Tips For Overcoming Attachment Anxiety: Anxious Style In Relationships

By Sarah Fader |Updated June 23, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Kelly L. Burns, MA, LPC, ATR-P

From birth, we begin to self-develop a built-in bonding style that is naturally wired to connect the self to others. This is called your “attachment style.” Although the self-independent nature of western culture might lead us to believe that we "need no one," that couldn't be further from the truth. Being anxious can arise when needs aren't being met, and anxiety styles such as an anxious attachment style may form over time. This is where anxious attachment comes into play, and often anxious thoughts lead to turbulent attachment styles and relationships that can be harmful to the nervous system and your inner child over time. Online therapy can be a safe space to navigate attachment concerns you might have.

anxious attachment and style
Attachment Anxiety Can Have A Serious Impact On Your Wellbeing.

Attachment Styles

This article will cover different types of attachment styles related to mental health, emotional needs, and the way your own life may have impacted your attachment style. We also look at how disorders can result from attachment anxiety. Finally, we provide self-strategies and self-tools to help you develop a secure style of self and to healthily self-manage this.

Even as infants, humans seek out people they can trust and bond with. How is the self impacted when we are separated from or not cared for by people we are attached to? A couple of different things can happen. For example, when some young children are left at daycare or school for the first time, they walk in ready to play and make friends, while others cry and cling to their parents' legs. That is their self-system at work! It's important to note that the children develop styles that will normally follow them throughout their entire lives. Children need help to learn to self-regulate, and without it, they can become anxiously attached.

According to research done by world-renowned psychologist Mary Ainsworth, the basis of how we feel about the self and attachment is formed during our childhood. Then, those same self-beliefs become the filter through how we see others and the self in adulthood. It is closely connected to our sense of emotional safety. When we have negative childhood experiences, we may develop a negative view of the world and develop an ambivalent style when we don't feel protected from extreme behaviors like child abuse. How our needs are being met (or not met) when we are young shapes how we will interact with others once we have grown to adults. This is why so many therapists focus on childhood events and trauma when trying to find how to fix current emotional or relationship problems. For example, to feel anxious, nervous, or scared when you're physically far away from your romantic partner could be a sign that you are dealing with these issues.

There are many attachment styles, but anxious attachment is the one we will focus on here. For example, an avoidant person may experience the opposite of someone who has an anxious attachment style. Someone with a secure attachment style will have healthy responses and be able to self-regulate when it comes to their own anxiety and emotional needs in relationships with romantic partners. On the other hand, someone with an anxious attachment style may have difficulty when it comes time to self-soothe or may not understand their own emotions so well. Securely attached people are able to practice mindfulness, take handle of their negative emotions, and practice self-care.

How To Self-Treat Anxious Or Anxiety Attachment In Adults

This theory is the study of the development of patterns that form in early childhood. According to this theory, there are four basic patterns. Adult styles fall under the categories of insecure or secure styles. Let's look at how the four styles highlighted by theorists function in more detail.

  1. Secure Attachment Style- To have a secure attachment style comes with knowing how to nourish a healthy relationship, offer emotional support, and respect the attachments and boundaries of others. Securely attached people have confidence in their sense of self and the fact that they are worthy and deserving of others' love. They tend to flourish in adult relationships. Such confident partners rarely become fearful of being abandoned or worry about their partner pulling away. Those with these styles don't use manipulation and threats in their intimate relationships. If people experiencing secure attachments do have questions or concerns about their relationship, they will ask for clarity before jumping to conclusions. They understand when they need to focus on their own needs and when they are available to help a partner who might be feeling anxious. Securely attached people tend to put more value on boundaries and a more healthy way of securing deep love.
 
 

2. The Dismissive/Avoidant Attachment Style- Every person needs close connections, but you wouldn't know that from watching a person with a dismissive/avoidant behavior pattern. Usually, this pattern of reaction occurs to people whose parents were unavailable when they were young. They are "lone wolves" and often find themselves avoiding close connections, even to those they care for.

