Anxiety related to attachment can come up in interpersonal relationships, even if you’re in a healthy relationship. You may feel fearful or anxious when experiencing vulnerability and closeness, or you might feel afraid of abandonment or the need for constant reassurance. Anxiety is a symptom of an insecure or anxious attachment style and low self-esteem.
Learning to manage symptoms of anxious attachment style may be achieved by learning about your specific relationship style, using coping skills, setting boundaries, understanding negative emotions, and talking to a therapist. While you may have a different attachment style than your partner in a relationship, it’s important to keep in mind that you might not be able to solve, fix, or change their attachment style.
Where Does Attachment Anxiety Come From?
Understanding the roots of how anxious attachment fears have come up in your life may help you to better manage your feelings of anxiety. Attachment anxiety can be a normal symptom of interpersonal struggle. Attachments are initially understood through interactions with a primary caregiver as an infant or child. While you can’t necessarily solve or “fix” an anxious attachment style, it can be beneficial to learn about various types of healthy attachments, and what an anxious attachment style looks like compared to a secure attachment style.
How you learn to interact with others as a child by observing your close relationships can develop into your attachment style as an adult.
The attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in 1991. This attachment theory stated that a child’s connection with their primary parent or caregiver was the hallmark of their ability to connect with others throughout childhood and into adulthood. In this theory, the primary caregivers, often the mother and father, play the role of attachment figures to the child.
In the development of attachment theory, four main attachment styles were developed, including:
- Anxious-preoccupied attachment style (also known as anxious attachment style)
- Avoidant attachment style
- Disorganized attachment style
- Secure attachment style
- Secure attachment style
Secure attachment is defined as the healthiest attachment style. Securely attached people may feel comfortable forming and ending relationships, communicating, taking up space, and setting or accepting boundaries. Secure attachment styles can develop when the primary caregivers are consistent and responsive, providing a safe, nurturing environment without the fear of rejection.
Avoidant, disorganized, and anxious attachment styles were put into the “insecure style” category.
Attachment anxiety refers to fear regarding an interpersonal relationship. In some cases, this can be anxiety disorder related and lead to stress, as well as other mental health concerns.
Six Ways To Manage Attachment Anxiety
If you are experiencing attachment anxiety, there are a few research-based techniques you can try to soothe yourself. Consider the following:
If one has anxious attachment styles, it can be challenging to establish a healthy adult relationship. Anxious attachment style can impact adult relationships. Studies indicate that practicing mindfulness can reduce attachment anxiety and avoidance for people with anxious-preoccupied attachment styles. Mindfulness or meditation can be done for just ten minutes daily and still benefit your mental health.
Mindfulness is one practice that may support the long-term reduction of anxiety symptoms. Relocate to a quiet and comfortable location, whether your bed, a carpet, a pillow, or a grassy field. Mindfulness can be more effective when you understand yourself and your feelings.
- Breathe in for five seconds, then hold your breath for five seconds
- Breathe out for five seconds, then hold your breath for five seconds
- Repeat this exercise five times or until you feel calmer
Learn Interpersonal Skills
People with insecure attachment styles can potentially benefit from developing their Interpersonal skills. Since attachment is highly connected to relationships, communication, and intimacy, focusing on healthier relationship patterns can be beneficial. Someone with an anxious attachment style may benefit from learning how to recognize and respond to their partner’s feelings, tackle disagreements without escalating them, and learn to set healthy boundaries with other people. A few ways to do this include:
- Write in a gratitude journal about everything you love about your close partners, friends, and family
- Read about active listening
- Reduce or aim to remove behaviors such as checking on your partner, going through their phone, or invading their space
- Meet with a couples counselor
- Research healthy relationships and what makes relationships last
Caring for yourself may allow you to care for others. Practice self-care by utilizing the following techniques:
- Drinking water daily
- Taking regular baths or showers
- Exercising or staying physically fit
- Participating in activities you enjoy
- Practicing creativity through art or music
- Spending time in nature
- Eating healthy foods
- Sleeping at the same time each night and practicing sleep hygiene
Set Healthy Boundaries
Learn to set healthy boundaries with yourself and others in your life. Healthy boundaries include saying “no” when you are unable to or do not want to do something, and being able to recognize and manage your priorities.
Healthy boundaries are not often focused on what someone else does for you. Instead, they are rules that you live by for yourself. If you do not tolerate someone else’s behavior, your boundary may be that you will remove yourself from the situation or end your relationship with that person.
Attempting to control or threaten others is not an example of healthy boundaries. Making rules for someone else’s items, body, or life is not a boundary; it is abuse.
Making rules for how you will allow others to treat you can be a boundary. Try to understand your partner’s relationship style and understand that it can be different than yours--and that’s ok.
Below are a few common boundary statements someone might make in a relationship:
- “If you yell at me again, I will take space until you can calm down.”
- “No, I do not want to have sex.”
- “I am not ready to talk about this yet.”
- “I will not stay in a relationship where my partner flirts with others.”
- “I don’t want to spend time with grandma today.”
- “I won’t be going with you to the party.”
You do not need to explain the reasons behind your boundaries. Someone with a secure attachment style will accept them, but partners with other anxious attachment or other attachment styles should make an effort to accept boundaries, too.
If someone in your life does not accept your boundaries or becomes defensive, angry, or unhealthy, remove yourself from the situation. Sticking to your boundaries will help you be more comfortable with them.
Be Open And Willing
Reducing anxiety can mean being open and willing to do so. At times, attachment style-related behaviors may become habits.
For example, anxiously attached people might feel more comfortable asking for reassurance than spending time alone with their emotions. Attempts to redirect your habits from childhood can feel scary or overwhelming.
