Anxious attachment, also known as anxious-preoccupied attachment, is an attachment style characterized by a strong need for closeness and intimacy coupled with fears of abandonment. People with an anxious attachment style often worry that their partner does not reciprocate their feelings or may leave them. This leads to behaviors such as constantly seeking reassurance, expressing neediness, and feeling insecure in the relationship. Understanding the symptoms and causes of anxious attachment can help sufferers manage their attachment fears and develop more secure relationships.
Symptoms of Anxious Attachment
Some common signs and behaviors seen in people with anxious attachment include:
Excessive Worry About Relationship
People with an anxious attachment style are prone to excessive worry and anxiety concerning their relationships. They may constantly think and ruminate about what their partner is feeling, if their partner truly loves them, or worry that something will go wrong in the relationship. Even minor issues like a change in texting frequency can set off their attachment fears.
Need for Reassurance
Due to their worries about abandonment, people with an anxious attachment tend to constantly seek reassurance from their partners. They may frequently ask if their partner truly loves them or check-in excessively when apart. However, even when their partner provides assurances, they may continue to feel insecure.
Fear of Intimacy
While anxiously attached individuals desperately want intimacy, they also fear it. Allowing themselves to be vulnerable activates their fears of rejection. Intimacy may make them feel suffocated or insecure about the relationship. This paradoxical fear of closeness complicates their relationships.
When apart from their partner, people with anxious attachments often experience severe anxiety. They may become preoccupied with their partner’s activities and overly concerned that their partner will find someone else. This can lead to constant texting or calling when separated.
The excessive worries and stress of an anxious attachment style can lead to emotional volatility. People with anxious attachments are prone to sudden outbursts, overreactions, or temper flare ups, especially during conflict or if their attachment fears are triggered. Their emotions tend to be inconsistent and shift rapidly.
Jealousy and Possessiveness
Excessive jealousy, clinginess, and possessiveness can all be symptoms of an anxious attachment. People with anxious attachment may constantly be jealous of their partner’s friends, coworkers, or other connections, seeing them as threats. They may attempt to monopolize their partner’s time and become possessive.
Behind the anxiety and neediness often lies low self-esteem. People with anxious attachments often do not feel worthy or deserving of their partner’s love. This can fuel concerns that their partner will find someone better and abandon them. Their self-esteem is contingent on their partner’s reassurances.
Causes of Anxious Attachment
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of an anxious attachment style:
Our early childhood relationships with caregivers shape the formation of our attachment styles. Children who receive inconsistent care, insufficient nurturing, or rejection from primary caregivers often develop anxious attachment patterns. They learn that love is unpredictable and abandonment is possible.
Research suggests genetics play a partial role in attachment styles. Some individuals may have innate personality traits like sensitivity, reactivity, or anxiety that make them predisposed to anxious attachments, especially when paired with unresponsive caregiving.
Past Relationship Patterns
People who experienced unhealthy dynamics like neglect, instability, or infidelity in past romantic relationships may develop anxious working models of relationships that carry forward. Being abandoned or hurt can exacerbate attachment fears.
Traumatic experiences like abuse, neglect, sudden losses of loved ones, or assault can all contribute to anxious attachment patterns. Trauma shapes worldviews and makes people more prone to anticipating threats.
Treatments for Anxious Attachment
While attachment styles formed in childhood tend to persist into adulthood, they are not necessarily fixed or permanent. There are therapeutic approaches and strategies that can help modify and develop more secure attachments.
Therapies like Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples or Attachment-Based Family Therapy can directly address attachment fears and needs. Through exercises like touching, eye contact, and vulnerable disclosures, therapy can modify engrained relational patterns.
Boosting self-esteem through affirmations, identifying accomplishments, and self-compassion practices can reduce reliance on a partner for self-validation. Strengthening self-worth provides a buffer against attachment insecurities.
Increasing awareness of situations, behaviors, or thought patterns that trigger anxious attachment reactions can help manage them. Preparedness reduces reactivity. Partners can also collaborate to avoid triggering each other.
Learning communication tools like active listening, validating concerns before responding, and making requests non-judgmentally and specifically can improve relationship dynamics and reassure anxious attachments.
Meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness exercises can help calm anxiety and allow people to respond to attachment fears logically rather than emotionally. Staying present stops spiraling worries.
Establishing healthy boundaries against excessive reassurance seeking, constant texting or calling, and other clingy behaviors can encourage more independent functioning and empower anxious attachers.
Security Providing Behaviors
Partners can intentionally engage in small behaviors that make their love and availability obvious, like regular check-ins, physical touch, thoughtful acts, dependability, and verbal reassurances.
Outlook for Anxious Attachment
With commitment, self-awareness, and therapeutic techniques, individuals with anxious attachment patterns can develop earned security. This occurs when an individual comes to believe that they are lovable and capable of finding love if a relationship ends. With earned security, relationships become happier and less characterized by intense worries, control, and clinginess. Developing secure attachment is a journey, but one that can transform unhealthy relationship dynamics and lead to increased confidence and intimacy.