknowledge the good job you did as a little girl, you can learn to appreciate and love yourself more. Doing so helps you find a partner that will appreciate you and it will also allow you to receive the love and appreciation someone may have for you.
- Anxious attachment isn't something pathological, but rather something that is worthy of paying attention to, so you can actually be happy in a relationship. What I mean here is that you need to be gentle and curious instead of judgmental and mean towards yourself. This is when you can start healing.
- There are so many positive things about who you are just because you have an anxious attachment. Yes, believe it or not. You have some skills that other people may not have. For instance, you are more tuned into potential danger than others. You are also dedicated and thoughtful friend or a partner. And, you are a hard worker who reflects and takes responsibility. These are just some of them. Perhaps, it's time to develop a few more skills that will help you create happiness you crave. After all, you deserve a beautiful heart and love that you are willing to put out there.
- You are not needy or clingy. You are only feeling like this because your attachment trauma was triggered.
How does it feel to be dating someone with an anxious attachment style?
Anxious attachment style in relationship doesn't strike at the beginning, when you just meet someone. Those are the good times when he is so gallant, romantic, and he is pursuing you. If you are like one of my clients, you meet someone when you are in a good place in life. You take care of yourself, you work out, go to yoga, travel, have friends. Then you meet someone who pursues you to the point of when you start falling for him.
That's when trouble begins. My clients describe, "I was so happy before I met him, and now all I can think is him." They feel needy, worried, they start overthinking, etc.
How is it for him, your partner? Your partner may feel overwhelmed with closeness, and that's when you may come off as emotionally needy. Many people with anxious attachment demand constant reassurance from their partner and are easily discouraged when things don’t go the way they want them to go. This is often paired with jealousy and insecurity, so it's extremely triggering to your partner, who most likely has an avoidant attachment.
People tend to mirror and pair off with romantic partners who have the opposite attachment style. When the anxious attachment develops, you tend to focus on and magnify your partner's mistakes, fueling your insecurities. If your partner has an avoidant style, he is likely to respond with a defensive attitude, often leading to a vicious cycle of criticism that can negatively impact the relationship.
The combination of two insecure attachment styles can make for a volatile, demanding partnership with frequent ups and downs described like an emotional roller coaster. Rather than communicating the needs, people with this attachment tend to act on them. This often leads to a relational pattern of acting out.
Whether you are in a long-term relationship, or just getting to know someone, understanding how each of your attachment styles affects you and the other person is important for making healthier relationships.
How anxious attachment affects your relationships
Attachment anxiety can negatively affect relationships in several ways. For example, people may have a harder time trusting their partners, which can lead to communication problems. They may also feel more clingy or needy, which can be frustrating for their partner.
Our feeling of clinginess comes from the place of feeling ashamed of our needs for closeness. This shame causes us to not being able to communicate our needs openly, so we hope that our partner will meet them. We want a partner to provide a missing experience and see our needs because our parents didn't.
Additionally, people with an anxious attachment may be more prone to jealousy and insecurity, which can further strain the relationship.
Due to feeling inadequate, many people with anxious attachment feel preoccupied questioning relationship status and happiness and feelings of their partners.
They can also be overly critical of their partner's actions and can struggle to express their emotions in stable ways. As many don't express their needs openly, they wind up feeling frustrated lashing out in extreme angry outbursts. If you are in a relationship with an avoidant man, this often scares them. This can lead your partner to become emotionally distant and avoidant, creating an unhealthy cycle that does not bring you closer together.
But, it's not all gloom. You are here for a reason. I mean, you are here reading this article, as well as you are in a relationship with potentially avoidant man. If he is evolved and wants to create a secure healthy relationship, then you two can help each other heal. You both can acquire a secure attachment. I did it.
What can trigger anxious attachment?
As I already described, anxious attachment comes from emotional trauma and if it's not paired with extreme betrayal and trauma, most people function well. Actually, the fact is that my clients are high achieving women. They learned that they need to strive for excellence in all aspects of their life. This is emotional trauma based, but it served them well.
So following are some things that trigger this emotional trauma
A dismissive partner
People with anxious attachment styles are pre-programmed to feel anxious when their emotional needs are not met by a partner. If they find themselves with a partner who is emotionally unavailable or dismissive, it triggers their anxiety.
Fear of rejection can be a major hurdle for emotional stability and self-worth. They are likely to develop a mentality where they believe that their close relationships or others will not like them or that they will be abandoned.
