Have you felt like you’re riding a rollercoaster in your relationship?
Are your emotions soaring one moment and plummeting the next due to the uncertainty you feel around the security of your connection?
If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing the effects of anxious preoccupied attachment.
When you enter into a romantic partnership with this as your primary style of relating, it can see deep-rooted fears surface that inadvertently sabotage your relationship.
To foster a sense of genuine love and connection, it’s essential to both acknowledge and address these patterns of behaviour.
Over time, this will lead towards developing a healthier, more secure attachment style and a more balanced relationship rooted in trust, emotional safety and mutual respect.
Definition of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Anxious preoccupied attachment is characterised by a strong desire for closeness, coupled with a constant fear of rejection or abandonment. Individuals with this attachment style often seek validation and reassurance from their partners but never seem to feel truly secure in their relationships.
How Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Develops
Attachment styles are formed from early childhood experiences. When a child experiences a lack of consistent emotional availability or responsiveness from their caregiver, they may develop an anxious preoccupied attachment style. This inconsistency leaves the child uncertain about the dependability of their caregiver in meeting their emotional and physical needs. Consequently, the child learns to constantly seek reassurance and validation to feel secure in their relationships.
How Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Differs From Other Attachment Styles
Anxious preoccupied attachment is one of four primary attachment styles, including secure, avoidant, and disorganised. Secure attachment is marked by a healthy balance of independence and connection, while avoidant attachment is characterised by emotional distance and self-reliance. Disorganised attachment is a combination of both anxious and avoidant behaviours, resulting in unpredictable and chaotic relationship patterns.
Anxious Attachment Triggers
Triggers are situations or events that can exacerbate anxious attachment tendencies. Some common triggers for those with anxious preoccupied attachment include:
- Perceived distance or withdrawal from a partner
- Signs of disinterest or lack of affection
- Arguments or conflicts
- Changes in the relationship dynamic (e.g., a new job, moving, etc.)
- Past experiences of abandonment or betrayal
- By understanding and addressing these triggers, individuals can develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve their relationships.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
How do you know if you or someone you love might be struggling with anxious preoccupied attachment? Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Constant need for reassurance and validation
- Fear of rejection or abandonment
- Difficulty trusting others
- Over-reliance on romantic partners
- Excessive jealousy or possessiveness
- Insecurity and low self-esteem
Impact of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment on Individuals
Anxious preoccupied attachment can have significant effects on your mental and emotional well-being. If you identify with this attachment style, you may find yourself experiencing insecurity and low self-esteem, which can affect various aspects of your life.
Emotional turbulence: Individuals with anxious preoccupied attachment may experience emotional ups and downs, as they constantly seek reassurance and validation from others. This can lead to mental exhaustion and may lead to increased anxiety, depression, or mood swings.
Difficulty with self-worth: The underlying insecurity associated with anxious preoccupied attachment can make it challenging for individuals to develop a healthy sense of self-worth. This can result in self-doubt, a lack of confidence and the ability to show up in an authentic way in social settings.
Coping mechanisms: As a result of these challenges, individuals with anxious preoccupied attachment may adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with their emotional pain or stress. This can include substance abuse, self-harming behaviours, or potentially engaging in high-risk activities to seek validation and connection.
Impact on personal growth: The constant need for external validation and reassurance can also hinder personal growth and self-discovery. And so, individuals may struggle to develop a strong sense of self, as they lean into people-pleasing tendencies and rely on others for their social cues.
Impact of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment in Relationships
Anxious preoccupied attachment can significantly affect the dynamics of romantic relationships. As a result of the dependency caused by the need for validation and reassurance, it can disrupt the balance required in a healthy co-creative relationship.
Patterns of Behaviour in Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Some of the ways that anxious preoccupied attachment can impact relationships include:
Constant checking-in: Individuals with this attachment style may frequently check in with their partners, seeking reassurance about their partner’s feelings and whereabouts. This behaviour can become overwhelming and may lead the partner to feel smothered or controlled.
Excessive jealousy: Driven by a fear of abandonment, individuals might experience heightened jealousy in their relationships. They may perceive even the slightest hint of competition or disinterest as a threat to their connection, leading to conflicts and misunderstandings.
Fear of abandonment: The constant fear of being abandoned can result in clingy or controlling behaviour. This fear often drives those with anxious preoccupied attachment to seek reassurance from their partners, which may exhaust and frustrate their partners over time.
Difficulty establishing boundaries: Individuals may struggle to set and maintain healthy boundaries within their relationships. This results in them prioritising their partner’s needs over their own, which can lead to resentment and blow-outs of anger.
Emotional volatility: As individuals with this attachment style are prone to feeling emotionally insecure, their relationships may be marked by emotional ups and downs. This volatility can create a tense and unstable atmosphere, making it challenging for both partners to feel secure and supported.
Impaired communication: In an attempt to avoid potential rejection or abandonment, individuals may engage in passive or indirect communication styles. An example of this is withholding information they fear might damage the connection, which, in turn, can make it difficult to effectively resolve conflicts.
To help illustrate these patterns more clearly, let’s look at a few examples:
Example: Sarah constantly checks her phone for texts and calls from her boyfriend, despite the fact she knows he’s busy at work. She’s triggered into an anxious state when he doesn’t respond right away. This leads to her playing narratives that he’s angry or upset with her – or even that he might be seeing someone else.
Why it’s harmful: This behaviour can make the partner feel overwhelmed and smothered, leading to resentment and tension in the relationship.
Tools and strategies: Sarah could work on building her self-esteem and self-reliance, practice mindfulness to help manage her anxiety, and communicate openly with her boyfriend about her fears and insecurities.
