Knowing your attachment style can be incredibly helpful in any relationship, but especially in your romantic ones. Attachment styles are how we learn to relate to the people we care about, formed by how our parents/caregivers treated our emotional and physical well-being when we were young. Anxious attachment is just one of those styles.
If you have an anxious attachment style, you probably learned from aloof or often absent caregivers that to get love, you need to be constantly vigilant, control your environment, and keep others very close to you. When your loved ones leave or need space, you have a strong anxiety reaction and feel abandoned. You tend to take things personally and blame yourself if things go sour.
Having an anxious attachment style can be difficult as you’re usually the one reaching out to repair and keep the attachment intact. You might feel ashamed for wanting love so badly, and that your emotions are so big. It’s quite common to feel this way, but it can be frustrating.
Here are some great tips that I’ve used with clients that might help you attach a little more securely, and alleviate some of your anxiety:
1. Learn how you use other people to regulate your emotions.
If you have an anxious attachment style, you likely struggle with big emotions and anxiety, but don’t have many tools to help yourself feel better besides talking with other people. If you’re in a romantic relationship, you likely expect your partner to be on the receiving end of these talks because a) your anxiety is largely about them, and b) they’re close by, trusted, and care about you.
One very important way that you can help yourself is to start distinguishing between wanting to connect and wanting to regulate.
Ask yourself a few questions before you reach out to your partner or another trusted friend to talk. What are you feeling in this moment? Are you feeling insecure, shaky, or overwhelmed with anxiety or feeling? Or are you feeling calm, curious, and non-defensive?
If you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed with the need to talk to feel better, you’re probably trying to regulate your emotions with someone else, rather than reaching out to connect. Try asking yourself, “Who is the best person to talk to for this?” This could be a friend or a relative, or even your partner. However, be careful to not rely only on your partner to help you regulate and calm down.
It can also be very helpful to see a therapist who can help you find better self-regulation strategies and self-reliance.
2. Notice how much you talk at someone versus connect with them.
When you feel anxious, part of your coping strategy is to regulate by talking to other people, as mentioned above. But sometimes that doesn’t look like a conversation — it’s more of a venting session where you word-vomit your anxiety onto someone else. Did you check to see if that person is ready to listen to you? Do they have the time or energy to support you?
You may feel slightly better afterwards, as you got to let some worry out, but did you give the person in front of you space to respond?
When you vent at someone, you miss the connection and security that comes from being in a mutually satisfying relationship. The person you vent to often feels like their feelings don’t matter as much as yours, and they don’t really get to show up and be themselves in a conversation with you.
If you’re feeling particularly anxious, ask your friend or partner if you can vent for a specific amount of time, and be sure to stick to it (set a timer if necessary). Then, be sure to reciprocate. Ask questions about them, be curious about their life and struggles, too, and listen without turning the conversation back to your problems.
If it’s difficult for you to reciprocate listening, it’s likely you’re too overwhelmed with your own feelings to offer space to others, yet — that’s okay. Find a therapist for yourself so you can process some of your feelings safely.
3. Work on your disappointment from the past.
Those with an anxious attachment style become anxious because one or both of their parents were inattentive to basic emotional and/or physical needs. We humans bring the lessons we learned in the past into the present, to try and avoid that pain in our current relationships.
But sometimes, those lessons and tactics that were helpful when you were little are not helpful anymore. You may try ineffectively to keep yourself safe by controlling or worrying about outcomes, and directly affect your partner.
Check in with yourself about how your past has affected you, and what lessons you can let go of that aren’t helpful for you anymore.
4. Recognize when someone is securely attached and what they do.
If you have an anxious attachment style, you’re likely drawn to avoidant attachers, as you each remind the other of a familiar (and often dysfunctional) home environment. It’s especially important that you’re aware of what is and isn’t secure attachment when you choose new partners.
What helps you feel secure in a relationship? Be sure to create good boundaries around those things. For example, do you need daily communication? Do you need to have a lot of cuddles? When you get in a fight and your partner needs space, do you need to hear a definitive time when your partner will reengage?
It’s okay to ask for what you need, and to be open and honest about wanting security. Begin to recognize what secure relationships look like and what practices create those secure relationships.
5. Let go of relationships when your needs for security are not being met.
One large part of having an anxious attachment style is the fear of abandonment. The thought of your partner leaving is untenable and terrifying, so even if your needs and boundaries are being ignored, you may stay in the relationship and try to fix things over and over because you think nothing else is around the corner.
The fear of being alone can be excruciating for those with an anxious attachment style, as partnership (however difficult) still provides some relief from anxiety. But partnering with someone who doesn’t respect your needs and boundaries can make your anxiety worse. It will take bravery, but being alone can be easier and more relaxing than continuing to throw yourself under the bus. Let go of relationships that are not working for you, and you can soon be in a secure relationship with a partner who is a real fit for you.