Imagine this scenario:
You’re in a disagreement with your partner and things are getting heated. In the middle of the fight, your partner says, “Fine! I’m leaving and going to a friend’s house. I can’t deal with you right now.”
How do you feel?
If you answered shaky, nervous, abandoned, panicky, or inconsolable, you might be anxiously attached.
Attachment styles are the framework of how we relate to being close to and dependent on someone. Usually, we learn how to attach to our loved ones from our primary caregivers when we were children. Our attachment style is also related to how we regulate our nervous system when we are in relationship.
Today we’re going to focus on one style, Anxious Attachment. In PACT we call this style Waves. Caregivers who are inconsistent with their affection and availability tend to raise children who are anxious about their attachment. As a child, you had no way of determining whether you would find a loving, affectionate parent or a disinterested, cold parent from day-to-day, even minute-to-minute. You desired the safety of knowing that you’d be cared for consistently, but that safety never came and it left you feeling confused, clingy, and alone.
Sometimes it is hard to know if this happened in your childhood because generally your parents took care of you. It’s just that their care was inconsistent. They might have been really busy, or they might have had a “take care of yourself” kind of attitude.
As an anxiously attached adult, you still feel the anxiety of never knowing whether your relationships are secure, and the pain of being rejected by your parent. You still feel clingy and desperate for love, seeking in your romantic partner the consistent love that you never received — a “rescuer” who will “complete” you.
Ask yourself these questions, and see if they describe some of your previous or current relationships:
Do you fear abandonment?
When you fall in love and start to depend on someone deeply, do you get clingy and need a ton of reassurance that you won’t be abandoned and rejected, even when your partner is assuring you it won’t?
That’s likely because the inconsistency of your caregiver’s attachment made you vigilant for any sign that you’re going to be dropped, so you’re constantly thinking you might be rejected again.
Fear of abandonment might happen during major events, like when your partner leaves on a business trip or takes space during a fight, or it can happen during small events, like your partner goes to work, or even just to the store. Anxious attachers will go to great lengths to get their loved one to stay with them: anger, begging, pleading, even blocking the door or breaking down in sobbing tears. Often, the pain of being abandoned is out of proportion to the event that is taking place.
Anxious attachers usually have difficulty with separations and reunifications — you might even start a fight when you are reunited with your partner after a long absence because the stress of the anxiety made you feel so resentful.
Are you self-critical and insecure?
If anything goes awry, like your partner leaves the house or can’t assuage your feelings the way that you need, do you tend to blame yourself first, just like when you were a child?
Because your child-self didn’t understand why your parent was aloof and cold, you most likely began to think that you did something wrong to cause the inconsistency. Anxious attachers are often insecure and self-critical, giving great weight to their partner’s opinions and relying on their partner’s approval and reassurance to help regulate their anxiety.
Are you the pursuer in the relationship?
Are you always the one to make the first phone call or text? Do you get panicky if the other person doesn’t reply right away so you text again, or call three or four times in a row? Do you find yourself apologizing first, even if it wasn’t your fault?
Pursuer behavior is a byproduct of anxious attachers’ fear of abandonment, and a preemptive way of avoiding rejection. Anxious attachers are preoccupied with the state of their relationship, and will do almost anything to get back to a relative feeling of security. However, sometimes this behavior backfires, as the pursuer may escalate to crossing boundaries, extreme insecurity, and pushing which, ultimately, pushes the other person away.
What can you do about it?
Anxious attachment can be painful and difficult to manage, but there are ways that you can help yourself, and ways your partner can help you that will make your relationship run much more smoothly.
If you’re still not sure about your attachment style, I recommend you take this short test to find out more.