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Dealing With Anxious Attachment: Advice from a Relationship Therapist

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Dealing With Anxious Attachment: Advice from a Relationship Therapist

People always say, “Relationships are difficult.” To which I reply, “No they aren’t.”

Most people would think I’m crazy to think that relationships aren’t difficult. But you know why I say that? Because relationships aren’t inherently difficult. It’s the people in the relationships that make them difficult.

For example, a few years ago, I had an awesome first date with a guy. It was shocking to me that I actually found someone I liked so much, and he felt the same way. On his way home from the date, he called me and said, “I’m really nervous about this. It seems too perfect. I’m really scared that something is going to get screwed up.”

I thought he was crazy! And I told him the same thing I just told you, “It’s the people that screw up relationships. So as long as we stay connected and communicate about everything, then we’ll be fine!”

Well, needless to say, about two months later, he ghosted me. It was kind of strange given that this man was so crazy “in love” and was worried about our relationship ending. His behavior seemed inconsistent with his words.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that had attachment issues.

You may or may not know what it means to have “attachment issues.” Basically, it all starts in our childhood. How our caregivers interacted – or didn’t interact with us – contributes to how we attach ourselves to people later in our lives.

Different Attachment Styles

Research has identified several different attachment styles that people tend to have. So, let’s take a brief look at some of them:

  1. Secure Attachment: These people have no problem getting emotionally intimate with others. They don’t fear abandonment, and generally, they are very secure with themselves and their relationships.
  2. Avoidant Attachment: People with this style tend to avoid attaching to others. Perhaps they don’t do it in the beginning, but as time goes on, they distance themselves so they can avoid becoming attached – and ultimately, hurt. This is the type that guy I wrote about above had.
  3. Anxious Attachment: Individuals who have an anxious attachment style are just that – anxious. They are anxious about everything and anything within the relationships, and themselves.

As you might guess, the people who have secure attachment styles tend to have better relationships – especially if both people are the secure types.

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However, for the avoiders and the anxious attachers, relationships look much different. Their behaviors that manifest in relationships can cause quite a range of problems. And lack of self-awareness on top of that can really be a recipe for disaster if they’re not kept in check.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the anxious attachment style, so let’s dive in to some of the characteristics.

Characteristics of People with Anxious Attachment

Being anxious about anything in life is not fun. We’ve all experienced some sort of anxiety from time to time, but people with anxious attachment styles experience it on a much more consistent basis. Here are some of the things they deal with on a regular basis.

1. Fear of Abandonment

No one wants to feel like a person abandoned them. It just doesn’t feel good, right? But people with the anxious attachment style tend to always feel like people will leave them.

If you or someone you know goes around thinking and/or saying “You’re going to leave me! I know you’re going to leave me!” Then, that is a huge indication that you have a fear of abandonment.

2. Constantly Seeking Attention

Because these people fear abandonment, they feel the need to get and keep attention from other people. They think that if they keep themselves “in front” of the people who might abandon them, then they won’t be able to forget about them – and ultimately leave them.

Attention-seeking behaviors can come in many forms. For some, it can be constantly texting or calling another person. It could be constant selfies on social media. Or it could even be some self-destructive behaviors.

3. Seeking Care from Others

Someone with an anxious attachment style could become a hypochondriac or perhaps even engage in self-destructive or self-harming behaviors. If others notice that they are sick or need taken care of, then it makes the anxious attachment style person feel better.

You see, if others are constantly needing to care for you, then they won’t leave you. Right? At least that’s how they process it.

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4. Jealousy

Many people with this style of attachment are also very insecure with themselves. They might constantly look in the mirror and feel like they are not “good enough” and don’t measure up to other people.

Obviously, jealousy can manifest in any romantic relationship – actually it’s pretty common. But jealousy can go beyond fearing that your partner is going to leave you for someone else. These people could be jealous of their friends’ friends. They might fear that they are “better” than them. Or it could even manifest within families, such as jealous of your siblings.

5. Worrying a Lot and Overanalyzing Everything

Let’s say that a person with anxious attachment style goes out on a first date. Even if the date goes well, they might start worrying about whether the person really liked them or if they were just faking it. They might call their friends and start over-analyzing every little detail.

They can also “make up” things in their minds that play into their fears. They look at every little teensy tiny behavior of the other person. They might think everything means that they are losing interest – or perhaps already lost interest.

6. People-pleasing

Although there are many selfish people in the world, many of us want to please others in one form or another. And that’s great. It’s wonderful to make your loved ones feel happy. However, anxious attachers take it to a whole new level.

