Attachment Theory 101: Your Guide to Anxious Attachment Style
Attachment theory originated as a way to explain how infants would react when separated from and then reunited with their primary care takers. Over time, this theory has been expanded to also explain how adults in romantic relationships attach to one another. According to attachment theory, there are four different types of attachment: secure, avoidant, anxious and disorganized.
Adults with secure attachment styles are autonomous when they are in relationships. They are able to connect with their partner on a deeply emotional level, but are not too reliant on their partner or their relationship for feelings of self worth and importance. This is the most healthy attachment style, the other three attachment styles (avoidant, anxious and disorganized) are known as insecure attachment styles.
Avoidant attachment is characterized by prioritizing independence and freedom over deep emotional connections. People with this attachment style often avoid getting too close to other people and feel uncomfortable with the idea of having to rely on a partner. Avoidant attachment is the opposite of anxious attachment, a different type of insecure attachment style. Anxious attachment is characterized by a lack of independence, lots of insecurities and a deep desire to be close to a partner. People with an anxious attachment often worry about rejection and abandonment. The fourth attachment style (the third insecure attachment style) is disorganized attachment which is also known as fearful-avoidant attachment. This attachment style is a sort of combination of both anxious attachment and avoidant attachment. People with this attachment style crave emotional closeness with others, partially as a need for validation, but are also deeply fearful of abandonment. These clashing needs often result in erratic, disorganized behavior.
While some insecure attachment styles arise out of trauma or deep-seated insecurities (and should be addressed with professional help), others are just a natural preference. It is possible to have a healthy and happy relationship if one or both partners have an insecure attachment style as long as you are aware of your attachment preferences and agree to navigate attachment issues as a couple. In this article, we will focus on the anxious attachment style and how to identify it in yourself or your partner, as well as how to navigate it as a couple.
Identifying anxious attachment in yourself
If you have an insecure attachment style, it’s important to be aware of it. Insecure attachment styles often put an undue burden on the partner because if you are unable to recognize and deal with your attachment issues, your partner will have to constantly validate their feelings towards you and the relationship. If left unaddressed, insecure attachment styles can be the ultimate reason why your relationship does not work out. So what will it look like if you have an anxious attachment style? You might feel insecure about the status of your relationship, constantly questioning if your partner likes you, and wondering if they are looking for reasons to break up with you. You may also read too much into your partner’s emotions, and take their behavior too personally. This can look like obsessing about being left on read, or overanalyzing off-handed comments made by your partner.
You may also find yourself being controlling towards your partner, requiring them to do things to make you feel secure in the relationship that are out of character for them, such as making them send you good morning and good night texts. Anxious attachment can also manifest in jealousy and just generally acting overly emotional. This heightened emotion can also lead you to look for reasons to fight. If this is your default attachment style, you may also find yourself expecting your partner to leave you because you are unable to see your self-worth in the relationship. It can be exhausting to constantly feel insecure and anxious in your relationship, which is why it is so important to address your anxious attachment style.
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Addressing anxious attachment in yourself
Most of the behaviors associated with anxious attachment stem from insecurity and fears of rejection or abandonment. These things can be rooted in past relationship trauma, or just deep-seated insecurities. While there is often trauma associated with insecure attachment, it could just be an attachment preference. And it is possible to address these things and develop a more secure attachment style. If you recognize these behaviors in yourself, it’s important to do some introspection and try to identify where these feelings originate. Did an ex cheat on you? Are you still recovering from a time when someone broke your trust in a serious way? Or are your feelings of insecurity affecting your relationship?
Identifying the root cause of these problems can help you make a plan to move forward. A great way to find some resolution to past problems is through journaling. Putting all your ideas on paper can help you sort them out in a productive way. In addition to journaling about the past, it can be a good idea to keep a journal about things that are making you anxious in the present. Writing things down can help you look at things more objectively, and can help you reduce your anxiety about menial, off-handed things. Even if journaling doesn’t help you reduce your anxiety, it can at least show you a pattern of the types of things that make you anxious.
If you are able to find a pattern with your anxiety sources, you can better communicate with your partner about what they can do to help you reduce your relationship-related anxiety. This leads us to another way to cope with anxious attachment: COMMUNICATION! While it is important for you to deal with the root of your attachment issues on your own, it’s also important for you to communicate how you are feeling to your partner. Open communication about the causes of your anxiety might help explain some of your controlling or combative behavior to your partner. It can also help them support you in a more empathetic and intentional manner. While there are a lot of different things you can try to address your anxious attachment style, it may require professional help to address the underlying causes of your insecure attachment. Both individual therapists and relationship therapists are well equipped to help you address your anxious attachment style.
