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Dealing With Anxious Attachment: Advice from a Relationship Therapist

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.

Featured photo credit: John Schnobrich via unsplash.com

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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 July 8, 2020

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you realize you aren’t really happy about this, wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while but I learned the art of saying no. Saying ‘no’ meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. I started to manage my time more around my own needs and interests. When that happened, I became a lot happier. And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying ‘no,’ you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey considered one of the most successful women in the world confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything. It was only when she realized that after years of struggling with saying no, I finally got to this question: “What do I want?”

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

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Warren Buffett views no as essential to his success. He said,

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made ‘no’ a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say ‘no.’

From an early age, we are conditioned to say ‘yes.’ We said yes probably hundreds of time in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work. We said yes get a promotion. We said yes to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because it feels better to help someone. We say yes because it can seem like the right thing to do. We say yes because we think that is key to success. And we say yes because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist like the boss.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we feel guilty we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message no matter where we turn is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

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How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Deciding to add the word ‘no’ to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say ‘no’ but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of ‘no’ that you could finally create more time for things you care about. But let’s be honest, using the word ‘no’ doesn’t come easily for many people.

The 3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time especially you haven’t done it much in the past will feel awkward.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

Remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it, who else knows about all of the demands on your time? No one. Only you are at the center of all of these requests. are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying ‘No’ Means Saying ‘Yes’ to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word ‘no’ into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying ‘no’ is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because FOMO even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

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Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better.

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say ‘No’

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say ‘yes’ because we worry about how others will respond or the consequences of saying no or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose respect from others. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying ‘no’ can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way. You might disappoint someone initially but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to.

4. When the Request Comes In, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time, or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say ‘no.’ There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your ‘No’ with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

A clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

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6. Consider How to Use a Modified ‘No’

If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” giving you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

Final Thoughts

Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

Use the request as a fresh request to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself. If you are the one placing the demand on yourself, try to evaluate the demand as if it were coming from somewhere else.

Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project but not by working all weekend. Or, tell someone in your family you can’t loan them money again because they never paid you back the last time. You’ll find yourself much happier.

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Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

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