How to Overcome Your Anxious Attachment Style, According to an Expert
Learning about someone's attachment style can be incredibly valuable when it comes to understanding their behavior in a romantic relationship. Similarly to love languages, which help people communicate how they prefer to give and receive love, attachment styles provide insight into why individuals act the way that they do in relationships. (And trust me when I say, it can be really telling.)
The concept of attachment styles originated as a way to understand the attachment between a child and their caregiver, but the theory has since evolved to be used (and referenced quite frequently) in modern relationships. This is because an individual's attachment style most often forms based on their early interactions with their primary caregivers — in most cases, that being their parents.
However, it's important to note that attachment styles can evolve and transform over time due to a myriad of factors, including relationships with other family members, the history of romantic relationships, and also any trauma experienced.
Although there are four main attachment styles — avoidant, anxious, fearful, and secure — you may hear the term "anxious attachment" thrown around more often than the others, likely because those who have an anxious attachment style tend to already be aware of their anxious tendencies.
If this is your attachment style, you may find yourself concerned about the amount of time that has passed since your partner last texted you. You might experience feelings of jealous, suspicion, or constantly worry why your partner seems more distant than usual. Though these are just examples, if any of this remotely resonates with you, it's possible you could have an anxious attachment style.
What Is an Anxious Attachment Style?
Someone with an anxious attachment typically "desires a lot of closeness and connection," Madeline Lucas, LCSW, therapist and clinical content manager at mental health app Real, says. While this may seem great in theory, those with anxious attachment styles are "more easily activated by things like subtle changes in the other person's mood or behavior" — specifically as it pertains to their partner's romantic interest in them.
For example, someone with an anxious attachment style in a romantic relationship may jump to conclusions and worst-case scenarios, maybe even interpreting statements or situations as threats to the relationship. If your partner goes out one night with their friends, you might be worried that they'll find someone better than you. If your partner doesn't respond to a message right away, you might think you did something wrong. And if your partner doesn't tell you they love you all the time, you may interpret this as them losing interest, Lucas says.
If you're in a relationship with someone who has an anxious attachment style, it can sometimes feel smothering or as if it comes from a place of insecurity.
What Are the Different Anxious Attachment Styles?
There are two different attachment styles that exist under the anxious-attachment umbrella. Melanie Preston, LMHC, relationship therapist and owner of Matter of Focus Counseling, tells POPSUGAR that the two most popular ones are anxious preoccupied and anxious avoidant.
Anxious Preoccupied: If someone has this type of attachment style, they're "always seeking approval from their partner — and even those outside the relationship," Preston says. Consider this person to be the ultimate overthinker in that they tend to "oversell everyone else and undersell their own personal value." In romantic relationships, you can expect this person to jump to conclusions easily, especially in assuming they've done something wrong. "The anxious-preoccupied partner apologizes for everything," Preston says.
Anxious Avoidant: This person harbors the negative traits of both the anxious attachment style and avoidant attachment style in that they're "emotionally unavailable and unwilling to open up." Preston adds that "this partner is uncomfortable with intimacy and may have emotional outbursts when confronted with emotional situations."
Anxious-Attachment Signs in a Relationship
If you're not sure whether you fall into the category of "anxious attachment style," there are a few signs that could apply to you. Just keep in mind that these are solely examples, and in order to get a full understanding of your attachment style, you could take a quiz or talk to a trained mental health professional who can better help you understand your relationship attachment style.
- You tend to doubt or question your partner's whereabouts.
- You jump to conclusions, particularly when you don't receive a text back or sense that they're hugging, kissing, or messaging you in a different way than before.
- You worry about how frequently you and your partner are communicating but in a way that seems to consume you.
- You constantly need words of affirmation in order to feel like your relationship is OK.
- You ditch your plans to make time for your partner, or you prioritize your partner's schedule over your own.
- You do The Most to ensure your partner will want to stay — but in a way that goes above and beyond normal acts of service.
How Can an Anxious Attachment Style Become More Secure?
If you have an anxious attachment style, the first step is acknowledging it. Once you understand that you tend to be anxious in your relationships, you can work on overcoming some of that anxiety. In order to fight feelings of anxiety, you should start by "focusing on the facts," Lucas says. In other words, don't assume or let your mind wander with "what if" scenarios.
This is especially important because "when we are feeling triggered, it becomes easy to fall into the negativity bias and lose sight of a more balanced, accurate perspective," Lucas says. If you feel yourself spiraling, ask yourself: "Do I know these thoughts to be true? Or is this my anxiety?"
You should also make sure you're communicating your needs with your partner. No, your partner doesn't need to complete you or affirm all of your self-worth, but it's OK to vocalize what you need in a relationship — even if it's a "good morning" text or general words of affirmation. "If those emotional needs are met in a balanced way by our partner, it becomes easier and feels safer to loosen our grip," Lucas says.
Then, instead of focusing on what your partner is doing all the time, invest that time back into yourself. Pick up a new hobby, read a new book, or go on a hot-girl walk and listen to a podcast whenever you find yourself wondering what your partner is doing (or why they aren't texting you back). Distraction is an amazing tool, which can "help create that more balanced perspective when, often with an anxious attachment style, the focus falls completely onto our partner," Lucas says.
Also, make sure you're not playing into the "game" of dating, Lucas suggests. Though it may be tempting to wait twice as long to text back your partner or post some subtle shade on Instagram about them, refrain from doing so. "Often, this is a telltale sign that our attachment system is activated and some emotional need is unmet," Lucas says. Instead, she suggests effectively communicating this with your partner instead of playing into the game that likely won't accomplish what you want it to anyway. Communicating directly what you need with your partner will help ensure that your needs are actually met.
Lastly, working with a trained mental health therapist can help you better understand why you have an anxious attachment style and, in turn, help you overcome it. If you need help finding a mental health therapist, here are some tips on how to find the best therapist for you.