Things like calling your partner continuously when they don’t pick up or worrying if they’ll be with you when you need them can be signs of anxious attachment. When you are too clingy or do not leave your partner alone, they can feel suffocated. Although the attachment is required, too much of it can make the relationship burdensome. This post will tell you all about anxious attachment, its effects, and ways to overcome it. But before we start, let’s first understand a healthy attachment.
What are the various types of attachment?
Attachment can be categorized into three types:
- Secure attachment: A healthy relationship with one’s parents, where children are given enough freedom to go out and explore the world, and yet feel safe and protected during crisis, will result in a secure attachment when the children grow up. Such individuals do not intimidate the partner but trust them.
Securely attached people know their worth and hence are better at accepting the partner’s flaws and take care of their needs. They do not manipulate and play games to get care and attention. They also listen to their partner’s grievances without getting defensive.
- Avoidant attachment: In this type, the person fears attachment and either stays away from it or keeps their partner at a distance. Their fear keeps them from being true in a relationship.
- Anxious attachment: People with this type of attachment style are extremely worried about being too much or too little in a relationship. They have high hopes on their partner and expect to draw safety and happiness from the relationship. They often cling onto the partner out of the fear of being left alone. So, they even manipulate to grab the partner’s attention. This could be a result of childhood trauma and inconsistent parenting.
Let’s understand this better in the next section.
What is Ambivalent/Anxious attachment in a relationship?
When and how does anxious attachment pattern develop?
Studies (1) suggest that the attachment towards people starts forming during childhood and develops as we grow. For example, a child cries and looks frantically for its mother, and immediately stops crying once the mother holds it. But if the parent or caregiver is inconsistent or unavailable, then the child might feel abandoned and rejected. Such feelings are strong and tend to have a lasting impact on the child because wanting to stay close and feeling the need to be loved is typical human behavior.
What Is Anxious Attachment In Adults?
Children with anxious attachment issues could grow up with preoccupied attachment patterns. Once they reach adulthood, they become self-critical and seek reassurance. The childhood impression of being ‘not good enough’ gets carried on into the relationship, which makes them clingy and possessive.
They constantly battle with low self-worth or the fear of being let down by others. They tend to be people-pleasers and oscillate between outbursts of anger and pleas for love and support.
If you or your partner is too clingy or distant, then look for certain signs to know if one of you is anxiously attached.
Signs You Have An Anxious Attachment
Here are the signs of anxious attachment.
- Yearn for intimacy: Anxiously attached people always want to be with their partner. They cannot accept the fact that partners can have a life of their own while being in a relationship. For example, if you plan a Saturday night with your friends, your partner might not be comfortable with it. They also do not have an idea of personal privacy and could be overbearing.
- Suppress their needs and desires: People with anxious attachment have low confidence and fear their partner might get bored and abandon them. To calm this anxiety, they go out of their way to do favors to the partner. They sacrifice their desires to make their partner ‘comfortable’. After doing so much, they expect their partner to reciprocate, and when that does not happen the anxious partner might become depressed, angry and resentful.
- Fear the worst: Their low self-confidence makes them fear abandonment. They think of ways their partner would abandon them. Instead of living in the moment, they frame hypothetical situations. They do not have clarity on what they want from the relationship. When the partner is affectionate, they doubt the intentions, and when the partner is distant, they crave for intimacy.
- Have puzzled thoughts: An anxiously attached person tends to see things differently from that of an average person. For example, even when things are going on fine, they pick on minute errors, analyze them from different angles and conclude something negative. Studies found out that people with anxious attachment tend to subscribe to more negative and less positive considerations (2).
- Resort to manipulation: Anxiously attached people try to protect themselves from their imaginary pain. They may seem like being sacrificial in their attempts to be intimate with their partner. They might be unconsciously manipulating their partners to gauge if their partners are as interested as they are in the relationship. They might not be doing this intentionally but could just be their way to grab their partner’s attention and get a reaction from them.
- Get jealous: They are upset if the partner pays any attention to somebody else. The fear that their partner might cheat keeps them on tenterhooks always.
