Dealing With Anxious Attachment: Advice from a Relationship Therapist

People always say, “Relationships are difficult.” To which I reply, “No they aren’t.”

Most people would think I’m crazy to think that relationships aren’t difficult. But you know why I say that? Because relationships aren’t inherently difficult. It’s the people in the relationships that make them difficult.

For example, a few years ago, I had an awesome first date with a guy. It was shocking to me that I actually found someone I liked so much, and he felt the same way. On his way home from the date, he called me and said, “I’m really nervous about this. It seems too perfect. I’m really scared that something is going to get screwed up.”

I thought he was crazy! And I told him the same thing I just told you, “It’s the people that screw up relationships. So as long as we stay connected and communicate about everything, then we’ll be fine!”

Well, needless to say, about two months later, he ghosted me. It was kind of strange given that this man was so crazy “in love” and was worried about our relationship ending. His behavior seemed inconsistent with his words.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that had attachment issues.

You may or may not know what it means to have “attachment issues.” Basically, it all starts in our childhood. How our caregivers interacted – or didn’t interact with us – contributes to how we attach ourselves to people later in our lives.

Different Attachment Styles

Research has identified several different attachment styles that people tend to have. So, let’s take a brief look at some of them:

  1. Secure Attachment: These people have no problem getting emotionally intimate with others. They don’t fear abandonment, and generally, they are very secure with themselves and their relationships.
  2. Avoidant Attachment: People with this style tend to avoid attaching to others. Perhaps they don’t do it in the beginning, but as time goes on, they distance themselves so they can avoid becoming attached – and ultimately, hurt. This is the type that guy I wrote about above had.
  3. Anxious Attachment: Individuals who have an anxious attachment style are just that – anxious. They are anxious about everything and anything within the relationships, and themselves.

As you might guess, the people who have secure attachment styles tend to have better relationships – especially if both people are the secure types.

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However, for the avoiders and the anxious attachers, relationships look much different. Their behaviors that manifest in relationships can cause quite a range of problems. And lack of self-awareness on top of that can really be a recipe for disaster if they’re not kept in check.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the anxious attachment style, so let’s dive in to some of the characteristics.

Characteristics of People with Anxious Attachment

Being anxious about anything in life is not fun. We’ve all experienced some sort of anxiety from time to time, but people with anxious attachment styles experience it on a much more consistent basis. Here are some of the things they deal with on a regular basis.

1. Fear of Abandonment

No one wants to feel like a person abandoned them. It just doesn’t feel good, right? But people with the anxious attachment style tend to always feel like people will leave them.

If you or someone you know goes around thinking and/or saying “You’re going to leave me! I know you’re going to leave me!” Then, that is a huge indication that you have a fear of abandonment.

2. Constantly Seeking Attention

Because these people fear abandonment, they feel the need to get and keep attention from other people. They think that if they keep themselves “in front” of the people who might abandon them, then they won’t be able to forget about them – and ultimately leave them.

Attention-seeking behaviors can come in many forms. For some, it can be constantly texting or calling another person. It could be constant selfies on social media. Or it could even be some self-destructive behaviors.

3. Seeking Care from Others

Someone with an anxious attachment style could become a hypochondriac or perhaps even engage in self-destructive or self-harming behaviors. If others notice that they are sick or need taken care of, then it makes the anxious attachment style person feel better.

You see, if others are constantly needing to care for you, then they won’t leave you. Right? At least that’s how they process it.

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4. Jealousy

Many people with this style of attachment are also very insecure with themselves. They might constantly look in the mirror and feel like they are not “good enough” and don’t measure up to other people.

Obviously, jealousy can manifest in any romantic relationship – actually it’s pretty common. But jealousy can go beyond fearing that your partner is going to leave you for someone else. These people could be jealous of their friends’ friends. They might fear that they are “better” than them. Or it could even manifest within families, such as jealous of your siblings.

5. Worrying a Lot and Overanalyzing Everything

Let’s say that a person with anxious attachment style goes out on a first date. Even if the date goes well, they might start worrying about whether the person really liked them or if they were just faking it. They might call their friends and start over-analyzing every little detail.

