Our attachment style affects everything from our choice of partner to our behavior within relationships. Anxious attachment style is just one attachment style but research suggests it is a particularly damaging one.
Before we go on, let’s have a quick recap of Attachment Theory. Psychologist John Bowlby coined the term Attachment Theory and used it to explain that children need to bond with a primary caregiver. If this caregiver does not respond in a nurturing way we form certain kinds of attachments.Anxious attachment style is one of these attachment styles.
There are four Attachment Styles:
1. Secure Attachment
The primary caregiver is completely attuned to the infant’s needs and responds accordingly and on time. The child feels confident enough to use the adult as a secure base to explore their surroundings.
2. Avoidant Attachment
In the avoidant attachment case, the primary caregiver is emotionally unavailable and not sensitive to the infant’s needs. They do not respond when the infant is distressed. The infant learns to self-soothe and takes care of themselves.
3. Ambivalent/Anxious Attachment
This caregiver is inconsistent with their responses. Sometimes they are nurturing and at other times they are insensitive. Therefore the infant grows up confused, not knowing what response they are going to get. They need attention from their parents but because they are so unpredictable they do not trust them.
4. Disorganized Attachment
This is the worst attachment type and occurs when an infant is abused by their caregiver. The child desperately needs love and affection but the very person they need it from is their abuser. In these cases, the child typically disassociates from themselves in order to survive.
As children form certain attachment styles, so do adults.
Attachment Styles in Adults:
Adults with a secure attachment style will feel comfortable with intimacy. They will not be preoccupied with rejection and will be equally happy depending on their partner as well as having their partner depend on them.
This person will feel uncomfortable when their partner gets too close. They won’t like intimacy, they will not want their partner to depend on them and they’ll value their freedom.
People with an anxious attachment will crave intimacy and closeness. They will want to get close to their partners and will typically feel very insecure about their relationship.
Anxious and Avoidant
This person has intimacy problems and yet worries about their partner’s commitment to them. They find it difficult to get close to other people because they worry about being hurt if they do.
What are the Signs of Anxious Attachment Style?
Adults with an anxious attachment style typically view their life in a negative way. They experience more negative emotions, they think more negative thoughts and they react in a more negative way. Naturally, this has a knock-on effect on their relationships.
They are more likely to dismiss positive experiences, instead, they will focus on what has gone wrong in their lives. This colors every aspect of their life. As a result, they are more likely to suffer from depression, lower self-esteem, have less confidence, and experience lower life satisfaction.
So what are the signs of an anxious attachment style when it comes to relationships?
- Needs constant reassurance that they are loved.
- Feels insecure within the relationship.
- Is always worried that they are going to be rejected.
- Constantly preoccupied with the relationship.
- Thinks their partner is going to abandon them.
- Displays clingy behavior like constant PDAs.
- Very needy and childlike in their affections.
- Has very poor personal boundaries.
- Spends a lot of time worrying about what the other person wants.
- Cannot understand why their partner might need personal space.
- Is always bringing up past family issues of rejection.
- Moody and stroppy, highly emotional, often storms out and has tantrums.
- Takes offense at the slightest little thing and blows it out of proportion.
- Takes the partner’s behavior too personally.
- Communicates through arguing or conflict, will wind their partner up.
- Always blames others, takes no responsibility.
- If they do not get the love they need they are more likely to be unfaithful to their partner.
- They’ll quickly change from feeling strongly in love to craving independence.
How does an anxious attachment style damage your relationship?
Those with an anxious attachment style are clingy and constantly worried about their partner. They want to spend 24 hours a day with their partner. It won’t be unusual for them to check up on their partners. They’ll worry about rejection, get jealous of potential rivals and go over the top to please their partner.
Their over-riding concern is abandonment by cheating. As a result, they are always on the lookout for signs of infidelity. When a person suffering from an anxious attachment style spots a sign of rejection they change their behaviour in order to save the relationship. This is called ‘mate retention behavior’ and differs between the genders.
Male mate retention behavior includes:
- Obvious shows of possession
- Constant observance
- Punishing a partner’s infidelity threat
- Monopolizing time
- Inducing jealousy
- Emotional and commitment manipulation
- Derogatory actions
- Violence against rivals
- Submission and debasement
Women’s mate retention behavior includes:
- Enhancing appearance
- Over-the-top displays of affection
- Overtly sexual behavior
- Caring behaviors
How to overcome anxious attachment style issues in relationships
Understand that your partner may have a different attachment style to you. This attachment style would have originated in childhood and has nothing to do with your relationship.
People with a high anxious attachment style will need constant reassurance and love. They will value trust and commitment from their partner.
Finally, it’s a good idea for the partner with an anxious attachment style to work on their self-esteem and confidence. They need to learn how to be more independent. If they cannot do this themselves then they could consider therapy to get to the bottom of their childhood issues.