Managing Anxious Attachment Styles

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 9, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

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 an anxious attachment style may be achieved by recognizing your specific relationship style, using coping skills, setting boundaries, understanding negative emotions, and talking to a therapist. This process forms the foundation of how to fix an anxious attachment style with both self-awareness and active coping strategies. 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.

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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.

The attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in 1991. This attachment theory states that a child’s connection with their primary parent or caregiver is the hallmark of their ability to connect with others throughout childhood and 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 is defined as the healthiest attachment style. Securely attached people may find it easier to form relationships with secure bonds. They can often communicate effectively and set or accept 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 are put into the insecure style category. 

Attachment anxiety refers to fear regarding an interpersonal relationship. In some cases, this can be related to an anxiety disorder 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. 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 has various benefits on your mental health, such as anchoring you in the present moment and boosting overall mood.

Mindfulness is one practice that may support emotional self-control and 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.

A typical mindfulness practice is mindful breathing. To start, try a box breathing technique: 

  1. Breathe in for five seconds, then hold your breath for five seconds 
  2. Breathe out for five seconds, then hold your breath for five seconds
  3. Repeat this exercise five times or until you feel calmer 

Interpersonal skills

When it comes to having fulfilling relationships, 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, resolve disagreements without escalating them, and learn to set healthy boundaries with other people. A few ways to do this include: 
  • Reading about active listening
  • Reducing or aiming to remove behaviors such as checking on your partner, going through their phone, or invading their space
  • Recognizing and appropriately responding to your partner's emotions
  • Meeting with a couples counselor 
  • Researching healthy relationships and what makes relationships last 


Self-care activities can be a key way to develop self-love and positive emotions. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs may help build self-esteem, which may allow you to develop healthier intimate relationships. There are several healthy ways you can practice self-care, such as the following: 
  • 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
  • Writing in a gratitude journal about everything you love about your close partners, friends, and family
  • Keeping an emotions journal to stay in touch with how you’re feeling

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 involve focusing on your own needs, including physical and emotional ones. 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 overly dramatic, defensive, angry, or unhealthy, remove yourself from the situation. Sticking to your boundaries will help you be more comfortable with them. 



Reducing anxiety can mean being open and willing to do so. Over time, 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 anxious attachment can mean being willing to take the right steps, 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.

Research-based emotional control techniques

Several techniques are available to reduce panic in the moment quickly. You can try the following: 

  • Immerse yourself in cold water, such as swimming in a lake or dunking your head in a sink of cold water 
  • Try yoga or stretching 
  • Change your location
  • Use fidget toys 

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 or secure. Those who are anxiously attached may have low self-esteem and seek reassurance to deal with the fear caused by uncertain moments in relationships. An anxious attachment style can also lead to feelings of separation anxiety. 

One of the most common anxious attachment styles is anxious ambivalence, in which 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. Recognizing this attachment style may be helpful to avoid falling into the anxious-avoidant trap, in which fear of intimacy and avoidance behaviors can complicate relationships.
  • 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. 

Potential causes of insecure attachment styles

Your attachment style is often 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 trauma

Research 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 

Abusive relationships

Abusive relationships as a child, adolescent, or teen may cause an insecure attachment style in adulthood. For example, if you were in a romantic or sexual relationship that was physically or emotionally abusive as a teen, you may develop attachment anxiety as a result. 

If a partner was emotionally volatile, controlling, and possessive, you may develop avoidant patterns to guard yourself against further pain. In future relationships, these insecure patterns could harm instead of help the relationship. For anxiously attached adults, these patterns often replicate the fears and behaviors learned in childhood or adolescence.

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 is 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 develop a secure 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.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
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Online counseling with BetterHelp

Support is available if you’re considering treatment for an attachment style concern. Standard methods of therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and trauma therapy modalities like internal family systems (IFS). In addition, interpersonal therapy may be particularly helpful for managing relationship challenges. 

Therapy focuses on providing professional advice and guidance on your unique situation. A counselor can help you improve your emotional control 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 used 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 overall.

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Anxiety can be a normal symptom of an insecure attachment style. If you’re experiencing fear in your relationships and believe it may be related to your attachment style, consider reaching out to a counselor for further information about attachment theory. These styles can change, and secure attachment may be in your future. An online therapist can equip you with tools to overcome your insecurities and work toward that possibility.

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