Anxious Attachment

Anxious Attachment
Written By: Counselling Psychologist
M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 25-03-2023

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The way we were emotionally attached to our parents during childhood influences how we get attached to our romantic partners in the future. How you interacted with the caregiver in early life stages generates working models of yourself and your significant other. This working model directs behaviors and perceptions of what relationships should be like (Bowlby, 1973). Bowlby introduced 4 attachment styles- secure, anxious, avoidant (dismissive), and disorganized (fearful).

Insecure attachment is when the availability of the caregiver is uncertain. Anxious attachment happens when the infant does not receive consistent attention and care and gradually becomes unsure that their caregiver will be present during times of need (Ainsworth et al., 1978).

It is worth noting that having insecure attachment styles is not seen as a mental illness or disorder. In many cases, it is not something to worry about. However, having insecure attachments can cause psychological issues and disturb your relationships. Individuals with anxious attachment have increased awareness about their emotions, but they struggle to identify (label) and manage their feelings and impulses (Stevens, 2014). People with a history of anxious attachment to parents or caregivers in childhood developed anxiety disorders during adulthood (Schimmenti & Bifulco, 2015). Anxious attachment with either parent is also negatively associated with body image dissatisfaction (Cheng & Mallinckrodt, 2009). Furthermore, it is studied that meeting satisfaction with one’s basic psychological needs plays a mediating role between anxious attachment and depression, loneliness, and shame (Wei et al., 2005). Interesting research showed that people with anxious attachment styles showed a greater inclination toward believing conspiracy theories (Green & Douglas, 2018).

In adults, signs of anxious attachment can begin with having a fear of abandonment. It can develop into trust issues and low self-worth. On the other hand, an anxious attachment can make you yearn for closeness and intimacy. Anxious individuals become sensitive to their partner's actions and feelings and require constant reassurance from the people around them that they are there for them.

Although it is unlikely to change the attachment style you grew up in during your childhood, it is possible to change and feel more secure within yourself and your relationships. This will require a lot of self-awareness and mindfulness, and deep down, you know you can do it.

To bring change to your anxious attachment, you will have to work towards improving your anxiety issues. Following are a few actions you can work with:

  • Learn to be mindful. Be present and aware of your involvement and interaction in a relationship.
  • Shed light on your emotions. Begin to understand and label what you feel when you are anxious or insecure. Become aware of how you physically respond to those feelings.
  • Spend time working on yourself. Create a healthy boundary and adopt a healthy self-image.
  • Focus on your passion. Once you make a secure aim in life and work on it, it will attract other aspects of life where you can display security from within.

 If your partner has anxious attachment issues, here is how you can help them:

  • Give them constant reassurance that they are loved and cared for.
  • Do not let me feel they are not attended.
  • Make sure they are not lied to, and you keep up your promises.
  • Compliment them to increase their self-esteem and confidence.
  • Critique them if required but in a very polite manner.

If you are a caregiver/parent, here are a few tips you can avoid anxious attachment in your child:

  • Give them a healthy amount of attention whenever they ask for but keep in mind that staying with them regularly can worsen the attachment. The child may develop a very dependent attachment to you.
  • Be present to attend to them emotionally.
  • Respond in loving ways towards them.
  • Return in short intervals or soon to them after you have left them alone or with someone else.

When a child is brought up by caregivers who are not emotionally available or neglectful of the child’s needs, they are highly likely to develop an insecure attachment style. Anxious attachment styles can develop various psychological issues in later life and can influence your attachment in romantic relationships. You can bring change and move towards a secure style of attachment. This will require you to work on your self-awareness and mindfulness.

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Stevens, F. L. (2014). Affect Regulation Styles in Avoidant and Anxious Attachment. Individual Differences Research, 12(3).

Cheng, H. L., & Mallinckrodt, B. (2009). Parental bonds, anxious attachment, media internalization, and body image dissatisfaction: Exploring a mediation model. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 56(3), 365.

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

Wei, M., Shaffer, P. A., Young, S. K., & Zakalik, R. A. (2005). Adult attachment, shame, depression, and loneliness: The mediation role of basic psychological needs satisfaction. Journal of counselling psychology, 52(4), 591.

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