Despite these fears, healing insecurity or an anxious attachment style can mean being willing to take a step, even if that feels scary. If you are unwilling to do so, you may remain in the same cycle as before. However, you do not need to go through this process alone. Reaching out for support from a trusted individual or a licensed counselor may benefit you as you transition from an anxious attachment to a more secure attachment.
Utilize Research-Based Emotional Control Techniques
Several techniques are available to reduce panic in the moment quickly. You can try the following:
- Immersing yourself in cold water, such as swimming in a lake or dunking your head in a sink of cold water
- Partaking in yoga or stretching
- Change your location
- Use fidget toys
Self Exploring Insecure Attachment Styles
Figuring out your attachment style can help you determine if you may be experiencing related anxiety or other concerns related to a mental health condition. Below are each of the insecure styles explained in more detail.
Avoidant Attachment Style
In this case, an individual may feel scared of or “put off” by emotional closeness and vulnerability with others. They may avoid situations that put them “too close” to someone, especially in romantic relationships. They may struggle to label their emotions or communicate openly. Those who identify with an avoidant attachment style may feel anxiety concerning closeness and vulnerability. They may also have a difficult time in normal social interactions and experience poor relationships with their partner and others.
Anxious Attachment Style
Anxious attachment is characterized by craving close emotional intimacy, accompanied by fears of abandonment, and feeling highly dependent on social relationships to feel comfortable and secure. Self-esteem may be low, and those who are anxiously attached may seek reassurance to deal with the fear caused by uncertain moments or relationships. An anxious attachment style can also lead to feelings of separation anxiety.
One of the most common anxious attachment styles is anxious ambivalent, where individuals crave connection and intimacy with others but worry about being abandoned or rejected. People who have this style may seek validation from others and feel threatened and anxious when it seems that their partner does not fully understand them.
To counter this behavior, individuals should focus on learning self-compassion, recognizing their feelings without judging themselves, and cultivating feelings of safety within themselves rather than relying solely on external sources for reassurance and acceptance.
Disorganized Attachment Styles
In disorganized attachment, a person may struggle with avoidant and anxious behaviors and urges and could cycle through insecure attachment patterns. For example, they may crave love and affection and ask for reassurance. However, they may become uncomfortable and withdraw once they receive a vulnerable connection.
Those who identify with this attachment style can feel anxiety connected to closeness and distance in relationships, which may feel contradictory.
Your attachment style is developed in early childhood and affects how you approach relationships. If you identify with an insecure attachment style as an adult, it may be due to the following.
Childhood TraumaResearch shows that childhood trauma can cause someone to develop an insecure attachment style and a social anxiety disorder as an adult. Often, insecure styles are picked up from insecure caregivers and childhood experiences. For example, a child with a mother who has a disorganized attachment style may grow up to have a disorganized, avoidant, or anxious attachment style in their adult relationships.
Childhood trauma can include any event that felt traumatizing to you as a child. It may include:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse*
- Being yelled at
- The divorce or separation of parents
- Witnessing a natural disaster
- Growing up in poverty
- Experiencing homelessness
- Targeted hate crimes or bullying
- Living in an unclean or unsafe environment
- Physical and emotional neglect
- Witnessing insecure styles from a caregiver
*If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Abusive relationships as a child, adolescent, or teen may cause an insecure attachment style in adulthood. As a teen or adult, if you were in a romantic or sexual relationship that was physically or emotionally abusive, you may develop attachment anxiety as a result.
For example, if a partner is emotionally volatile, controlling, and possessive, you may develop avoidant patterns to guard yourself against further pain. In future healthy relationships, these insecure patterns could harm instead of help the relationship.
Childhood Needs Not Being Met
In some cases, an insecure attachment style may develop without the presence of trauma or abuse due to a child’s needs not being met, deliberately or not. For example, in a family where favoritism is practiced, and one child is regarded as “the favorite,” the unfavored child may develop an anxious style to try to gain their parent’s love and support. This can also occur in homes where inconsistent parenting was present.
In other cases, a child may require physical or emotional support that a parent struggles to provide. A child who felt ignored, unloved, or disregarded may grow up to experience anxious attachment. A child who felt forced to grow up too quickly, care for their parent, or console others above themselves may grow up to have an avoidant attachment style. A child who grows up with one or more caregivers who have an insecure attachment style may also develop one.
Is It Possible To Change Your Attachment Style?
Other helpful reports indicate that it is possible to change your attachment style. In the study, significant factors in changing an insecure attachment were education and knowledge of attachment theory and understanding one’s own patterns. Those in the study who changed their styles were exposed to therapeutic knowledge about their style and its meaning. They were willing and open to work through their patterns and change their lives.
Your style may also change, such as moving from disorganized to avoidant or anxious attachment. Shifting from an insecure attachment to a secure one is possible with time and treatment, and while this isn't something that can be "fixed", attachment styles can change.
Online Counseling With BetterHelp
Support is available if you’re considering treatment for an attachment style concern. Standard methods of therapy utilized include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and trauma therapy modalities like internal family systems (IFS).
Therapy focuses on providing professional advice and guidance on your unique situation. A counselor can help you learn how to improve your self regulation and gain insight into your anxious attachment triggers. Through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples, you may be able to find support from a growing online database of professionals.
Online counseling is an option for those who may avoid traditional in-person counseling due to cost, time, or location barriers. In online therapy, you can meet with your therapist according to your availability and connect through phone calls, video chats, or in-app messaging.
The Effectiveness Of Online Counseling For Anxious Feelings
If you feel anxious and want to know how to manage these attachment style behaviors, consider seeking professional support. Many methods of treatment can be utilized through online therapy. Studies show that online therapy can be just as effective as traditional, in-person therapy in treating long-term stress and trauma-related symptoms. By learning to overcome experiences from your past, you can move toward more safety in your relationships and life.
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