It’s a trauma response (Picture: Getty Images)
If you use TikTok, you’ve likely scrolled past at least a few attachment style videos.
Relationship gurus on the app are big on ‘diagnosing’ people as either anxious, avoidant or (if you’re lucky) secure – these are just the tip of the iceberg in attachment theory.
It’s all about how you relate to others romantically and, while reductive at times, it can help reveal more about how you date.
Both anxiously and avoidantly attached people get a hard time, with these insecure attachment styles labelled ‘unhealthy’ or something to ‘fix’ – a simple Google search can give you a good idea of the stereotypes and connotations associated.
But the much-maligned classification is incredibly common, with some research suggesting 20% of people are in the anxious camp, while 30% are avoidant.
Popular psychology will tell you that attachment styles are often a reflection of our childhood and early coping mechanisms.
So, rather than seeing anxious attachment through a solely negative lens, there are many reasons to defend people with these traits (and in a couple of days, we’ll look at the same in avoidants).
Relate counsellor Natasha Silverman tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The vast majority of the population have an insecure attachment style, so if you think you might have an anxious attachment, you’re certainly not alone.’
How can you know if you’re anxiously attached?
Natasha says: ‘People that describe a pattern of feeling needy, worried or insecure in their relationships, may have an anxious attachment style.
‘They might frequently feel unsettled, on edge, or unsure of their partner’s willingness to commit to the relationship.
‘Physical distance may be particularly difficult to tolerate.
‘A person with an anxious attachment style may feel they do most of the “emotional work” in the relationship, which can lead them to feel unappreciated, unprioritised, unsupported and alone, even while in the company of their partner.
‘A person with an anxious attachment may crave feeling known and “seen” on a deeper level in their relationship. Quite often, this desire for more intimacy – whether emotional, physical or sexual – is higher than their partner’s, and this can become a source of conflict or repetitive arguments in the relationship: “Why can’t you open up to/connect with me?”, “Do you even really want to be with me?”
‘This may feel extremely painful and lead to the end of, or threats to end, the relationship.’
While it’s important to be self-aware – and use that awareness to grow with the goal of moving towards being securely attached – the wants and needs of an anxiously attached person aren’t invalid.
Natasha says: ‘It’s not an unhealthy expectation to have a partner who you feel connected to, supported by and loved by, but if you have an anxious attachment style, these needs may be far more intense, and more difficult to meet.
‘Generally, underneath an anxious attachment there’s a fear of abandonment, possibly stemming from having had primary caregivers in childhood who were inconsistent in meeting emotional needs.’
This can explain where the insecurity comes from, and it can take years of work in therapy to overcome such issues.
Natasha often sees a ‘push and pull’ between anxious and avoidant people, in which the more the avoidantly attached partner pulls away the more the anxiously attached partner pursues for connection, creating a cycle.
It makes sense this happens, seeing as anxiously attached people can fall into the trap of putting in more effort into a romantic connection, due to their innate desire for it to work out. Pulling away creates space for the anxious person to fill the gap with more effort.
But why do anxious people feel the need to prove their worthiness to a partner so much? Natasha says the answer is in their self-esteem.
She explains: ‘Self-criticism and low self-esteem often accompany an anxious attachment style.
‘External validation and reassurance is commonly required as a way to soothe, although it is rarely enough to quell the anxiety.
‘It’s important to work on building internal self-esteem, self-worth and confidence as the foundation for healthy relationships.’
Natasha also reminds us that, when there is a problem in a relationship (abusive situations excluded), it usually takes two people to start it, rather than it falling exclusively on the shoulders of one party.
Realise where your anxious attachments come from (Picture: Getty)
How to ensure a anxious attachment doesn’t get the best of you
‘You’re probably not as stuck as you think you are, it’s perhaps just about doing things differently,’ Natasha reassures.
If you think you may have an anxious attachment style, it can be helpful to reflect on your historic and current relationships and look for patterns that might be reoccurring.
To work towards better coping strategies, you can look at offering future partners the option to give you ‘safe reassurance’ through physical connection like a hug, uniting as a team against ‘the problem’ through a small gesture.
This can help build communication and keep anxiety to a minimum.
On top of this, it’s vital to work on your own self-esteem so you feel more confident in trusting yourself. This may be through therapy or by focusing on your worth outside of the relationship; whatever helps you differentiate between genuine reactions and those led by a irrational or subconscious fear of rejection.
Natasha recommends asking yourself whether you really have an insecure attachment style, or whether it’s understandable to feel anxious in the situation you’re experiencing.
‘I see many clients, particularly young women, who are initiating therapy off the back of a difficult break up, or a string of painful relationships,’ she explains.
‘Often, they believe they are “the problem”, and they question whether their relationship difficulties stem from having an anxious attachment style.’
‘In actual fact,’ Natasha continues, ‘it’s not unusual, unhealthy or wrong to feel anxious about somebody who gives you mixed messages, struggles to commit, crosses your boundaries and/or refuses to hear or validate your feelings.
‘A partner with a secure, rather than avoidant or anxious attachment style, is known to foster a secure attachment within their insecure partner.’
So remember, even if you do sit on the anxious side of the spectrum, to cut yourself some slack – maybe you have a right to feel anxious in certain circumstances.
Attachment styles don’t have to be permanent, and with counselling and therapy, insecure attachments can be improved or even resolved.
If you feel you or your partner are struggling with an insecure attachment style, reach out to Relate for support.
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