How Does Anxious Attachment Work And What Does It Mean?

By Sarah Fader

Updated January 01, 2019

Reviewer Stephanie Chupein


Forming positive attachments, or secure attachments as they're called in psychology, is extremely important for an infant. Somewhere in our basic makeup is an intrinsic need to bond with our caregiver and to have all of our basic needs met. When this happens, it's considered a secure attachment, but when it doesn't … when the parent and child form an unhealthy bond or attachment, it results in unhealthy development for the child, which carries with them from their infancy through childhood and into their adulthood as well.

What Is Anxious Attachment?

Anxious attachment occurs when the caregiver is inconsistent in their treatment of the child. They may be nurturing, loving and responsive during some instances but insensitive or even intrusive during others. As a result, the child is never certain of what they are going to get from their parent when they seek out care or attention. The child, therefore, starts to develop unhealthy behaviors that are designed to try and seek attention, positive or negative, from the parental figure.

What Anxious Attachment Means For The Child

The child will distrust the parent and may feel suspicious, but at the same time, they have an intrinsic need for attention and care. This causes them to become clingy and desperate for love and attention. The child will then start to cling to their caregiver, even though they are not comforted by being near them. They will have a very limited response to different stimuli compared to what they can get from the parent and will focus entirely on them to the exclusion of all else. As a result, the child will continue to exhibit these types of clingy behaviors later on in their life as well.


Adults who were raised with this type of attachment trouble will be very insecure and even self-critical. As a result, they constantly feel that they are not good enough and though they seek out approval from others, no level of approval is ever enough. They are unable to trust others, even in close relationships, because they always have a deep fear of being rejected. Because of this fear, they will often become clingy and dependent. They have a desperation to be in a relationship however their behavior can often cause trouble with staying in those relationships.

They tend to have extremely high views of those they like such as a partner or even their parents. At the same time, they have a very low opinion of themselves and their capabilities. They are constantly looking for signs that they will be abandoned or that their partner does not care about them anymore. They tend to be demanding, possessive and increasingly dependent on others. They can become angry or even resentful and may even come to suffer from depression. The endless emotional outbursts and extremes can wear on the individual and their partner.

Becoming A Parent

Unfortunately, most of us tend to model the same behavior with our children as was modeled to us. What that means is someone who experiences anxious attachment in their childhood is more likely to model that same behavior with their children. The cycle tends to continue on and on with each new generation of children until someone, finally, reaches out to get help. It's not enough simply to find an understanding partner. The individual needs to face their past and try to overcome it. It's not an easy feat, but with assistance, it's possible.


When you become a parent you are responsible for the life of a completely new person, someone who is dependent on you and for many, that can be enough of a drive for them to seek out help. They want to do what's best for their child, and so they work as hard as possible to better themselves and be prepared for whatever may come. The idea of doing to their child what has been done to them regarding making their life difficult is enough that they never want to do that to their child.

Unfortunately, simply becoming a parent and deciding that you're not going to act that way is not enough for most to overcome what they've been through or the programming that is already embedded in their mind. They may start out well and have the best of intentions, but with no other model to follow, they fall back into the patterns that they are used to or that are familiar to them. In the end, it becomes extremely problematic for the child, and the thought that they are doing the one thing they never wanted to do can make them feel even worse about themselves, making them even more needy and desperate.

Getting Help For Your Past

The best thing that you or anyone who has gone through this type of situation in their childhood can do is seek out professional help. A professional will be able to work with you and help you overcome what you went through yourself in a way that helps you to move on with your life. It's not easy to learn how to form secure attachments as an adult, but it's most definitely possible and the sooner you start, the better it will be for you and your entire family.


With the help of psychiatrists and therapists from BetterHelp, you can be on your way to a more successful life and successful relationships in no time. That's because BetterHelp connects you with some of the best therapists and psychiatrists in the country. All you have to do is get online, and you'll be able to check out all of the options and set up your first appointment. You'll also be able to find articles and information about different mental health disorders and make sure you're prepared for everything.

Even better, because it's all online, you don't ever have to worry about missing an appointment again or walking into a psychiatrist's office.

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