Are you struggling to maintain healthy relationships with those around you? Do you constantly feel anxious or worried about whether others like you or will abandon you? If so, you might be struggling with an anxious attachment style.
Anxious attachment is an insecure attachment style that can significantly impact one’s ability to form and maintain relationships as well as manage emotions. It can manifest in behaviours such as clinginess, jealousy, and neediness, which can cause significant strain on personal or romantic relationships. An anxious attachment style can also be accompanied by other psychological conditions, such as codependency and perfectionism.
In this article, we’ll provide practical strategies to help you heal and develop healthier attachment patterns.
What is Anxious Attachment Style?
Anxious attachment style is characterized by a strong desire for emotional intimacy combined with an intense fear of rejection or abandonment by romantic partners or others. Individuals with an anxious attachment style often experience a sense of insecurity in their relationships. They find themselves persistently concerned about their partner’s emotions towards them and have a constant desire for reassurance regarding their partner’s affection and dedication.
Individuals with an anxious attachment tend to experience a range of symptoms, including:
- Excessive worry and anxiety about their relationships
- Fear of abandonment or rejection by their partners
- An overwhelming desire for emotional closeness and intimacy
- A need for constant reassurance of their partner’s love and commitment
- Difficulty trusting others
- Difficulty maintaining healthy boundaries in their relationships
- Jealousy and possessiveness in relationships
Cause of anxious attachment style
An anxious attachment style usually develops in response to early childhood experiences, particularly those involving inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving. Children who grow up in an environment where their emotional needs are not consistently met may have a constant sense that, even when things seem good, they will eventually be abandoned.
As a consequence, they learn to constantly seek reassurance and validation as a means of assessing whether their relationship is still secure. Over time, the constant reassurance-seeking can become ingrained and lead to difficulty trusting others in adult relationships.
Can Anxious Attachment Style be Healed?
While attachment styles are often established in childhood, research has shown that they are not unalterable and can be changed throughout the lifespan.
One way to overcome anxious attachment is through earned secure attachment. Earned secure attachment is an attachment style that can develop in adulthood due to positive life experiences and effective therapy.
This secure attachment style is characterized by a sense of security and confidence in one’s relationships with others, as well as the ability to engage in emotional self-regulation and maintain healthy boundaries.
Individuals with an earned secure attachment may have previously exhibited insecure attachment, such as an anxious or avoidant attachment style, but have overcome these patterns through personal growth and self-reflection. They are able to maintain fulfilling and healthy relationships with others while also being comfortable being alone.
Earned secure attachment can be achieved through a variety of means, such as therapy, self-reflection, and engaging in a healthy relationship. We will explore each of these factors later in the article.
Benefits of Healing an Anxious Attachment Style
Healing for someone with an anxious attachment style can have a range of benefits for both their emotional well-being and relationships:
1. Greater emotional resilience
As individuals with an anxious attachment style develop healthier patterns of attachment, they become better equipped to engage in anxiety and emotional self-regulation. This can lead to greater emotional resilience and an increased ability to cope with stress and adversity.
2. Improved relationships
By reducing anxious attachment behaviours, individuals with anxious attachment styles can develop stronger, more fulfilling intimate relationships, both with romantic partners and others. They may become more comfortable with emotional intimacy and more adept at maintaining healthy boundaries with a romantic partner, leading to improved communication and greater relationship satisfaction.
3. Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression often co-occur in individuals with an anxious attachment style. By addressing the root causes of these anxiety disorders and developing healthier coping strategies for their anxious attachment style, individuals can reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders and improve their overall well-being.
4. Greater self-awareness and self-acceptance
As individuals work towards healing anxious attachment, they can develop a better understanding of themselves, accept who they are, and feel good about themselves. This growth leads to a stronger sense of self-worth and a more secure attachment style.
5. Increased ability to establish and maintain healthy boundaries
Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is an important part of developing healthy adult attachment styles. By learning to establish and maintain boundaries, individuals with anxious attachment styles can reduce their dependence on others for their sense of self-worth and develop greater self-sufficiency.
6. Increased trust and security
Healing anxious attachment can lead to increased trust in oneself and others, as well as a greater sense of security and stability in intimate relationships. This in turn, can lead to greater emotional stability and well-being.
7. Improved parenting:
Healing from an anxious attachment style can also have a positive impact on parenting abilities. Parents who have experienced an anxious attachment parenting style in their youth may be more likely to pass on negative patterns of thinking and behaviour to their children, leading to the development of anxious ambivalent attachment styles in their children.
How to “Earn” a Secure Attachment Style
If you’ve identified that you have an anxious attachment style, you might be wondering how you can overcome it. Here are some strategies that can help:
Learn to Identify and Understand Your Needs and Emotions
Learning to identify and understand your emotions is a crucial step in healing anxious attachment and developing healthier attachment styles. Because the anxious attachment style is often rooted in early childhood experiences of inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving, individuals with this attachment style may have learned to become hyperfocused on their caregiver’s emotional state. As a result, they may not have learned to identify and regulate their own emotions.
By learning to recognize and understand their emotions, anxious individuals can develop greater personal awareness and become more attuned to their own emotional needs. This can help them to manage anxiety and regulate their emotions more effectively, reducing the likelihood of anxious attachment behaviours that can sabotage their relationships.
In addition, learning to identify and understand emotions can help individuals with anxious attachment styles to recognize and address unhealthy patterns of behaviour in their relationships.
For example, if an individual finds themselves becoming overly clingy or jealous in a relationship, they can use their newfound understanding of their emotions to recognize the underlying anxious attachment triggers, such as their separation anxiety, and take steps to address them.
