Human beings are designed to form deep connections with each other, and these connections play a pivotal role in our growth and development. Attachment styles are modes of behavior that develop during the early stages of life, mainly through interactions with caregivers. The attachment theory, studied between the 1960s and 1970s, initially focusing on parent-child relationships, was extended to adult relationships during the 1980s. Adult relationships differ from relationships between children and their caregivers, but the foundation of attachment theory applies to both adult relationships and child-caregiver relationships. The framework provided through Attachment Theory, pioneered by psychologist John Bowlby, gives an overall understanding of how humans form and maintain relationships in their lives. One of the key attachment styles studied within this framework is anxious attachment, and we will be analyzing its characteristics and techniques for cultivating and maintaining a healthier and safer attachment style.
WHAT IS AN ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT?
Attachment is an emotional relationship involving the interaction between individuals sharing comfort, pleasure, and care. Four types of attachment styles have been discovered, and they have been associated with individuals’ primary bonds as children. These attachment styles include secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment. The early relationships that have been established in one’s childhood have a huge impact on how they interact with others as adults.
Anxious attachment is a form of insecure relationship involving children and caregivers. It is born as a result of inconsistencies in caregiver responses to children. It is rooted in the fear of abandonment and dependence on unreliable caregivers as a child. When a child becomes unsure if their caregivers will be emotionally present in certain situations, it leads to feelings of anxiety as they start to adapt to these inconsistencies. The child begins to slowly lose trust in their caregivers’ ability to support them emotionally and mentally, but they still need them. It is normal for humans to crave attention, approval, and support; no one likes being left out or neglected. Humans want to feel secure, appreciated, loved, and valued. However, if the fear of these needs not being met becomes too strong, individuals may be left feeling insecure, which would affect their relationships with others.
WHAT CAUSES ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT?
As earlier discussed, anxious attachment involves the feeling of insecurity and the fear of abandonment or neglect, and these emotions can be caused by but are not limited to the following:
- Inconsistencies in parenting and caregiving: One of the key ingredients of anxious attachment is poor parenting and inconsistencies in caregiving during childhood. It would seem, in some cases, that a caregiver may be supportive on some days and equally unsupportive on other days as well. This makes the child confused by this inconsistency, and they do not understand the reason for the changes from one extreme to the other. This leads to feelings of distrust among the children toward their caregivers.
- Emotional distancing from caregivers: When an emotional distance is created between the child and caregiver, the child becomes anxious and insecure. This would lead them to feel the need to be constantly reassured of where they stand in people’s lives to relieve the discomfort of not knowing.
- Anxious caregivers: Children absorb most of what they know from what is available in their environment and what is taught to them. An anxious caregiver would indirectly teach a child that anxious behaviors are acceptable and normal.
- Unpredictable behavior from one’s partner: When an individual’s partner begins to act differently, it could be hard to understand the reasons for such behavior. Jumping to conclusions would be the next step, and this would skyrocket one’s anxieties, which would most likely steer them in the wrong direction. Rather than addressing the situation, individuals may try to force the relationship to work no matter what, even to their detriment.
Anxious attachment is likely the result of a couple of factors interacting with each other. Other causes of anxious attachment include a history of traumatic events, feeling underappreciated, unresponsiveness, and so on.
ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT TRIGGERS
Misattuned and inconsistent parenting is the foundation of most anxious attachment styles. Those with anxious attachment have a heightened feeling of insecurity and fear of potential threats and disturbances in their relationships. It is vital to pinpoint and understand triggers that may activate these feelings of fear and insecurity to help cultivate healthier attachments and relationship dynamics. Some anxious attachment triggers include
- Uncertainty: Ambiguity in a relationship can be quite challenging for individuals struggling with anxious attachment. Uncertainty about another person’s intentions or commitment can trigger feelings of anxiety. This could lead to constant questioning, seeking reassurance, or trying to retain a sense of security by clinging to a relationship.
- Past Trauma: Anxious attachment can be greatly influenced by an individual’s past experiences, and these experiences would shape how an individual would perceive certain situations, making an individual susceptible to triggers in tandem with their early attachment experiences. These triggers may be activated when situations remind them of past traumatic or neglectful interactions.
- Negative Beliefs: Anxious attachment is usually associated with negative beliefs, such as feeling unlovable or undeserving of love or care. These negative perspectives and perceptions can lead to heightened anxiety and fuel the fear of rejection and abandonment.
WHAT IS AN ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT STYLE?
With inconsistencies, uncertainty, or ambiguity in a caregiver’s dealings with a child, an anxious attachment would develop. Anxious attachment styles are part of insecure attachment styles that also include avoidant attachment and disorganized attachment. Anxious attachment style is also called anxious-preoccupied style or preoccupied style. An anxiously attached individual would have uncertainty about themselves and others. They do not know if people want to be close to them, and they think they are not lovable. Individuals with an anxious attachment would crave reassurance and validation frequently to alleviate their fears of rejection or abandonment.
ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT STYLE SYMPTOMS
Adults with anxious attachment disorder may suffer from low self-esteem. They are often sensitive and attuned to their companion’s needs but feel anxious about their worth in a relationship. If their loved ones become unresponsive or change behavior, they may label themselves responsible for these disruptions in their relationships. Adults with anxious attachments may grow jealous or suspicious of their partners. Their fears would often lead to desperation and make them preoccupied and clingy to their relationships. Some anxious attachment symptoms include:
- Difficulty trusting people: Trusting people is a very hard task for people struggling with anxious attachment. They are constantly in doubt about their position in people’s lives, so they crave reassurance, and the cycle of mistrust continues.
- Seeking reassurance: Seeking constant reassurance is a part of anxious attachment. This may result from frequent questioning, seeking verbal or physical expressions of affection, or seeking constant affirmation of commitment.
- Clinginess: The need for closeness becomes a top priority for anxiously attached individuals. In a bid to maintain proximity and emotional connections with their partners, they may exhibit clingy behavior and have difficulties being alone.
- Emotional Disruptions: Individuals who are anxiously attached find it difficult to get off their emotional roller coasters. They experience intense emotions and mood swings, which are often triggered by perceived threats of abandonment or neglect.
HOW TO HEAL ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT?
Regardless of the situation of anxiously attached individuals, a step in the right direction can make a positive difference. With enough support and commitment, it is possible to switch from an anxious attachment style to a healthy and secure attachment style. Some effective methods for healing anxious attachment are listed below:
- Awareness of your anxious attachment: Understanding your behavior and triggers is the first step to breaking anxious attachment patterns. Every change begins with self-reflection and understanding one’s inner self. With appropriate and adequate knowledge of anxious attachment, you can then recognize how it is affecting your life and tackle it properly.
- Improving communication skills: Rather than relishing uncertainty, if you can clearly state your thoughts and feelings to your loved ones, you stand a better chance of success in your relationships with them.
- Seek help from a trusted individual. Overcoming anxious attachment requires work—work that would usually call for help. Reaching out to a family member or a friend you trust can be a good place to start.
- Therapy: It is not uncommon to have an anxious attachment style, and recovery is not impossible. Therapy provides an opportunity to build a relationship with your therapist and pave the path to healing. Therapy for anxiously attached people usually involves CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). Individuals can learn how to address challenging emotions and lay the foundation for a healthier attachment.
Understanding attachment styles, particularly anxious attachment, provides more information about the reasons for certain behaviors and how they affect the people you interact with. While anxious attachment may prove difficult, it is possible to create a healthier attachment style through communication, professional help, self-reflection, and self-care. Developing a healthier attachment style helps individuals build secure and fulfilling relationships and this improves their overall quality of life.