Relationship anxiety and anxious attachment triggers aren’t often talked about, but in some way or another, most couples experience this problem at some stage of their relationship.
Anxiety is something that is often overlooked but can actually be really damaging to a person and can cause low self-esteem. Whether you’re in a relationship with someone with anxious attachment issues, or you yourself are struggling and find yourself anxiously attached to people, the main thing is to acknowledge it for what it is; a form of anxiety most likely developed or progressed from your infant years.
This isn’t something that will go away overnight, it takes hard work to overcome, but firstly it’s important to fully understand what anxious attachment is to then determine how to look for the signs. Once established that this is what's holding you back in your adult romantic relationships, there are several techniques in learning to overcome this problem.
All healthy relationships go through rough patches. You might feel as though you have always been anxiously attached to your partner yet it's only just become an issue in your relationship. If your partner isn’t consistent with you and lacks communication, then it's going to make you feel like you’re the problem.
Actually, although anxiety can improve and worsen over time, if you are generally an anxious person then it’s likely that this will have always been present in your relationship. Of course, you can be an anxious person, or suffer with anxiety without experiencing attachment issues but generally speaking, these attachment issues stem from childhood experiences or worsening anxiety.
A major part in overcoming anxious attachments towards your partner will require a deeper commitment of wanting to make things work between the two of you. Both of you have to learn to understand the problem and help each other to understand your genuine emotions to overcome any issues.
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Scientifically speaking, anxious attachment is one of four attachment styles. Bowlby's theory of attachment1 suggests that “children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them to survive. A child has an innate (i.e. inborn) need to attach to one main attachment figure.”
According to Dr. Diane Benoit2, attachment theory is one of the most popular and empirically grounded theories relating to parenting, she further explains that:
“Parents play many different roles in the lives of their children, including teacher, playmate, disciplinarian, caregiver and attachment figure. Of all these roles, their role as an attachment figure is one of the most important in predicting the child’s later social and emotional outcome.”
“Attachment is where the child uses the primary caregiver as a secure base from which to explore and, when necessary, as a haven of safety and a source of comfort.”
The four types of infant-parent attachment are as follows: three 'organized' types (secure, avoidant and resistant) and one 'disorganized' type.
Depending on how your main caregiver formed early attachment with you as an infant, this could result in anxious attachment that will, of course, go on to develop and affect later relationships in life.
These attachment issues can cause you to feel overwhelmed and avoidant of your partner; you may push them away. It may cause commitment issues and play a role in your resistance towards serious relationships, or it may cause you to be overly anxious and non-trusting of your partner in the relationship.
As to what triggers anxious attachment, there can be several things that happen in your life that can cause it, however, attachment theory is recognized as a main cause as “the early years of a child's life are very important for later health and development3.”
As mentioned, the main trigger of anxious attachment is developed from the type of attachment that you learned from your relationship with your primary caregivers.
Insecure attachment style can develop from you spending too much time with your partner. You can become an anxious partner as you depend on them and become securely attached.
This isn’t always a bad thing, however spending some time apart can never hurt. It will allow you to develop your own independence as an individual and is important in any healthy relationship.
If your partner blows hot and cold, you may develop a fear or feel threatened that he’s going to leave you.
This can trigger anxious attachment in your relationship because if he is being dismissive with you, you’re more likely to feel insecure within your relationship and react to this emotion with anxious tendencies.
However, it’s important to recognize that his dismissive behavior may stem from a reaction to your pre-existing anxious attachment issues. If you aren’t communicating and working together to overcome these problems, they will never get fixed.
If you’re someone with an anxious disposition, a lack of communication in your relationship can trigger anxious attachment to your partner. If you don’t know where you stand, or you don’t know what’s in store for your future, rather than simply asking, you may develop an attachment style in order to feel secure with your partner.
A lifetime of rejection triggers anxious attachment. Rejection can cause a development of attachment needs as you’ll have spent your life feeling a lack thereof of emotional commitment.
This can either cause you to depend on or cling to intimate relationships or can do the opposite and cause you to not feel safe under any situation with a partner, therefore causing you to push him away.
Going back to Benoit and her ‘type of attachments’ table, insensitive rejection can lead to the organized attachment style insecure-avoidant.
So, you’re probably wondering how to stop anxious attachment. Before anything else, you have to detect your own attachment triggers to then teach yourself and your partner to respond effectively.
An effective strategy is to re-establish self-security, source the anxiety inside of you, and work on your attachment needs by becoming independent.
If you’re dating an attached person, you need to show them that they deserve love, and help them to practice mindfulness when they feel anxious or attached.
Of course, you will have your own appropriate boundaries, but if you’re willing to put in the emotional commitment and communication to make things work, that's the first major step.
If you’ve been medically diagnosed with anxiety and can feel it interfering with your relationship, this could have a part to play in your attachment style. There are many effective treatments to help with anxiety: medication, herbal remedies (lavender being a great one!), therapy and practicing mindfulness.
A fear of losing your partner or fear of abandonment will most likely cause you to become an attached person in your relationship; this is also something that has likely stemmed from inconsistent parenting from infancy.
If you feel this worry taking over, and it's causing you to act differently towards your partner, vocalize your fears. Sometimes it just takes a little reassurance to help you out of this mindset. If you don’t vocalize this fear, it might change things within your relationship which cause your partner to become dismissive; communication is always key!
Being dependent on your partner can add a lot of strain to a relationship and trigger anxious attachment. You depend on constant reassurance; this is one of the highly insecure attachment styles.