They are likely to sacrifice their own needs, values, and boundaries in order to make the person they are attached to feel good. They think that if they are constantly making the other person happy, then they won’t leave them. But that isn’t always the case.

7. Fear of Rejection

No one likes to be rejected. However, some of us take it a bit easier than others. Many people can think things such as, “Okay, if you don’t like me, then no problem. I’ll go find someone who does.” But that’s not how people with anxious attachment think.

Instead, they have an overwhelming fear of rejection. That is probably why they turn into such people-pleasers and worry about everything so much. They think the more they do, and the better they are, the less likely people will reject them.

8. Fear of Infidelity

Just like being rejected, no one likes if their romantic partner cheats on them. And while infidelity isn’t necessarily uncommon, people with this attachment style have an exaggerated fear of having their partner be unfaithful to them.

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Because they think they are not good enough, they may pour a lot of their time and energy into a preoccupation with their looks. They want to make sure they are “more” attractive than other people so that their partner won’t be tempted to cheat.

9. Controlling

Because of all these fears that anxious attachers have, they can come across as controlling sometimes. It may or may not be their intention, but when someone is so insecure about themselves and in a constant state of worry about whether people will leave them, then their behavior can appear controlling.

Even if they ask their partner to give them a “good morning” and “good night” text every night (because it makes them feel more secure), their partner might perceive this need of theirs as controlling because they not letting their partner freely be themselves.

10. Aggressive

Even though the feeling of a person with the anxious attachment style seems like they would be clingy and needy, sometimes they can be aggressive too.

If they feel threatened or fearful, then their behavior may turn to aggression. This probably happens more often in men than women, but that’s not always true. Women can certainly turn aggressive if they feel uncomfortable.

How to Overcome Problem Behaviors in a Relationship

Now that we know some of the main characteristics of a person with the anxious attachment style, let’s look at some things that can be done to help overcome some of these problem behaviors.

1. Self-reflection

Many people do not have a lot of self-awareness. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Dr. Phil where people watch their behavior when they had cameras in their house, you know what I’m talking about.

But change always starts with self-reflection. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Even if it takes other people helping this person see themselves the way other do, then that might be what it takes.

2. Communication

Most of us have never had a class in school about how to communicate with other people effectively. And “communication” can mean “yelling, screaming, and name-calling.” But obviously, that’s not effective.

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You and the people in your life need to talk about how the anxious behavior is affecting them and the overall relationship in a negative way. The talk should be non-defensive and non-critical. Focus on finding solutions as a team.

This article can give you some tips:

How to Improve Communication in Relationships and Increase Intimacy

3. Keep a Journal

When I say “journal,” I don’t mean a “Dear Diary” like a 12 year old girl would do. I am speaking more to a feelings or emotions journal.

Write down the events or actions of other people that make you feel anxious or fearful. Many times, all it takes is seeing it written down on paper to be a little more objective about it. You might even want to share this journal with your loved ones to help you communicate your needs better.

4. See a Therapist

Most of the time, people just can’t heal on their own. And the people in their life probably aren’t qualified to help them much either. So then, it’s important to seek out a therapist if you can afford it.

Seeing a therapist or psychologist is a sign of strength. It shows that you want to become a better person and improve yourself and your relationships. After a while, you will be able to control your anxiety a lot better than you currently do.

The Takeaway

Attachment styles are complex because they are developed in childhood. If someone had parents who weren’t very attentive to their needs and/or were absent, then it is likely that someone would develop an anxious attachment style later in life.

That is why it is important to do self-reflection, and ultimately, see a professional who can help you sort through all the years of emotions that have built up during your life. Once you do, you will be much happier – and emotionally healthier.

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Featured photo credit: John Schnobrich via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on January 24, 2022

21 Best Tips On Making A Long Distance Relationship Work

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21 Best Tips On Making A Long Distance Relationship Work

Having texting and video conferencing at our fingertips, it appears that maintaining a long-distance relationship is easier than ever. Long-distance calls are no longer a luxury; the days when they needed to be rationed are long gone.

Long-distance couples do not have to depend on 3 p.m. postal delivery, waiting for news that is at best four days old.

Now we’re no longer even in the days of waiting for our loved ones to check their e-mail when they get home from work. Instant messaging keeps us hooked to each other even when we are out shopping, working, playing, watching a movie and doing much more.

Technology, however, cannot compensate for everything in a long-distance relationship, as anyone with a long-distance relationship will tell you.