End of a Relationship
Often, when a partner expresses their concerns, the other person sees it as a threat to the relationship—even if those concerns are exaggerated or overly dramatic. They have the tendency to assume that their partner has decided that the relationship is doomed. This can cause them to react badly.
Emotional triggers are actions or words that remind us of old emotional patterns and reactions that we’re trying to change. When triggered, these individuals experience increased anxiety. People who have been abandoned before and are unable to process their trauma can find it harder to cope with their emotions when confronted with reminders of the past.
Securely attached people are more easily able to deal with their partner’s healthy anger. They do not misinterpret the anger, but rather take it at face value, calmly processing the information. The anxious attachment type, meanwhile, is prone to having their already fragile nervous system triggered by healthy and justified anger from someone, causing them to run away, go into a fight, or worry if they did something wrong even if they haven't.
These are just some of the triggers that can have a far worse impact on them emotionally than on a securely attached person and can result in them questioning the whole relationship.
How can you work on your attachment style as an adult?
It’s important to understand your attachment style and what that means for your relationships with others. Understanding your attachment style can help you grow and manage a healthy relationship. If you learn more about your inner wounds, you can learn ways of dealing with change. Changing your attachment style to be more safe and secure is an ongoing process.
Being in a relationship with a secure partner will help you acquire a secure attachment easier. Thus, it's important to know how to recognize who's right for you and who's gonna drive you bonkers.
There are a few things you can do to work to develop a secure attachment:
- Be mindful of your attachment style. Knowing how you’re wired will help you better understand your relationship patterns, behaviors, and reasons for why you may repeat similar dynamics in relationships.
- Learn how to recognize who makes you feel secure and who drives you nuts. In a good relationship you should gradually feel security with attraction and excitement. If you feel emotional ups and downs, it's a bad sign.
- Change your behavior. You need to start by identifying the areas that you need to improve. Once you know what needs to be changed, you can start making a plan for how to go about making those changes. If you become aware of how these attachments often create problems in your relationships, then you can use this awareness to make better decisions. You'll be able to improve your interactions with other people in meaningful ways.
- Process your emotions. When you are feeling any emotion, it is important to process it in a healthy way. This means taking the time to understand what you are feeling, why you are feeling it, and how it is impacting you. Once you have done this, you can then start to work on managing or resolving the emotion in a positive way. It is important to remember that all emotions are valid and that there is no right or wrong way to feel.
- Communicate your needs, emotions, and boundaries openly. Once you process your emotions, you can communicate them without shame and without blaming your partner. How he reacts will further help you discern if he is right for you. In my course Self-Love Revolution: Express Your Feelings and Capture His Heart, I teach women how to communicate in the ways that builds powerful emotional bond with quality men.
- Talk to someone you can rely on. Wanting to have a secure relationship will most likely take help, support, and guidance from family, friends, and others in your life who know you well. You may find it beneficial to reach out to support groups or organizations that specialize in improving intimate relationships. I specialize in helping high achieving women transition from an anxious love seeker to a secure love creator. Perhaps 1:1 work may be right for you.
- Go to therapy. Seeking help from a trained therapist, who specializes in attachment theory and trauma, can help you recognize and change your relationship style and attachment strategies. To do this, they will help you address the issues that arise between you and those closest to you. Your therapist will also work with you to change your model of how relationships work based on your past experiences. Once this model is changed, it can greatly decrease distress related to your relationships.
Final words on anxious attachment in adulthood
It's evident that anxious attachment in relationships is not easy. Stressful interactions create a negative cycle when you have signs of anxious attachment. Challenges and setbacks can trigger panic, doubts about your self-worth, and fears of abandonment. This can make it increasingly difficult to manage and can lead to feelings of withdrawal to avoid triggering the feelings.
The great news is that it’s possible to change your attachment style. It takes work and time, but if you can get there, you will dramatically improve your relationships and adult attachment. Utilizing my Secure Love Creator framework, I help women transition from anxious love-seekers to secure love creators to improve their relationships. This is powerful work. My client's boyfriends and husbands send me thank-you notes. Many women report better relationships with their children and other people too.
If you're interested in learning more, share this with your friends and give me a follow. If you're ready to go deeper into your attachment styles, I can help. With my online relationship coaching and consulting program, you can become aware your patterns and learn how to manage them. It's time to stop feeling frustrated and helpless.
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