They can also “make up” things in their minds that play into their fears. They look at every little teensy tiny behavior of the other person. They might think everything means that they are losing interest – or perhaps already lost interest.

6. People-pleasing

Although there are many selfish people in the world, many of us want to please others in one form or another. And that’s great. It’s wonderful to make your loved ones feel happy. However, anxious attachers take it to a whole new level.

They are likely to sacrifice their own needs, values, and boundaries in order to make the person they are attached to feel good. They think that if they are constantly making the other person happy, then they won’t leave them. But that isn’t always the case.

7. Fear of Rejection

No one likes to be rejected. However, some of us take it a bit easier than others. Many people can think things such as, “Okay, if you don’t like me, then no problem. I’ll go find someone who does.” But that’s not how people with anxious attachment think.

Instead, they have an overwhelming fear of rejection. That is probably why they turn into such people-pleasers and worry about everything so much. They think the more they do, and the better they are, the less likely people will reject them.

8. Fear of Infidelity

Just like being rejected, no one likes if their romantic partner cheats on them. And while infidelity isn’t necessarily uncommon, people with this attachment style have an exaggerated fear of having their partner be unfaithful to them.

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Because they think they are not good enough, they may pour a lot of their time and energy into a preoccupation with their looks. They want to make sure they are “more” attractive than other people so that their partner won’t be tempted to cheat.

9. Controlling

Because of all these fears that anxious attachers have, they can come across as controlling sometimes. It may or may not be their intention, but when someone is so insecure about themselves and in a constant state of worry about whether people will leave them, then their behavior can appear controlling.

Even if they ask their partner to give them a “good morning” and “good night” text every night (because it makes them feel more secure), their partner might perceive this need of theirs as controlling because they not letting their partner freely be themselves.

10. Aggressive

Even though the feeling of a person with the anxious attachment style seems like they would be clingy and needy, sometimes they can be aggressive too.

If they feel threatened or fearful, then their behavior may turn to aggression. This probably happens more often in men than women, but that’s not always true. Women can certainly turn aggressive if they feel uncomfortable.

How to Overcome Problem Behaviors in a Relationship

Now that we know some of the main characteristics of a person with the anxious attachment style, let’s look at some things that can be done to help overcome some of these problem behaviors.

1. Self-reflection

Many people do not have a lot of self-awareness. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Dr. Phil where people watch their behavior when they had cameras in their house, you know what I’m talking about.

But change always starts with self-reflection. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Even if it takes other people helping this person see themselves the way other do, then that might be what it takes.

2. Communication

Most of us have never had a class in school about how to communicate with other people effectively. And “communication” can mean “yelling, screaming, and name-calling.” But obviously, that’s not effective.

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You and the people in your life need to talk about how the anxious behavior is affecting them and the overall relationship in a negative way. The talk should be non-defensive and non-critical. Focus on finding solutions as a team.

This article can give you some tips:

How to Improve Communication in Relationships and Increase Intimacy

3. Keep a Journal

When I say “journal,” I don’t mean a “Dear Diary” like a 12 year old girl would do. I am speaking more to a feelings or emotions journal.

Write down the events or actions of other people that make you feel anxious or fearful. Many times, all it takes is seeing it written down on paper to be a little more objective about it. You might even want to share this journal with your loved ones to help you communicate your needs better.

4. See a Therapist

Most of the time, people just can’t heal on their own. And the people in their life probably aren’t qualified to help them much either. So then, it’s important to seek out a therapist if you can afford it.

Seeing a therapist or psychologist is a sign of strength. It shows that you want to become a better person and improve yourself and your relationships. After a while, you will be able to control your anxiety a lot better than you currently do.

The Takeaway

Attachment styles are complex because they are developed in childhood. If someone had parents who weren’t very attentive to their needs and/or were absent, then it is likely that someone would develop an anxious attachment style later in life.

That is why it is important to do self-reflection, and ultimately, see a professional who can help you sort through all the years of emotions that have built up during your life. Once you do, you will be much happier – and emotionally healthier.

Featured photo credit: John Schnobrich via unsplash.com