- Need constant reassurance: The fears and negative emotions make them crave for constant reassurance from the partner that they are being loved. Every now and then, they check on the partner’s behavior to measure their love. They constantly bombard the partner with questions such as “Do you love me?”, “Why don’t you say that often?” etc.
Imagine living with a person who is like a constant shadow in your life. That will definitely have an impact on the relationship.
How Does Anxious Attachment Affect Your Relationship?
Relationships are like sand; the tighter you try to hold them, the faster they slide through the fingers. In anxious attachment, the fear of rejection and low self-confidence cause the person to hurt their partner. If one of the partners is becoming codependent and suffocating the other, then it is not a healthy sign.
Two people can be happy in a relationship only when there are trust and space to breathe. If you continuously try to control your partner, then you are jeopardizing your relationship. With time you will notice your partner becoming cold and distant as they are tired of clearing your doubts and calming down your insecurities.
How To Overcome Anxious Attachment?
Having anxious attachment does not make a person incapable of being in a relationship. With efforts and patience, the relationship can be made better.
“Recognition is the greatest motivator.”– Gerard C Eakedale
Once you recognize that you are anxiously attached, it becomes easy to change. Every anxious person has a pattern; once you get to know it, you can work to break it. For example, whenever your partner takes time to reply to your texts, set a time of two hours to wait for the reply. Once you are comfortable with this time, increase it until you can let go of the anxiety. At the end of such an exercise, you will feel liberated from the overthinking that you had been doing.
2. Beware of pitfalls
Your mind has been used to think in a certain way, and now you are trying to change its course. So, naturally, there will be resistance in the form of mind tricks. If you are determined to overcome anxious attachment, then look out for these pitfalls.
- Assumptions: Next time when your spouse is late from work, do not assume things and start calling them repeatedly. Rather wait for them to return and calmly ask them the reason.
- Imagining the worst: When facing a difficult situation, do not think negative and anticipate the worst outcome. For example, concluding that your partner does not love you, after every fight.
- Taking things personally: Not everything is always about you. While dealing with anxious attachment, you tend to take things personally. For example, if your partner is upset for some reason, you think it is because of you. Avoid jumping to such a conclusion.
3. Talk to your partner
The one person who is being affected by your anxious attachment is your partner. So, talk to them, explain your situation and ask for their support. Work together on what your partner can do to calm down your anxieties and reassure you. At the same time, you must work on trusting your partner.
4. Control the urge to overreact
You build up complex scenarios in your head and tend to exaggerate. If you know this is your pattern, then practice to take some time off whenever you feel your imagination is taking the better of you. After you calm down, reanalyze the situation, talk to your partner and then decide on the course of action.
5. Try to live in the moment
When you train your brain to stop regretting the past and do not worry too much about the future, you can live in the present. Take up yoga and meditation, which will help you to gain control over your mind.
6. Therapy might help
Despite putting in sincere efforts, if you are not able to break the patterns, do not feel disappointed. It is not easy to let go of something you have been carrying since your childhood. In such a case, talk to your partner and go for professional therapy along with them. Therapists are trained professionals who can work with both of you and suggest ways to tackle your fears as well as teach your partner on how to support your journey.
Anxious attachment in a relationship is not only toxic for the partner but also for the person suffering from it. If not dealt with in time, it may ultimately suffocate the relationship and lead to a breakup. If the above signs match your personality, then it is time to work on yourself slowly and proceed towards a change. If your partner displays such signs, try to understand them since such issues are most likely to stem from their childhood exposure to different traumas. Either way, dealing with anxious attachment requires joint efforts of both partners. So follow the above tips and never hesitate to seek help from a professional to build a trusting, loving, and healthy relationship.
What do you think about anxious attachment? Let us know in the comments section below.
- Your attachment with your partner could be secure, avoidant, or anxious.
- People anxiously attached want to be with their partner, even if it means suppressing their desires and feelings.
- Increasing your self-awareness and controlling your tendency to overreact may help you conquer your anxiety in a relationship.
- You can also seek professional help from trained relationship consultants.
2. Tamara Sheinbaum et al., Attachment style predicts affect, cognitive appraisals, and social functioning in daily life; Frontiers in Psychology.