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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

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 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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