The Dismissive/Avoidant Style is an insecure style that results from feelings of abandonment or having to develop independence at an early age. Adults who couldn't rely on their parents when they were younger now mirror the behavior of their parents, being unable to provide attention to and reassurance in their relationships. Because they had to be independent and had to spend so much time alone (physically or emotionally) as a child, they tend to avoid intimacy. Dismissive-avoidant types can tend to shut down emotionally. Wondering if your partner is dismissive-avoidant? Think about how they react to an argument. If they are quick to adopt an "I don't care attitude" and shut down completely, this type of pattern is probably at play.

These people are the more avoidant partner in a relationship. They may see an anxious partner as being “overly dramatic,” or “over emotional.” You may describe them as having emotional unavailability. They tend to push away their partner’s need for constant reassurance or will associate emotional closeness with negative emotions. If your partner forgets important events or ignores you for days on end, they may have a dismissive attachment style. They are not the best partner choice for an anxiously attached person, but anxiously attached people are often drawn to them due to self-esteem issues and past patterns in childhood.

  1. The Fearful/Avoidant Attachment Style- Like the dismissive-avoidant attachment style, people experiencing a fearful-avoidant style also tend to avoid relationships or close intimacy, even though they may have a genuine desire to have intimacy. Fearful-avoidant people tend to worry so much that others will hurt them that they try to avoid love at all costs. But because they tend to have a sincere internal desire to feel secure, fearful-avoidants find themselves seeking out attachments over and over again. Like a pendulum, people experiencing a fearful-avoidant style swing back and forth. At times, desperately wanting and needing a relationship and at other times, clawing to get away. Life to someone who is fearful-avoidant can feel like an endless merry-go-round. Fearful-avoidant people tend to have an internal dialogue that may tend to self-sabotage by continually telling them that they "can't handle it" or "don't feel safe" in times of conflict.
  2. The Anxious Attachment Style– The type four attachment style is the least common type of pattern to have, affecting only up to twenty percent of individuals. Although it might not be as common, this anxious attachment brings to it a great deal of turmoil.

Also known as "preoccupied," those experiencing anxious patterns tend to live life in distress. Always searching for reassurance, their relationships are generally filled with insecurity and fear. In terms of how anxious attachment forms, it often starts with a parent passing their attachment style to their own children. When they are unsure of what their partner feels, they become clingy or angry. Often, they tend to lose the love they so desperately seek because of negative behavior and a sense of self. But where does this fear come from? If you have this type of pattern, you probably had a mother or father who was inconsistent in how they responded to you when you were anxious, upset, or needed reassurance. Warm and caring sometimes, this same parent could also be unexpectedly anxious, cold, and aloof.

Children with such anxious parents never know what they're going to get and become subconsciously obsessed with watching for cues of rejection. By the time they reach adulthood, their brain has wired itself to be constantly anxious and enter "fight or flight mode" when even the smallest hint of rejection is perceived. They base their sense of self on how others treat them.

The most important thing for someone with an anxious attachment style to know is how to self-soothe anxious attachment patterns and self-regulate emotions. If they feel anxious or hyper vigilant in a relationship, it’s important to be able to learn to self-soothe and re-establish a healthy way to relate to others. Remember, an earned secure attachment is possible for anyone, and anxious attachment doesn’t have to cause turmoil to your self-esteem, emotions, or relationship.

Understanding Anxious Attachment

Anxious Attachment Style Scenario

Consider this anxious attachment style scenario: You text your significant other to see if they want to meet you for lunch. An hour later, you still haven't received a response. You check Facebook messenger and confirm that they were online recently. Anger and stress start to rise within you. A million thoughts start to race through your head. Are they at lunch with someone else? Do they want to break up? By the time your partner calls you back to tell you about their busy day and make dinner plans, you've already convinced yourself that the relationship is over and you’re paste the ability to self-soothe anxious patterns.

Though the situation above might sound strange to someone with a secure pattern, those with attachment issues and insecure styles of attaching have likely gone through something similar. Do you find yourself acting out for attention or withdrawing when things don't go your way? Or maybe you're so critical that you've convinced yourself that you'll never have the love you want and are past all thoughts of self-soothing.