Identifying anxious attachment in your partner
Because you don’t know everything that is going through your partner’s head, identifying an anxious attachment style in them might be a little different than trying to identify it within yourself. Anxious attachment style is also known as preoccupied attachment, meaning that your partner may become preoccupied with how they are perceived by you and are preoccupied overanalyzing the relationship rather than actively participating. If your partner has an anxious attachment style, they may be too clingy and require constant reassurance about your feelings for them and your commitment to the relationship. They might start to adopt a lot of your habits and interests in an attempt to spend more/all of your time together. They may also seem to always agree with you in a form of people-pleasing that is rooted in a fear of disagreements leading to disinterest or abandonment.
Alternatively, they may also be combative, often lashing out if they feel threatened. Even if they are not aggressive, they may be overly emotional, which can result in conflict. And while they act emotionally, they are often unable to articulate their emotions because they are out-of-touch with how they are feeling. This out-of-touch-ness can result in an inability to identify or accept responsibility for their flaws in the relationship. If your partner has an anxious attachment style, they may not necessarily display all of these character traits. In some instances, some of these things plague relationships with people who have secure attachment styles. But, if you sense that the majority of problems in your relationship stem from your partner’s relationship-related anxiety, then it is likely that they have an insecure, anxious attachment style.
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Addressing anxious attachment in your partner
After identifying anxious attachment issues in your partner, it can be difficult to bring this fact to their attention because of their unwillingness to accept fault in the relationship and because of their hypersensitivity. But, it’s important to address this attachment issue in your partner so that the relationship can thrive! A great way to bring up anxious attachment is to suggest taking an attachment style quiz, which you can access for free on Relish. If they are not open to this idea, or are not able to answer the questions honestly, you may have to bring it to their attention. While this can be a difficult task, there are ways to do it kindly and gently. If you have attachment issues, you can use this as a segue to talk about the attachment issues you perceive in them. Or you can frame it as a way to solve the inevitable relationship problems that are stemming from their attachment issues. Helping your partner identify these issues will hopefully inspire them to address their insecurities and their anxiety related to the relationship. While a lot of the work of addressing attachment issues is done on a personal level (through journaling, communication exercises and even therapy) there are things you can do as their partner to help alleviate some of the burden it puts on the relationship.
Engaging in an open dialogue about the types of things that cause your partner anxiety is a great way to understand what triggers some of their possessive or emotional actions. Additionally, it’s important to create clear boundaries about what kind of behaviors are acceptable in the relationship. Creating boundaries will give you some space from having to constantly reassure your partner. It can also help your partner feel comfortable and less anxious about normal things, like having different hobbies or spending time apart. Creating boundaries will help you both navigate the relationship with less anxiety. Above all else, it’s important to show an anxious partner affection and love. Showing your dedication to your partner will help reduce their fears of rejection and abandonment. This will look different for different partnerships, but simple things like a cute “I miss you” text, telling your partner about something that reminded you of them, scheduling a date night or intimate time together or giving frequent compliments will show your partner that you care about them, and will help put some of their anxieties to rest. While these are all potential solutions, it may be necessary to refer your partner to a therapist, or to see a therapist as a couple.
It’s important to note that some attachment styles pair better than others. For example, people with secure attachment styles can pair in a relatively healthy way with any other attachment style, often serving as the stable rock on the relationship. But if you have insecure attachment styles, attaching with a different insecurely-attached person can create a lot of problems - even toxicity in the relationship. It is possible for two anxiously attached people to have a good relationship as long as they are able to communicate their emotions.
As we mentioned, anxiously attached people are drawn to intimacy, so two anxious partners could fulfill the other’s need for intimacy and closeness while fulfilling their own needs, without fear of scaring anyone off. But these relationships can also be very difficult and result in extreme jealousy and volatile fights. While two anxiously attached people have the potential to make a relationship work, the same is not true for an anxiously attached person and an avoidantly attached person. These people tend to have polar opposite needs in the relationship, which can lead an anxious person to feeling undervalued, worsening their self esteem, while leading an avoidant person to feel as if their independence is totally compromised. While this is a textbook bad pairing, it’s not impossible to make it work, so long as both people are on the same page! Ultimately, understanding your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style is key to making any relationship work.
While we have preferred attachment styles, it is possible to learn new, healthier ways to attach to emotional partners. Download Relish to help you identify healthier patterns of behavior. Click here to start your free 7 day trial.