Many long-distance relationships still seem emotionally difficult despite the lack of regular physical proximity.

People often think long-distance relationships will never work. It may be discouraged by your family, and some of your best friends may tell you not to take it too seriously in case you end up heartbroken.

Many things are not possible due to the extra distance – no one can promise it will be easy. Things could get complicated, and you might feel lonely and sad at times.

Still, many of us try them.

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However, the extra distance also makes the simplest things the sweetest. Being able to hold the other person’s hand, eating together at the same table, feeling each other’s touch, taking a walk together, smelling each other’s hair… these small wishes could suddenly mean so much more in a long-distance relationship.

Long-distance relationships may be tough, but they have their own surprises too.

Here’re 21 tips on how to make a long distance relationship work:

1. Avoid excessive communication.

It is unwise to be overly “sticky” and possessive. You two don’t really have to communicate 12 hours a day to keep the relationship going. Many couples think that they need to compensate for the distance by doing more. This is not true. And it might only make things worse. Soon you would get tired of “loving.”

Remember: Less is more. It is not about spamming — you are only going to exhaust yourselves. It’s really about teasing at the right moments and tugging at the right spots.

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2. See it as an opportunity.

“If you want to live together, you first need to learn how to live apart.” – Anonymous

View it as a learning journey for both of you. This is an opportunity for you to prove your love for one another. According to a Chinese proverb, “Real gold is not afraid of the test of fire.” Instead of thinking that this long-distance relationship is pulling you two apart, you should believe that through this experience, the both of you will be bound together even stronger.

As Emma says it to Will in season four of Glee,

“I would rather be here, far from you, but feeling really close, rather than close to you but feeling really far away.” – Emma, Glee Season 4

3. Set some ground rules to manage your expectations.

Both of you need to be clear with what you expect of each other during this long-distance relationship. Set some ground rules so that none of you will do things that will take the other party by surprise.

For instance, are you two exclusive? Is it all right for the other person to go on dates? What is your commitment level? It’s better to be open with each other about all these things.

4. Try to communicate regularly, and creatively.

Greet each other “good morning” and “good night” every day — this is a must. On top of that, try to update your partner on your life and its happenings, however mundane some of the things may seem.

To up the game, send each other pictures, audio clips, and short videos from time to time. By putting in this kind of effort, you make the other person feel loved and attended to.

5. Talk dirty with each other.

Sexual tension is undoubtedly one of the most important things between couples. In a way, sexual desire is like the glue that keeps both parties from drifting apart. Sexual need is not only biological but also emotional.

Keep the flames burning by sending each other teasing texts filled with sexual innuendos and provocative descriptions. Sexy puns work pretty well too.

6. Avoid “dangerous” situations.

If you already know that going to the club or going drinking with your group of friends late at night will displease your partner, then you should either 1. Not do it or 2. Tell your partner beforehand to reassure them.

You should not let this sort of thing slip by because it will only make your partner extra worried or suspicious – and of course, very upset because they will feel powerless or lack control over the situation.

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You can fall victim to your traps by going out with eye candy from work after work or dating someone from your past who has been flirting with you without realizing it. Before entering a dangerous situation, you need to recognize the dangers.

Listen to your heart, but don’t just rely on it. Make sure you also listen to your mind.

7. Do things together.

Play a game online together. Watch a documentary at the same time on YouTube or Vimeo. Share a song on Skype while another plays the guitar. Video-call each other and go for a walk together. Together, go online shopping – and buy each other gifts (see #13).

You really have to be creative and spontaneous about it.

8. Do similar things.

Recommend books, TV shows, movies, music, news and etc., to each other. When you read, watch and listen to the same things, you get to have more topics in common to talk about.

Even if you live apart, it’s nice to have some shared experiences.

9. Make visits to each other.

Every long-distance relationship is enriched by visits.

After all the waiting and yearning and abstinence, you finally get to meet each other to fulfil all the little things like kissing, holding hands, etc. These are typical for couples in long-distance relationships but more special and intimate for long-distance couples.

The atmosphere will be filled with fireworks, glitter bombs, confetti, rainbows, and butterflies.

10. Have a goal in mind.

Are we going to be apart for a long time?” “what about the future?” These are the questions you should ask yourselves.

In fact, a couple cannot stay in a long-distance relationship forever. Eventually, we all need to settle down.

So make a plan with each other. Set up a timeline, mark down the estimated times apart and times together, and draw an end goal.

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It is important that you two are on the same page and have the same goals. So that even if you are not living in the same space and the same timezone, both of you are still motivated to work together in the same direction towards a future that includes one another.

