Anxious Attachment Style: What It Means & How to Deal With It
Everything up to this point in your new relationship has been going incredibly well. Still, instead of enjoying it, you find yourself constantly on edge about whether it will last. You become hyper sensitive to the amount of lag time between texts, questioning their intentions, and aren’t sure if they actually like you as they say they do.
Finally, it becomes too much to the point that you find yourself drafting a long message asking if everything is OK, and if there’s something you’ve done wrong. As you’re waiting for a response, you start plotting grand romantic gestures to win this person back. When you receive a text back explaining why they were unavailable to answer, you find yourself asking pointed questions to get the reassurance you need to make yourself feel at ease.
But no matter how much they assure you everything’s fine, you can’t shake the feeling they’ll eventually leave you.
Sound familiar? If any of the above feelings hit close to home when it comes to dating and relationships, it’s possible an anxious attachment style may be the cause.
What Is (and What Causes) an Anxious Attachment Style?
“According to attachment theory, our earliest relationships – the ones we have with our parents – influence the way we relate to others for the rest of our lives,” explains therapist Katie Lear. “If a baby has a parent who is not predictable or consistent in their responses, this may lead to an anxious attachment. The message that is accidentally conveyed to children in these situations is that loved ones may not always be there for you, and their behavior is hard to predict.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean you had a traumatic childhood – maybe you were raised by a single parent who worked full-time and was often too exhausted from the day’s work to give you the amount of love and attention you needed. Perhaps you had a parent who was dealing with postpartum depression who couldn’t fully be emotionally available to you.
Having love given and then taken away from us at a young age creates this idea that it’ll happen again and again that becomes ingrained in us during adulthood.
“The child fears losing love so much that they feel they have to be on guard at all times just in case it goes away,” says love and relationship expert Nicole Moore. “As an adult, this can lead to extreme dating anxiety in those with an anxious attachment style and a near constant worry that their partner is going to lose interest or leave.”
Signs of Having an Anxious Attachment Style in a Relationship
“People who have an anxious attachment style often have a tremendously difficult time with dating because dating exacerbates their underlying anxiety,” explains Moore. “Anxious attachment style daters often latch on to someone that they like way too quickly and become hyper-focused on that person almost to the point of obsession.”
Typically, someone with an anxious attachment style tries to move quickly toward a certain level of commitment from their partner, needing constant reassurance that the person they’re dating wants to be with them. It’s not uncommon for people with an anxious attachment style to have a history of shorter relationships and struggle to maintain long term commitment, as these behaviors can be off-putting to potential long-term partners. This is especially true where communication is concerned.
“For someone with anxious attachment style, it can feel incredibly uncomfortable and emotionally painful if the person they’re dating doesn’t call them back within a few hours, respond to a text, or if they have to reschedule a date,” continues Moore. “Those who are anxious daters often take any seeming absence or lack of communication from their date or partner as a threat. Immediately, they begin to freak out, worrying that they’ve lost love and they employ strategies to try and win back the love they think they have lost.”
This may be the result of tactics that used to work as a child, such as being on your best behavior to receive love and affection.
What to Do If You Have an Anxious Attachment Style
Being aware of your behavior and how it’s impacting your dating life is the first step toward moving toward a much more secure attachment style. If you’re currently in a relationship, Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT CST recommends being honest with your partner and making your needs known.
“Discuss your anxiety at a time when you are not immersed in the emotions, which will make it easier for you to articulate yourself instead of trying to find the words when you’re feeling overwhelmed,” she says. “Talk to your partner when you are not feeling flooded or stressed and explain common triggers for your anxiety and what has helped to alleviate symptoms in the past. This gives your partner a road map to understanding your emotional landscape and allows them to take your anxiety less personally when it does happen.”
Now that you understand where these emotions are coming from, taking steps to de-escalate these feelings can be very beneficial.
“Learning to self-soothe and regulate emotions is a powerful tool in becoming more securely attached,” says Conger. “Mindfulness practices are a great way to learn to have agency in your emotional response system. As you become more aware of breath, sensations and emotions, you can watch for earlier signs of anxiety and interrupt panic before it becomes overwhelming.”