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”.
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?
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.
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”.
How can you tell if someone has an anxious attachment style?
Anxious attachment can look different in different people. That said, common signs of an anxious attachment style may include:
- Extreme fear of rejection
- A need for reassurance
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem
- Jealous behaviors
- Trouble forming a secure relationship
However, even if someone shows some of these behaviors, that may not always mean they have an anxious attachment style.
What triggers my anxious attachment?
Anxious attachment triggers are actions or situations that can cause emotional distress or unhealthy behaviors in someone with an anxious attachment style. Examples might include:
- Not receiving a reply to a text or email
- Having plans canceled by a loved one
- Your partner coming home later than expected
- Being separated from your partner for a work trip
These are all examples of situations that might trigger anxious attachment behaviors. However, this can be highly individual.
Is anxious attachment a red flag?
In a romantic partner, a red flag is a warning sign of manipulative or toxic behavior.
On its own, an anxious attachment style may not always be a red flag. That said, people with anxious attachment styles may show unhealthy behaviors like jealousy or emotional dependence. It may be wise to be aware of how anxious attachment, or another insecure attachment style, can affect a person’s behavior in relationships.
Is anxious attachment clingy?
Anxious attachment is sometimes associated with behaviors and traits that may be considered “clingy,” such as:
- A need for constant reassurance
- Fawning over one’s partner
- Extreme fear of being separated from one’s partner
- Emotional dependence on one’s partner
That said, not all people with an anxious attachment style may engage in these behaviors.
Can someone with an anxious attachment style feel love?
In romantic relationships, someone with an anxious attachment style may experience challenges with insecurity and low self-esteem. This may lead them to do whatever they can to facilitate emotional closeness with their partner. They may also engage in unhealthy behaviors to reassure themselves of their partner’s commitment.
That said, people with an anxious attachment style are capable of feeling genuine love and affection. They may also be able to form healthy relationships and develop more secure attachment behaviors with the help of a mental health professional.
Do I have anxious or secure attachment?
Secure attachment and anxious-ambivalent attachment are two of the four main attachment styles.
Secure attachment usually forms when a person’s physical and emotional needs are met during childhood. People with a secure attachment style tend to have healthy self-esteem. They are generally able to maintain a trusting, healthy relationship with their partner, and they can seek out emotional support when they need it.
Often, anxious attachment develops when a person’s emotional needs are not always met during early childhood. An anxiously attached person may need constant reassurance of their partner’s loyalty and love. They may also find threats to the relationship extremely distressing.
If you feel secure in your relationships, trust the people you’re close to, and are comfortable seeking support from others when you need it, then you may have a secure attachment style. On the other hand, if you often worry about your partner’s feelings toward you or question their commitment, these may be signs of an anxious attachment style. That said, this can depend on the person.
What are the signs of attachment trauma in adults?
Attachment trauma describes childhood experiences that interfere with the bonding process between a child and their main caregiver. Attachment trauma may be emotional or physical, and it can lead to the development of an insecure attachment style. Signs of attachment trauma in adults may include:
- Unhealthy behaviors in relationships
- Maintaining emotional distance from others
- Trouble expressing emotions
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem
- Trouble setting or respecting healthy boundaries
- Emotional dependence on others
- Trouble feeling secure in relationships
Attachment trauma may also contribute to certain mental illnesses and personality disorders in adulthood, such as borderline personality disorder and PTSD.
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