Anxious Attachment Style In Relationships
Explore the intricacies of the anxious attachment style in this insightful article. Uncover the roots of attachment anxiety, its impact on relationships, and practical strategies for navigating and cultivating healthier connections.
By Liv Surtees / Dec 19 2023
Tend to feel worried when spending time away from your partner? Always find yourself re-reading texts when they haven’t replied fast enough? Maybe you can feel that you’re clinging onto them and it’s making them pull away? Well, there might be an explanation for the way that you feel and the way that you’re acting that you might be unaware of - it’s likely to do with your attachment style.
Attachment styles describe the way that we behave in relationships and all of us tend to fit into one of three attachment style boxes - anxious, avoidant, and secure. If you were thinking, “oh yes, that’s me”, when I asked the questions above, you might have an anxious attachment style in relationships.
Before you panic, there’s nothing wrong with having an anxious attachment style, but it might be causing you to have issues within your relationships, as well as with the way you feel about yourself, your relationships and your partners.
We’re going to do a deep dive into anxious attachment styles in relationships in this article. After all, with research showing that around 20% of people tend to have an anxious attachment style, and with more often showing anxious traits in relationships, it’s needed!
attachment style theory
Attachment style theory, coming from the work of psychologists Bowlby and Ainsworth, proposes that the bond that we have with our caregivers (but more specifically, our mothers) during early childhood will influence how we approach relationships in our adult life.
Those whose parents were attentive and responsive to their needs as a baby will likely develop a secure attachment style, since they assume that people can be relied upon and make them feel cared for and safe.
Those whose parents were distant from them, neglected (or abused) them, or only provided basic care when they were babies, they’re likely to develop avoidant attachments.
Those whose parents were inconsistent at responding to their needs as a baby (for example, there one minute and not attentive the next), they’re likely to develop an anxious attachment style - they don’t tend to trust that people will always be there for them.
sex + relationships
what is anxious attachment style?
As briefly mentioned above, if you had parents that were distant or inconsistent with you and with providing you support during early childhood, you are more likely to have an anxious attachment style.
This type of attachment style is labelled as insecure - it means you feel as if you can’t rely on people, you believe that people you are with may not always be there when you need them, and you’re scared of being abandoned by those you form relationships with.
Those with anxious attachment styles tend to want someone to be there for them and love them unconditionally as an adult and in an attempt to make sure that happens they can come across as clingy and possessive.
signs you might have an anxious attachment style
Here are the most common signs that you have an anxious attachment style:
- You’re scared of rejection
- You find it difficult or stressful to be alone
- You long for an unconditional and constant love
- You have low self-esteem or believe that you’re unworthy of love
- You feel dependent on others
- You seek validation from others
- You struggle with jealousy
- You overthink about your relationship and your partner
- You tend to feel suspicious even when everything is going well
signs that your partner has an anxious attachment style
Think that your partner has an anxious attachment style? Here are the most common signs they will show if they do:
- They text and call you repeatedly until you respond
- They always seek validation from you (for example, asking if you still love them/find them attractive, etc)
- They tend to always go along with what you want to do
- They come across clingy or act possessive
- They’re hypersensitive to criticism and conflict
- They’re emotionally needy
how an anxious attachment affects relationships
Anxious attachments can make it difficult to have healthy relationships due to the nature of the attachment style. Those with anxious attachments tend to come across as clingy, dependent on their partner, and emotionally needy, which their partner might find to feel smothering and therefore they may pull away, only exasperating the situation and leading the anxiously attached person to cling onto them further.
Those with anxious attachment, especially when in a relationship with someone that also has an insecure attachment style, tend to suffer immensely due to their attachment style, believing that they are “too much”, “too needy”, or simply not worthy of consistent love.
Unfortunately, anxiously attached people tend to be attracted towards avoidant people and vice-versa due to the fact that they are magnetised towards what they know. This makes both anxious and avoidant attachment styles stronger and neither helps the other.