An effective approach for cultivating emotional awareness involves engaging in mindfulness techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises. By regularly practising these methods, individuals can enhance their ability to recognize and understand their thoughts and emotions. This will help to foster self-reflection and personal awareness, allowing for significant personal growth.
In addition, mindfulness practices have the additional benefit of helping people learn to manage their anxiety and regulate their negative emotions themselves.
Learn to Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries in your relationships can be a difficult but necessary step in developing healthier attachment styles. A key characteristic of individuals with an anxious attachment style is their inclination to excessively rely on others. As a consequence, the person may sacrifice their own needs in order to maintain their relationship.
The problem with this is that boundaries are necessary for all healthy personal and romantic relationships because they communicate personal limits. If you do not set proper boundaries, it will breed resentment and sabotage an otherwise healthy relationship. For instance, it may come out with passive-aggressive comments, dishonesty or more explosive arguments that seem to come out of nowhere.
Boundaries are also a way of maintaining a sense of autonomy and self-worth. Learning to set boundaries in your relationships can help you develop greater self-sufficiency and reduce your reliance on others for your sense of self-worth.
While setting boundaries can be challenging for individuals with an anxious attachment style, it is an essential step in the process of developing a more secure attachment style. By establishing and maintaining boundaries, individuals with anxious attachment style can develop greater self-sufficiency and reduce their dependence on others for their sense of self-worth.
How to set boundaries with others
To start setting boundaries, it can be beneficial to identify aspects of your life where you sense a need for increased autonomy or self-reliance. For instance, you might consider implementing restrictions on the amount of time devoted to your partner or defining specific behaviours that you deem acceptable or unacceptable within a relationship.
It’s important to communicate your boundaries clearly and assertively to your partner, using “I” statements and avoiding blame or criticism. For example, you might say, “I need some alone time to recharge my batteries” instead of “You’re always suffocating me with your neediness.”
Establishing boundaries with yourself
In addition to setting boundaries with others, it’s also important to establish self-boundaries. This entails recognizing your personal limits and taking proactive measures to safeguard your emotional well-being. For instance, you can commit to refraining from negative self-talk or taking breaks from social media during overwhelming moments.
Individuals with this attachment style tend to be highly critical of themselves, constantly questioning their worth and seeking external validation. However, practicing self-compassion can be a transformative approach in their journey toward healing and growth.
By embracing self-compassion, individuals can cultivate greater self-acceptance and develop a more understanding and forgiving attitude toward their own shortcomings and struggles. This involves treating themselves with kindness, acknowledging that imperfections and mistakes are part of being human, and offering themselves the same compassion and empathy they would extend to a loved one in need.
For more information, check out this resource on practising self-compassion.
Improve communication skills
Effective communication is an essential component of healthy adult relationships. Learning to communicate assertively and honestly can help you build stronger connections with others and reduce anxious attachment behaviours.
1. Practice active listening
Active listening is an important skill for promoting a secure attachment because it allows individuals to build trust and intimacy in their relationships. By listening attentively to what the other person is saying, an anxiously attached person can demonstrate that they value the other person’s perspective and emotions.
An anxiously attached person can practice mindful communication to build a sense of safety and trust in the relationship and reduce anxious attachment behaviours.
2. Use “I” statements
Using “I” statements is a way of communicating your needs and emotions in a way that is assertive but not accusatory. For example, instead of saying, “You are always ignoring me,” you might say, “I feel hurt when I don’t get a response to my texts.”
By expressing your emotions and needs in a clear, non-threatening way, you can reduce defensiveness and promote greater emotional openness and honesty. This can help to build stronger, more authentic relationships, and reduce the likelihood of anxious attachment behaviours.
3. Avoid criticism and blame
Criticism and blame from anxious adults can be hurtful and damaging to relationships. By avoiding criticism and blame, an anxious person can promote greater emotional safety and trust in their adult relationships. This can help to reduce attachment anxiety and promote more positive, supportive interactions with others.
4. Practice assertiveness
Assertiveness is an important skill for promoting secure and healing anxious attachment, because it allows an anxious person to express their needs and emotions in a clear, direct way, while also respecting the needs and emotions of others.
By setting boundaries and expressing their needs and emotions clearly and respectfully, someone with an anxious attachment style can promote greater emotional openness and honesty in their relationships. This can help to reduce anxious attachment behaviours and promote more authentic, fulfilling connections with others.
For more information, check out our article on assertive anger.
5. Be open to feedback
Being open to feedback is an important skill for promoting more secure attachment style because it allows individuals to learn from their experiences and develop greater personal awareness. Individuals with anxious or insecure attachment styles can promote greater emotional growth and mindfulness by being open to feedback and willing to acknowledge their own mistakes and limitations. This can help them to develop healthier adult attachment and build stronger, more fulfilling adult relationships with others.
Taking care of your physical and emotional needs is crucial for managing anxiety and promoting overall well-being. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular exercise can all help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Seek professional help
Working with a mental health professional with experience in treating these attachment style issues can effectively address anxious attachment styles. Therapeutic approaches that emphasize relationships, such as psychodynamic and emotion-focused therapy, can help you explore the root causes of your attachment anxiety and develop healthier adult attachment styles.
Anxious attachment is a common psychological condition that can make it difficult to form and maintain healthy relationships with others. But the good news is that with effort and commitment, it is possible to overcome anxious attachment and develop healthier attachment patterns.
Whether you choose to work with a mental health professional or practice self-help strategies on your own, the key is to take action and commit to the process of change.
Remember that overcoming anxious attachment is not a quick fix. But with persistence and the right support, you can develop healthier attachment patterns and build stronger, more fulfilling relationships.
So, take the first step today and start your journey toward healing your anxious attachment style.