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Published on January 9, 2019

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.

Why It’s Okay to Hit the Wall and How to Overcome It Fast How to Beat Your Fear of Rejection and Embrace Failures How to Deal with Insecurity and Jealousy in Relationships What Is a Relationship Timeline and Should You Follow It? Dealing With Anxious Attachment: Advice from a Relationship Therapist

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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