Example: Jack is holding the narrative that his girlfriend doesn’t really care about him, despite the fact she continually offers him words of affirmation – telling him she loves him. He constantly seeks reassurance, asking her to prove her love to him. When she doesn’t, he’s triggered into a pattern of anger and becomes distant. This leads to further conflict and tension within the relationship.
Why it’s harmful: Jack’s jealousy can create mistrust, undermine his girlfriend’s autonomy, and perpetuate a cycle of conflict and dissatisfaction in the relationship.
Tools and strategies: Jack might benefit from therapy to explore the root causes of his jealousy, learn healthy coping strategies for managing his emotions, and establish more reasonable expectations for his partner’s behaviour.
Fear Of Abandonment:
Example: Lisa is afraid to express her true feelings to her partner, for fear of driving him away. She often suppresses her emotions and becomes angry and resentful when he doesn’t understand her needs or feelings. This leads to a pattern of passive-aggressive behaviours and communication, which further undermines the relationship.
Why it’s harmful: Lisa’s fear of abandonment and inability to express her emotions openly can create a communication barrier, preventing her and her partner from resolving conflicts and addressing each other’s needs effectively.
Tools and strategies: Lisa could try therapy to explore the root of her fear of abandonment, develop healthier communication skills, and practice assertiveness in expressing her feelings and needs.
Over-Reliance On Partner
Example: Mark has a difficult time making decisions or managing his emotions without seeking reassurance from his partner. He constantly asks for her advice and validation, even for trivial decisions. This places his partner in more of a parental role than that of a lover.
Why it’s harmful: Mark’s over-reliance on his partner can create an unhealthy dynamic where his partner becomes responsible for his emotional well-being, fostering codependency and hindering personal growth.
Tools and strategies: Mark can work on building self-confidence, developing coping mechanisms to manage his emotions, and seeking support from friends or therapists to help him develop a healthier sense of independence.
Emotional Roller Coaster
Example: Emily experiences intense mood swings that are often triggered by how she perceives her partner’s feelings and actions. When Emily feels secure, she’s loving and affectionate. However, when her anxious attachment style is activated, she can become angry, tearful or distant.
Why it’s harmful: Emily’s emotional roller coaster can be exhausting for both her and her partner, making it difficult to maintain a stable and satisfying relationship.
Tools and strategies: Emily might benefit from therapy to explore the root causes of her emotional instability, learn healthy coping strategies for managing her emotions, and practice mindfulness techniques to help her stay grounded in the present moment.
Difficulty Setting Boundaries
Example: Kevin struggles to set boundaries with his partner, often agreeing to things he doesn’t want to do or tolerating behaviour that makes him uncomfortable. He fears that setting boundaries will make his partner feel rejected or unloved, so he remains quiet and resents the situation.
Why it’s harmful: Kevin’s difficulty in setting boundaries can lead to resentment due to him feeling his personal autonomy has been taken away from him.
Tools and strategies: Kevin could benefit from learning assertiveness techniques, setting clear and healthy boundaries, and engaging in open communication with his partner about his needs and feelings.
By recognising these patterns and implementing the suggested tools and strategies, individuals with anxious preoccupied attachment can work towards breaking free from these dysfunctional behaviours and building stronger, more fulfilling relationships.
How to Self-Soothe Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
If you find yourself struggling with anxious preoccupied attachment, it’s essential to learn how to self-soothe. Some effective strategies for self-soothing include:
- Practising mindfulness and meditation
- Engaging in self-care activities (e.g., exercise, hobbies, etc.)
- Developing a support network of friends and family
- Seeking professional help, such as therapy or counselling
How to Overcome Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Overcoming anxious preoccupied attachment involves addressing the underlying issues and adopting healthier ways of relating to others. Here are some avenues you can think about exploring:
- Identify the root causes of your attachment style
- Develop self-awareness through reflection and introspection
- Work on building self-esteem and self-worth
- Learn to trust and communicate with your partner
- Seek professional help if necessary
How Attachment Styles Can Change Over Time
While our attachment styles are shaped by early experiences, they can also change over time with the right support and intervention. If you live with anxious preoccupied attachment, it is entirely possible to develop more secure attachment styles over time.
How to Move from Anxious Attachment to Secure Attachment
Secure attachment is characterised by a healthy balance of independence and interdependence in relationships, with trust and communication as the foundation. Here are some steps to help you move from anxious attachment to secure attachment:
Develop emotional intelligence: Learn to identify, understand, and manage your emotions effectively. This will help you navigate relationships with greater self-awareness and resilience.
Foster healthy communication skills: Open, honest, and non-defensive communication is key to building trust and fostering security in relationships. Practice active listening and assertive communication to enhance your interactions with others.
Cultivate self-compassion: Recognise that everyone has flaws and struggles, including yourself. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you work on healing your attachment style.
Seek therapy or counselling: Working with a mental health professional and/or therapist can provide valuable insight and guidance as you work to change your attachment style.
How to Heal Anxious Attachment Style in Relationships
To address anxious attachment in relationships, both partners should work together to:
- Foster open and honest communication
- Establish trust and emotional safety
- Encourage independence and personal growth
- Set healthy boundaries
- Seek couples therapy if necessary
How Therapy Can Help Address Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Therapy is an effective means of addressing anxious preoccupied attachment, as it allows for the opportunity to externalise your thoughts in a safe and supportive environment. This allows for the exploration of attachment patterns, triggers, identifying underlying causes and developing effective new strategies to both manage and move past insecurities and fears.
Types Of Therapy That Are Effective For Treating Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Some types of therapy that have been found effective in treating anxious preoccupied attachment include:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)
What To Expect From Therapy And How It Can Help Improve Relationships
In therapy, individuals can expect to gain insight into their attachment style, learn new skills to regulate their emotions, and develop healthier communication and relationship patterns. As a result, they will likely experience increased self-confidence, emotional stability, and improved connections with others.