You’ll find that once you overcome this fear and become self-dependent, you’ll actually be happier in your relationship. I find that the best security in a relationship is to know that you’d be okay without them.
I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all been there. Jealousy can take over and cause our brains to go haywire!
This is normal in every relationship, however, if it's something that is consistently taking over your brain, and you find yourself struggling to self-regulate, it can be a sign of your anxious preoccupied attachment.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again… communicate! If you’re having doubts and worries, tell him but don’t accuse; explain that you understand that your fears are irrational but that they exist.
Explain to him how he can help you with this.
This is an interesting concept that isn’t often spoken aloud, but I think it’s way more common than you would realize. Have you ever found yourself doubting your entire relationship, fearing these doubts, and pushing harder on the idea of your future together?
It’s almost like it's a defense mechanism of the nervous system. You push yourself into this false sense of security, even though doubts in a healthy relationship are entirely normal and nothing to worry about.
This could be a trigger of a secure attachment style, as we all worry about change, and we know that break ups are hard. So, we respond with desperation to remain secure.
If you find yourself constantly asking if he loves you because you don’t trust his intentions, you could very well be anxiously attached to your partner.
A person who struggles with anxious attachment is constantly worried and feels uncertain or insecure.
This can also be frustrating to your partner as he may feel like he has to constantly reassure you but that it's not getting him anywhere.
There can be many resolutions to this, but I think the best one is to teach yourself that these are obsessive and intrusive thoughts that can be ignored.
The best way to overcome intrusive thoughts is to acknowledge it for what it is, and to move on from it; this takes time and practice but is generally effective.
All healthy relationships have bad days, and it's normal for people to have doubts every now and again. You may be responding negatively to your own irrational thoughts. This could be a form of a resistant attachment style.
You simply have to remind yourself that these doubts are normal and are often best ignored, unless, of course, you’ve been thinking this for a while, then perhaps it's time to have a conversation with your partner.
An anxiously attached person may be overly clingy or possessive with their partner. Insecurity within a relationship will drive you to obsess over your partner and your need to feel secure, even though this is actually a false security.
Adult relationships work best when you know when to take time to yourselves and to thrive independently. This can be a good way to learn how to stop anxious attachment.
If you’re an anxiously attached person, you’re likely to do anything to please your partner in order to remain secure. In doing so, you can lose yourself along the way.
Stay focused on your own morals and values, take the time to do what you enjoy (even if it is by yourself!). Losing yourself will only result in low self-esteem and you’ll struggle to self-regulate without your partner, which of course will worsen your attachment to him.
Reassurance is often a great way of overcoming relationship anxiety and attachment issues, but only if you and your partner have spoken and come to an agreement on how the both of you plan to make it work.
Without this agreement, asking for constant reassurance from your partner can be very frustrating and feel untrusting.
Attachment theory helps us to understand that there are many situations that can cause us to develop a secure attachment to our partners, but also highlights that it can cause us to resist emotions when entering a relationship; whether that’s down to experiencing rejection or a trigger from old memories.
If you’re distant or resistant in relationships, then it’s likely that something happened when you were a child to make you react to your emotions in this way.
Recognizing the issue for what it is can help you to overcome, communicate this resistance to your partner and help him to help you understand your emotions with more clarity.
The best way of understanding that you have a problem with attachment styles to your partner is to be told.
If you’re lucky enough to have a partner who effectively communicates his emotions and problems within the relationship, then it’s probably a good idea to listen to him.
Learn to understand each other and find a middle ground that works for both of you whilst overcoming these issues.
Anxious attachment triggers can vary depending on your anxious attachment style. Usually they would be things like your partner being dismissive or not replying to you, hot and cold behavior within your relationship, not spending enough time together or spending too much time together.
Your response to triggered anxious attachment will depend on your anxious attachment style; the main attachment styles (in most cases) will cause you to become overly clingy and obsessed with a need for security within your intimate relationship.
You can become negative, which will in turn have a negative impact on your relationship. When you feel as though the security is threatened, you can respond with anger or intense sadness, if this isn’t correctly communicated it can cause further problems within your relationship.
The best way to break the anxious attachment cycle is to acknowledge it for what it is, anxiety and a lack of communication, and learn how to change your behavior.
Step one is to vocalize your emotions to your partner, then together create a clear plan on how the two of you can work on this.
Both of you will need to change your behavior and adapt to the other in order to make it work; finding a middle ground is a must.
Anxious attachment can be soul-crushing. I myself have been there.
When you start to obsess over negative emotions in your relationship it’s hard to think about anything else. What’s worse is when you don’t communicate it to your partner, so he begins to respond negatively to your behavior.
You can feel a vicious cycle begin and it's entirely out of your control.
I really must highlight that this change of behavior starts with you. As much as your partner/friends/family will help, you need to learn how to feel happy within yourself first.
“Anxious attachment in relationships can be difficult to understand and manage. However, awareness of how this attachment style develops and plays out in relationships can help anxious attachers and their partners reach more healthy and secure relationships.”
Detect the problem before you can begin to address it.
Vocalize any issues with your partner, friends, and family; you’d be surprised how much speaking about these issues alone can help. As soon as you understand what your attachment style is, you’ll be able to work on it with the help from others.
If you’re still unsure of how to get help, visit Relationship Hero to consider speaking with a certified relationship coach.
Feel free to share with friends and family if you think that this is something that you could be struggling with, or likewise if you think that it could help a friend! Please comment any additional information or stories that you have relating to anxious attachment that could help others!
If this is something that you yourself have overcome, leave tips and advice on how others can overcome this problem in their own relationship.