We use the term “attachment” to describe the warm feelings that one person develops for another individual who is important to them. The first attachment we form in life is typically for our mother, or primary caregiver, and the way in which this attachment forms has profound repercussions for the rest of our lives.
Secure attachment means that the person in question does not doubt the love or care of those who matter to them. They feel confident in the knowledge that they are loved, and this confidence forms the basis of all of their important relationships.
Conversely, anxious attachment refers to someone who lacks this confidence. They feel “attached” or love for others, but are never confident that their feelings are returned. In children, this can manifest as crying and panicky behaviour, as the child sees Mum leaving (when being dropped off at childcare, for example, or simply when leaving the room) and panics, worrying that she’ll never see her again.
As we grow up, we all learn to suppress our infantile impulses, and people with anxious attachment are no exception. However, they feel the same array of upsetting emotions in association with their personal relationships. As adults, instead of mum or dad being the one whose presence or absence triggers strong emotions, it could be a spouse, partner, or a close friend. Because they do not feel secure in the knowledge that their feelings of love and closeness are returned, they can panic when someone leaves, or seems to not to focus on them and their needs. If they send a text, and it is not immediately answered, they may worry that this means that the recipient doesn’t care about them. If their loved one has to go away on a business trip for a few days, they might work themselves into a frenzy of anxiety, assuming that they are having an affair. Instead of responding to these stressors with tears and pleas for the loved one to return or the friend to return a text, they may respond angrily. They might physically or verbally assault the person whom they identify as the source of their negative emotions, for example, or write an abusive text to their friend if they feel that they are not being attended to.
The problem with strong, kneejerk negative responses to the actions of others, when they make us anxious, is that the result is rarely to bring them closer to us. Instead, people who experience anxious attachment are likely to drive their friends and loved ones away with their behaviour, as they can be moody, erratic, paranoid, and difficult to placate when they have become so anxious that they find it difficult to be rational.
The good news is that people with anxious attachment can work on their behaviour. Together with a therapist, they can gain a better understanding of the origins of their difficult emotions, and develop a better way to manage them—one that helps them to build healthy, happy relationships along the way.
Who can I speak to further about Anxious Attachment?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.