03 Sep 4 Signs You May Have an Anxious Attachment Style
I have an anxious attachment style. By no means do I wish this to define me, but my exploration of what this means for me and my relationships has been powerful and nothing short of transformational.
The more I learned about what having this attachment adaptation looks like and how it shows up in relationships, the more empathy and patience I can have for myself. No, I am not “defective” or “difficult” — I simply adapted as a child to keep myself safe.
As Diane Poole Heller says in her book The Power of Attachment, “ambivalently attached folks really want a relationship so their attachment system is full on.” The “full-on” really resonates with me and if you, too, have an anxious (also referred to as ambivalent) attachment style, it may resonate with you as well.
Here are a few ways (summarized from Power of Attachment) that the anxious adaptation may show up in a relationship:
It is stressful when people leave
A partner going away on a business trip. Your lover is out celebrating with a group of their friends where alcohol and attractive strangers are sure to make an appearance. Maybe they even just had a busy day at the office and left your text from the morning unanswered. These situations can be enough to cause a great deal of distress for those of us with an anxious attachment style.
I swear when I was dating someone, especially in the early days, I would start watching my phone for a text from my new love interest as soon as we separated. It was hard to say goodbye and trust that the next “hello” would happen. Fear that in my absence, their eyes would wander and they would leave me for someone else. Or perhaps, that they would simply realize I am not worthy of their love and I would never hear from them again.
Sometimes, this does happen, unfortunately only confirming our fear of abandonment. For anxiously attached folks, however, goodbye is always stressful, no matter how open, committed, and communicative our partner may be.
You are other-focused
Ambivalently attached people may also find themselves more focused on others than themselves. They may be so consumed with scanning for threats in their relationship, that they can lose connection to themselves. This may show up as hypersensitivity to their partner’s actions, words, or lack of actions or words.
We may look to others to help us soothe but unfortunately, this can lead to a loss of control because we become dependent on others to help us feel at home within ourselves. Connecting to oneself and learning to self-soothe can be life-changing for the ambivalently attached.
I know for me this shows up as reading into my partner’s tone of voice, body language, and how they interact with me. I sometimes can pick up on whether or not something is wrong with my partner before they even realize something is bothering them. In a way, I see it as a bit of a gift but at the same time, it takes a lot of my energy. With all of this energy going into reading how other people are feeling, I often forget to check in with myself.
When I am upset, I often want my partner to soothe me. Although there is nothing wrong with this, there are times he is not available or doesn’t have the capacity to do this. In those moments, I need to be able to soothe myself. This is something that took me many years to learn, and admittedly, I am still learning. Emotional regulation ain’t easy.
You have an abundance of right-brain activity
I found this to be fascinating: whereas avoidantly attached people have an overactivity of left brain activity, those with an anxious attachment style have more activity in their right brain (Diane Poole Heller in The Power of Attachment). To simplify — the left brain is “thinky” or analytical and methodical whereas the right brain is “feely” and responsible for reading faces, emotional tone, and social cues (Stan Tatkin in Wired for Love).
This can show up as hypersensitivity and jealousy with our partners. Although these reactions are cries for connection, the nature of these tendencies can end up pushing people away. This just further confirms our belief that people are bound to leave us.
This also means we are highly sensitive and attuned to our partners’ feelings. I am open-hearted and incredibly loving and supportive and chances are if you are anxiously attached, these qualities reside in you as well. I think that it is important to acknowledge that although attachment adaptations can be challenging at times, they can also show up in beautiful and endearing ways in our relationships.
You have a strong need for reassurance
Those with an anxious attachment style need a lot of reassurance. I know that this can be annoying or tiresome for those in a relationship with us. If there is no reason for worry — why do we need so much reassurance?
For me, reassurance feels a bit like a hug. I can feel it in my body. It is warming and reminds me that I am safe. With an attachment system that is always on and highly sensitive, reassurance helps me to remember that everything is okay and that I can turn it off for a little while.
I find it shows up as clinging to my safety in a relationship. Not having control feels unsettling so an unreturned text message can leave me spiralling and I can very quickly become reactive. Cue twenty texts in a row and an alarming number of missed calls. A simple message or phone call in reply that is filled with warmth and reassurance can often be enough to put an anxiously-attached person at ease.
If you have an anxious attachment style, try to think about how this has made you a better partner. It can be easy in the land of attachment styles to feel discouraged when you aren’t securely attached but changing my perspective to see it as a strength has been a key component to my healing.
If you do have an anxious attachment style, you can also rest easy knowing that there are ways to foster a more secure style and that you are most definitely not alone in your experience. Check out the book the The Power of Attachment for more information and practical exercises to help you foster security in your relationships.