Do you use mind games, angry outbursts, unhealthy ways of acting, or threats of a break-up to calm your fears and regain control? Have you felt overwhelmed or felt like your emotions are due to your securely attached partner failing to help you? If any of the above sounds familiar, you may be experiencing an insecure style developed in childhood that causes the self and emotions to be overly dependent on your partner. Nervousness, fearfulness, worry, and apprehension: Are all common characteristics of a person lacking a secure attachment style resulting from developing an anxious pattern in early childhood, or another critical developmental period of their life.

Anxious Thinking: Negative Focus

Instead of thinking of the positive parts of the relationship, a person with an anxious attachment style will focus only on the negative thoughts and emotions. Even when in a relationship that is healthy and secure, a person with a disorganized self will fear the worst. It can happen with a close friend, spouse, or family member. Take for example Maria, a 30-year-old wife, and mother of three. Though currently in the most rewarding relationship of her life, Maria is constantly afraid her husband will abandon her. One day after work, Maria, a feminine woman, pulled into her drive and noticed that her husband's car wasn't at home.

Instantly, her heart sank. She didn’t know how she’d soothe anxious feelings that were arising. At the same time, a million thoughts began to race through her mind. Had he left her? Surely, he had. After all, who would want to be with someone like herself? She couldn't cook that well, and the house wasn't always clean. She'd always felt like he was the better-looking one and after having kids, she thought this to be fact. She started to think of ways her she could remember her partner behaving inconsistently lately. As she sobbed with tears running down her face, Maria didn't even notice her husband's light taps on her driver's side window. Holding the milk he had brought from the store, her securely attached husband stood at Maria's car window bewildered as to why she was crying in the driveway.

Attachment Symptoms And Signs

Maria's struggle as a feminine woman and wife is proof that although her anxious self-thinking isn't logical and these anxious feelings can be overwhelming. Even though she knows it’s probably not true, she has a hard time getting herself to protest behavior that she doesn’t know how to stop. If you can relate to Maria's struggle or one of the following anxious signs, you may be experiencing adult attachment concerns.

  • Constantly seeking reassurance from loved ones
  • A tendency to be bossy, controlling, and argumentative
  • Also can be exciting, charming, and creative
  • "Stir the pot" or self-sabotage their relationships
  • Can be overly sensitive and take things personally
  • May have emotional outbursts or become angry when afraid
  • Uses sex to meet needs for approval or security
  • Sees rejection in places it doesn't exist
  • Utilizes unhealthy ways to get attention and reassurance
  • Protest behavior that pushes you to challenge your fears 

Anxious adults with attachment concerns will find that they easily become overly dependent on their partners. Being anxious about intimacy and commitment issues tend to be common issues found when adults with this style enter relationships. When you're dealing with a negative style, you must learn to set self-boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others to have more successful intimate relationships. Therapy is a proven method to self-heal. Adults who continually have trouble self-maintaining intimate relationships seek therapy or couples counseling to soothe their concerns and learn how to effectively communicate. In therapy, someone with an anxious attachment style can learn to breathe deeply, respect and understand their own emotions, and self-soothe anxious attachment patterns.

Self-Heal Anxious Attachment Style

There's no sugar-coating it. Coping with attachment anxiety can be tough, and there's no magic pill or quick fix that can make it disappear. But thankfully there are ways that one can learn to move past their fears and insecurity, to enjoy secure, fulfilling relationships and self-regulate. Attachment theory is the key to learning how to control your emotions and behaviors. Here are a few common-sense tips that can help you get rid of your attachment anxiety once and for all.

  1. Know Your Pattern of Attachment Anxiety

Though it sounds cliché, knowledge is key here. The more you learn about your style and attachment theory in general, the better you will be at handling the anxiety that comes along with it and move toward an earned secure attachment style. For example, research on patterns reveals that those who experience specific styles negatively view neutral facial expressions. Meaning, if someone's face is normally resting with no smile or frown, your brain may interpret it as a threat/rejection or losing interest in what you have to say.