That’s right, you need some motivation to make a relationship last too. Find out more about what motivates you here.

11. Enjoy your alone time and your time with your friends and family.

You are alone, but you are not lonely unless you choose to feel like it. You don’t have to let your world revolve around your partner — you still have you, your friends, and your family. Take this time apart to do more with your friends and family. Go to the gym more often. Get a new hobby. Binge-watch shows. There are plenty of things for you to do that don’t involve your partner.

12. Stay honest with each other.

Talk about your feelings of fear, insecurity, jealousy, apathy, whatsoever. If you try to hide anything from your partner, that secret will sooner or later swallow you up from the inside out. Don’t try to deal with things all by yourself. Be open and honest with each other. Let your partner help you and give you the support you need. It’s better to look at the problem during its initial stage than to only disclose it when it’s all too late.

13. Know each other’s schedules.

It’s helpful to know when the other person is busy and free. So that you can drop a text or make a call at the right time. You wouldn’t want to disturb your partner when they are in the middle of class or halfway through a business meeting. Make sure you are aware of everyone’s small and big events in their lives, i.e., college midterms and exams, important business trips and meetings, job interviews, etc. Particularly if you live in different time zones, this becomes more important.

14. Keep track of each other’s social media activities.

Facebook and Instagram photos of each other. Send each other tweets. Tag each other on Facebook. Post stuff on each other’s wall. Let them know you care. Be cool with stalking each other.

15. Gift a personal object for the other person to hold on to.

Memories have power. No matter what it is–a pendant, a ring, a keychain, a collection of songs and videos, or a perfume bottle. Everyday items and things have meanings to us, whether we realize it or not. We all try to store memories in material things so that when our minds fail, we will still be able to look at or hold onto something that will help us recall our memories. This is why something so simple can mean so much to a person when others may see little or no value in it.

16. Get a good messaging app.

This is extremely important because texting is the most frequent and common way of communication the two of you have. You need a good messaging app on your phones that allows interactions beyond words and emoticons.

Personally, I use this messaging app called LINE. I find it highly effective because it has a huge reserve of playful and very funny “stickers” that are free for its users to use. You can also go to the app’s “Sticker Shop” to download (or gift!) extra stickers of different themes (e.g., Hello Kitty, Pokemon, Snoopy, MARVEL, etc.) at a low price. Occasionally, the app will give out free sticker sets for promotions. This messaging app is cute and easy to learn to use.

17. Snail-mail your gift.

Mail each other postcards and hand-written love letters. Send each other gifts across the globe from time to time. Flower deliveries on birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day. Shop online and surprise each other with cool T-shirts, sexy underwear, and such.

18. Stay positive.

You need to constantly inject positive energy into the long-distance relationship to keep it alive. Yes, the waiting can be painful, and you can sometimes feel lonely, but you need to remind yourself that the fruits at the end will be sweet as heaven.

One good trick to staying positive is to be grateful all the time. Be thankful that you have someone to love — someone who also loves you back. Be thankful for the little things, like the hand-made letter that arrived safely in your mailbox the other day. Be thankful for each other’s health and safety.

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19. Keep each other updated on each other’s friends and family.

This will help you two to know each other’s culture and values. Knowing small habits of each other helps in developing an understanding and building mutual trust.

Talking about family and friends gives you more matters to talk about. The best thing to talk about is gossip and scandals.

20. Video-call whenever possible.

Because sometimes looking into each other’s eyes and hearing each other’s voices can make everything feel alright again.

A video call is though nothing like being together, but it’s the best thing and the most to do for coziness in a long-distance relationship.

21. Give each other pet names.

Because it’s cute. It keeps the lovey-dovey going. Having special names for each other reserved only for one another are heart-warming. Hearing that one word with love lifts our spirits up, and we feel assured all over again.

Chaos seems to fade away just by hearing that special word from someone special.

With the best wishes…

Love (or like) is a force that is beyond your control. Love just happens. The same goes for turning off those feelings, even when you get the perfect job halfway across the country.

Neither one of us expects to be long-distance in a relationship. But if you’re in a relationship like this, you’ll just have to make the most out of a difficult situation. These advice for long distance relationships will hopefully help you stay strong and cheerful when living apart from one another.

More Recommended Relationships Experts on Lifehack
  • Carol Morgan —  A communication professor, dating/relationship and success coach
  • Dr. Magdalena Battles — A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault
  • Randy Skilton —  An educator in the areas of relationships and self-help

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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