When the anxious person pulls closer, the avoidant pulls further away, and so on and so on - it’s often called the anxious-avoidant trap and if you’re not careful you can easily get stuck in it and get sucked in even further by your insecure attachment style.
However, anxiously attached people can learn to transform their attachment style when in a relationship with a securely attached person since they give constant, consistent love, tend not to pull away, and are reliable, meaning the anxiously attached person can learn to trust them.
typical anxious attachment style triggers
Whilst you may have an anxious attachment style, it might only get triggered by certain things. So, let’s take a look at these triggers, both for yourself if you’re anxiously attached, and so you can be aware of them if your partner is anxiously attached.
Those with anxious attachments will find it triggering for their partner to not reply to their texts or calls, or if they are unresponsive in real life too, for example, by ignoring their questions - they will always believe the worst if they’re left on read.
Anxiously attached people worry if their partner takes up a new interest, makes new friends, or frequently spends time with others - this signals to them that there is a threat to the relationship and their minds instantly go to the end of the relationship, hence they may seem jealous or possessive.
If an anxiously attached person says how they feel or “puts themselves out there” emotionally and there’s no response or the emotions are not reciprocated, they get triggered. The need for reciprocation often makes them come across as emotionally needy.
Most of the time, anxiously attached people feel more confident in their relationships when they’re physically with their partner. However, when they're not, that’s when the anxious mind starts to take over and the overthinking begins.
how to have a healthy relationship with an anxious attachment style
If you have an anxious attachment style, there are some things you can do to ensure you have a healthier relationship. So, let’s take a look at them:
1. Become more self-aware about your anxious attachment
If you resonate with several points in this article and believe that you have an anxious attachment style, then the self-awareness that you already have is going to help you move forward.
One of the best things you can do is understand your attachment style and learn about it in an attempt to become more self-aware of the behavioural patterns you hold, so you can break them and move towards a more secure attachment style.
2. Identify your partner’s attachment style
Figure out what attachment style your partner has, and of course, open up the conversation about attachment styles with them and be honest about yours.
If your partner has an avoidant attachment style, it’s going to be harder to develop and sustain a healthy relationship with them, but it can be done if you’re both willing to put the work in.
However, it’s good to be aware of and learn about their attachment style so that you can understand their behavioural patterns and triggers in relationships too.
3. Put an end to anxious habits
Whilst working on forming a more secure attachment style might take time, you can choose to actively ditch anxious habits immediately, even if it takes a lot of willpower!
For example, if you find yourself re-reading texts awaiting your partner’s response, put your phone down and go do something else, or if you feel nervous because your partner is on a night out with friends, take a breather and remind yourself you’re relationship is in a good place and go and call to a friend!
If you start to bring your attention to other things instead of anxious habits, you’ll notice over time that the anxiety does start to subside and you lose the habits that once fuelled your anxious attachment.
4. Work with a therapist
Working with a mental health professional or therapist can be an absolute game changer for people with an anxious attachment style, not only because it gives you the tools to work towards becoming more securely attached, but because it gives you someone to speak to openly about how you feel, with ultimate trust (which in itself helps you move towards trusting people).
how to love someone with an anxious attachment style
The guide on how to love someone with an anxious attachment isn’t so much of a step-by-step process: those with anxious attachment styles can be difficult to be in relationships with, but if you work with them rather than against them, you can still have a healthy, meaningful relationship.
Having patience is absolutely key, but working on your own attachment style and trying to become securely attached is the best thing you can do. If you’re able to show secure attachment, they will start to mirror the way you act and move towards a more secure attachment style.
It is important to say though, any type of jealousy, possessiveness, or controlling behaviour should never be tolerated, regardless of attachment style. Although you may want to help your anxiously attached partner and have a healthy relationship with them, if it is affecting you detrimentally or you are struggling with the relationship, seek professional help and leave.
A lot of anxious attachment “signs” are very similar to controlling, coercive behaviour that abusers often exhibit, so don’t put up with them. Hopefully, you will be able to determine whether your specific relationship has minor faults and can be worked on due to attachment style differences, or if it is abusive and controlling.