This is why so many people with an anxious attachment style get upset with partners who are cool or non-emotional during an argument. So, the next time your partner tries to console you with a straight face, remind yourself that this doesn't equal rejection and that they aren't losing interest. Instead, it’s important to self-regulate and calm your nervous system. Learning more about attachment anxiety will also teach you to avoid serious discussions when you are emotionally activated and “in” your emotions. If this sounds like you, you might be prone to overreact during conversations that bring on raw emotions. Knowing that this is your pattern, you should practice giving yourself "time-outs" when you feel you are going too far. Remind yourself that it's okay to distance yourself from the situation. The more research you do on your anxious attachment style, the less difficult your healing journey will be.

  1. Avoid Pitfalls in an Anxious Attachment Style

It's important to remember that having attachment anxiety doesn't make you a "bad" person. But there are some mind-traps associated with your style that can make relationships and the ability to self-regulate difficult. If you're on the road to getting rid of attachment-based anxiety, you need to avoid some of the associated pitfalls of mind traps. Some of the most common associated with the preoccupied style include:

Mind-Reading

Assuming you know what someone thinks or will say beforehand. For example, you might assume your partner wants to break up as soon as you hear them say "I want to talk to you about something."

Worst-Case Thinking

Similarly, you might jump to the worst-case scenario or unfavorable outcome in any situation. This can cause you to make mistakes as you try to protect yourself from being hurt; for example, by prematurely breaking up with your girlfriend after a fight because you assume that she is going to call it off.

Anxious Personalizing

One final pitfall to avoid when trying to overcome attachment anxiety is the tendency to take everything personally. This goes back to the crying Maria whose husband went to the store. She assumed he left the house because of her flaws when he just wanted some milk for his cereal. The real issue, in this case, had to do with Maria's deep desire to love and be loved - and the fear of losing it. It was all about emotions and the power they have over the mind and body.

  1. Consider Therapy for an Anxious Attachment Style

Even those who know a lot about their anxious attachment type and the anxiety they experience may have a hard time changing on their own. After all, these reactions and feelings have been hardwired since childhood. Some of us have lived with the negative effects of an anxious attachment style for decades! For this reason, many people who want to eliminate their fear of intimacy recognize that it's time to find a therapist to get professional advice on coping with attachment patterns developed in early childhood.

Because therapists are qualified professionals, they know a great deal about the attachment process and attachment anxiety. Licensed therapists help attachment-avoidant individuals move away from anxious behavior and towards healing. Through work with a qualified therapist, those experiencing this can learn to:

  • Tackle and change irrational fears that plague relationships
  • Be more confident when communicating wants and needs
  • Feel empowered to build truly fulfilling relationships
  • Have a stronger understanding of self
  • Feel independent in their decision making
  • Recognize specific anxious attachment styles developed via family systems
  • Increase the security of attachment

If you don't know where to start, consider using a therapist matching service to match you with the most suitable therapist for you.

  1. Find a Buffer for your Anxious Attachment

One of the things therapists often hear from patients experiencing attachment anxiety is that they feel their relationships are doomed. Thankfully, this isn't true. While you are working to get rid of the attachment-related insecurity in the self, you can still take part in a healthy relationship. It just has to be with the right person!

As researchers Simpson and Overall explain, people, feel and do better when in relationships with secure people. The reassurance and acceptance that a secure partner gives can act as an emotional buffer for the insecure partner's anxiety and lessen the effects of their specific attachment styles. In the long run, these types of partnerships tend to last longer than when emotionally anxious people are paired together.

  1. Practice Mindfulness

While you delve into learning more about your anxious attachment style and consider whether or not to pursue therapy, you might find practicing mindfulness to be a great way to rid yourself of being an anxious and anxiety-based attachment in adulthood. In simple terms, mindfulness is the state of being present and focuses on looking at the world based on positive views. Instead of living in the future in an attempt to avoid anxious and negative experiences, people practicing mindfulness ground themselves in the here and now, acceptance and awareness. This is the focus of mindfulness.

