How Does Anxious Attachment Work And What Does It Mean?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated November 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

According to attachment theory, the relationship that a child forms with their primary caregivers can affect how they connect with others later in life, in what is called an “attachment style”.

Addressing Attachment Styles Can Be Difficult

When the parent and child form an unhealthy bond or attachment, the child can carry this pattern with them from their infancy through childhood and into their adulthood as well. There are four attachment styles that are generally regarded in this theory: secure, avoidant, disorganized and anxious. 

In this article, we’ll dissect the anxious attachment style, how it works and possible implications as a person matures. 

What Is Anxious Attachment?

Anxious attachment can occur 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 may be uncertain of what they are going to get from their parent when they seek out care or attention. The child, therefore, may start to develop unhealthy behaviors that are designed to try and seek attention (whether positive or negative) from the parental figure.

What Anxious Attachment Can Mean For The Child

As a result of an anxious attachment style, the child may distrust the parent and may feel suspicious—but at the same time, they may have an intrinsic need for attention and care. 

This can cause them to feel more desperate for love and attention. The child may then start to cling to their caregiver, even though they are not always comforted by being near them. They may be very focused on the caregiver to the exclusion of all else, and they may have a strong emotional reaction when the caregiver leaves. They may also exhibit aggressive behavior. 

How This Attachment Style Can Play Out In Adults

Adults with an anxious attachment style may be very insecure and even self-critical. As a result, they may constantly feel that they are not good enough. 

They may feel as if they are unable to trust others, even in close relationships, because they have a deep fear of being rejected. Because of this fear, they may feel desperate to be in a relationship of any kind, whether it is secure. 


Once they are in a relationship, they may have high views of those they like, such as a partner or even their parents. At the same time, they may have a very low opinion of themselves and their capabilities. 

They may be constantly looking for signs that they will be abandoned or that their partner does not care about them anymore— which can lead to feelings of unfulfillment in relationships. 

While this outcome can seem bleak, it can be corrected with the use of supportive strategies (such as online therapy.) Your care team can help you to draw boundaries and shift your self-perspective to possibly promote a higher quality of life in many. 

Becoming A Parent: How Does Anxious Attachment Fit In? 

Most of us might model the same behavior with our children as was modeled to us. 

What that can mean is someone who develops an anxious attachment style in their childhood may be more likely to model that same behavior with their own children. The cycle may then continue on and on with each new generation of children until someone makes an effort to break the cycle and change their attachment style.

When you become a parent, you are generally responsible for the life of a completely new person, someone who is dependent on you; for many, that can be a strong motivator to try to develop a healthier attachment style. They may feel as if they want to do what's best for their child, so they might work as hard as possible to better themselves and help instill a more positive relationship pattern in their child. 

We do want to note, however, that addressing these patterns can be easier said than done, and they can be difficult to tackle on your own. Simply becoming a parent and deciding that you're not going to act a certain way may not be enough for most to overcome what they've been through. That’s why online therapy, accountability support and more can be so vital as a secure attachment style is sought. 

Getting Help: Seeking A Secure Attachment Style

If you are trying to address your attachment style to develop healthier relationships and model healthier patterns for your child, speaking with a mental health professional can help. Dismantling life-long relationship patterns can be very difficult to do on your own, and a professional can work with you to help you unpack your experiences and develop healthier relationships moving forward. 

Addressing Attachment Styles Can Be Difficult

Making time for therapy can be challenging, especially for parents with busy schedules and with young kids who can’t be left alone. With online therapy, you can meet with a therapist from the comfort of home, which may feel more convenient for many parents than commuting to an office for an appointment. 

Is Online Therapy Effective?

Plus, research has found that online therapy can improve anxious attachment in many. One research study examined whether anxious and avoidant attachment styles improved during guided internet-based cognitive behavioral treatment (ICBT) for panic disorder. Its results suggested, “that anxious attachment can improve in ICBT for panic disorder even though the focus of the treatment is not on interpersonal relationships”.


Anxious attachment style can develop when a child receives inconsistent treatment from their caregiver. For adults, this attachment style can manifest as someone having low self-esteem or who needs a lot of reassurance in their relationships. If you are living with an anxious attachment style and want to address it, online therapy can help. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

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