Rumination, or obsessive thoughts and worries, is a huge part of being anxious and attachment anxiety. Mindfulness reminds individuals of their capacity to love and helps break the patterns of disorganized attachment. By encouraging an anxious person to stay in the here and now through practicing mindfulness, insecurely attached individuals can move away from being anxious and unreasonable thinking by calming their nervous system and start to feel good again.
 

anxious attachment

Mindfulness Style Benefits

Though it may seem like a simple tool, mindfulness has key benefits. Practicing mindfulness is good for our physical and mental health. Practicing mindfulness can boost your immune system and improve your quality of sleep and help to break the debilitating hold of attachment anxiety. Becoming mindful can make you more compassionate, increase patience, and also boost self-compassion. Not to mention, cultivating mindfulness can improve your memory and decision-making skills. One of the most helpful benefits of all is that being mindful helps to reduce the stress of negative attachments. Mindfulness is a simple coping strategy to use as you begin to learn to replace avoidant attachment styles with advice, diagnosis, and support.

Anxious Attachment In Adults: Preoccupied By Fear Of Intimacy

Staying rooted in the present moment helps clients to break the hold of anxious attachment patterns that result from a fear of intimacy attachment. Because it's such a beneficial tool, there is a sea of information about mindfulness on the web. One of the best ways to learn the technique is with the assistance of a therapist, but you can get started on your own as well. The following few tips can provide a basis for practicing anxiety-busting mindfulness:

  • Watch your breathing, especially when you are upset. Focusing on your inhaling and exhaling can help you calm yourself and self-regulate when experiencing intense emotions that are likely to push you over the edge.
  • Recognize your emotions, keeping in mind that they are not who you are. Remind yourself that emotions are fleeting and can leave just as quickly as they arise. It's important to tell yourself in these heated or scared moments, "This will pass."
  • Focus on physical sensations that your body registers as you start to get anxious. Just noticing what your body is doing can help you raise awareness and stay at the moment.
  • Do a body scan, using the technique as a way to quiet your anxiety and avoid overthinking.
  • Find a therapist to begin working through issues related to living with a negative attachment style.

Secure Attachment And Relationships Are Possible

At BetterHelp, our online therapists want to help you find a way to have healthy relationships where you're not worried about the other person leaving. Develop healthier relationships by learning to cope with early attachment patterns, especially those related to avoidant attachment and anxious attachment. When you find a therapist using our online search tool, feel confident to know that you can trust your BetterHelp therapist to provide advice, diagnosis, and support for dealing with a fear of intimacy resulting from adult attachment issues.

It's distressing to be overly concerned about losing a loved one. Feeling anxiously attached hurts you and is an exhausting dynamic for many friendships and romantic relationships. An online therapist at BetterHelp can support you in breaking your anxious attachment patterns and learning to be secure in your relationships. You can trust your therapist to help you learn and become more confident in your choices. When you feel grounded in your sense of self, you won't be afraid of losing people. That's a goal to work on with your therapist. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists, from people experiencing similar issues. Subscribe for us to notify you of similar topics in the future.

Therapist Reviews

"I was skeptical of this forum initially. I am now 4 months in and I am really happy with the realizations Jennifer has helped me make. She's committed, honest, and direct but also comforting and positive. I think she has great insight, excellent experience, and a good understanding of people that overcomes the challenges of online counseling. Her accessibility and availability are outstanding."
 
anxious and attachment
Attachment Anxiety Can Have A Serious Impact On Your Wellbeing.
 
"Brandon has been amazing. He is always understanding and truly listens to me. He knows exactly what to say or asks to delve deeper into my anxieties and helps me figure out the root causes. He guides me along so that I may try and figure it out myself first, and that means a lot to me."
 
anxious and attachment

Final Thoughts To Consider: Anxious Attachment

Although your issues with attachment anxiety may not be resolved overnight, you are fighting a winning battle. By understanding where your anxiety comes from and taking proactive steps to change your attachment style, you can rid yourself of unnecessary fear once and for all. Seek knowledge, help if you need it, and stay mindful, realizing that you are worthy of love and are much more than your anxiety.

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