An anxious-preoccupied attachment style is demonstrated by those possessing a negative view of self and a positive view of others.
People with anxious-preoccupied attachment type tend to agree with the following statements: “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like”, and “I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.” People with this style of attachment seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their attachment figure. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent on the attachment figure. Compared with securely attached people, people who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to have less positive views about themselves. They may feel a sense of anxiousness that only recedes when in contact with the attachment figure. They often doubt their worth as a person and blame themselves for the attachment figure’s lack of responsiveness. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, emotional dysregulation, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships. ~Wikipedia, August 2019
The anxious attachment style is one I developed due to my particular traumatic childhood experiences. Of all the attachment styles it is the one I am most personally familiar with and have spent years working to unraveling and shifting myself more to a secure attachment style. With that said, this style still pokes its head up and is something I need to intentionally redirect.
Some of the ways this style shows up in our lives:
- Trying to prove to another why we are worthy of their love
- In school, always needing and striving to be “teacher’s pet”
- Chasing after people, even as they pull further and further away. In fact the more they pulled away, the more we chase
- Bottling up our emotions and feelings about hurtful behavior from another until we couldn’t any more and would explode. (These explosions can look like screaming, throwing things, slamming doors, breaking things, hitting our own body until we bruise, among other not so helpful behaviors)
- Beating our self up emotionally and psychologically with the stories of how unlovable and unwantable we are
- Jumping from one intimate relationship to another without taking time to grieve the relationship that was ending/had just ended
- Constantly seeking external approval; being “charming” so we could get it
- Enmeshed relationships, with both sexual partners and friends
- Completely breaking down at the slightest hint of criticism
- A push-pull game where we would withdraw, waiting for a person to “chase” us, and if they didn’t, upping the ante in one way or another, chasing them for a bit and then withdrawing again to have the other chase us.
- Picking fights to just get some reaction/attention from a person
I could probably go on for another few pages with all the ways this attachment style can show up in our lives, I know it so well. Most of the above behaviors I have been able to move past and no longer do. And in recent months I’ve seen my this insecure style show up in my life in some of the following ways:
- Constantly checking my phone for text messages from particular people. Becoming increasingly stressed and anxious the more time passes before receiving a response
- Seeking external validation via dating apps
- Penduluming between the stories of how unlovable I am and the deep knowing that I am lovable and okay.
Those last two behaviors, in truth, have felt more like habits. I wasn’t so much driven to those behaviors and patterns as much as it was I couldn’t really think of what else to do to attempt to soothe the wounds that had once again been exposed. Which is often how shifting happens – we have a behavior, we do the work to change it, and at some point, we are still doing the behavior, but it doesn’t feel that same. That is the point when we can actually stop the behavior, when it truly is a habit and not a compulsive or unconscious action.
It is safe to say that all insecurely (avoidant and anxious) attached people have experienced abuse and or neglect when we were children. What seems to really be the key to the insecure attachment styles is more the neglect than the abuse.
This may seem odd to some, that “simply” being neglected would cause more long term harm than being physically or sexually abused. And here’s a thing, for those of us who experienced chronic physical and or sexual abuse, there was also neglect. Always. Because the abuse was able to occur, over and over again, it is because people were not paying attention to us, were not seeing the signs of our abuse, were not stopping the abuse from happening.
It is the neglect that I believe in the end causes the most harm in regard to the ways our neural pathways develop. The overt or subtle messages that we aren’t worth paying attention to, that we don’t matter, that our pain isn’t relevant… that is what creates the pathways that grow deeper and deeper, until, long after the abuse has ended, long after we have outgrown the need to be physically and emotionally cared for by our primary caregivers, we still have thoughts and feelings that we don’t matter, that we are a bother, that we are too “needy” or want “too much”.
Anxious preoccupied attachment feels like we are constantly reaching and grasping. That is the sensation within our bodies. It shows up in our behaviors in a variety of ways, some of which I listed above.
The good news is that we can re-wire our brains and shift our attachment styles. I posted recently how, apparently, I have a mostly secure attachment style now. This was so shocking to me, because I have gone through a period of feeling that reaching and grasping, the anxiety that comes with the sense of abandonment pretty recently. I still felt anxiously attached.
The key was, and is, though that I was doing my best to not act anxiously attached. That I could slow down, get my logic brain engaged, consider all the circumstances of the situation, and then, usually, act and respond to the situations appropriately. Was I able to do that every time? No. No, I was not. Because I am human, and learning, and the whole not acting out of my trauma and raw emotions is a relatively new concept for me. And. I can say, that I was able to slow down more times than I not was able to.
I couldn’t have said this a year ago. Definitely not two years ago. Absolutely not three or more years ago. Though I could say that two years ago I was a bit better than three years ago, last year I was better at slowing down than the year before. Practice, patience, intention, self-compassion. Those have been the four pillars of getting me to this place.
I don’t believe I will ever be “perfect” at not reacting from my anxious attachment style. I am not striving for “perfection”. This is a life long journey. There will be good days and not so good ones. There will be circumstances that allow me to slow down immediately and others that will require a lot of intention and awareness on my part to slow down my reactions.
This is true for all of us. I don’t believe I will, or anyone will, become 100% securely attached one day. The traumas I experienced impacted me too deeply for one. For another, life happens, more traumas are sure to come my way, my very old wounding will be poked at and opened up and I will find another layer to process, to grow from.
I believe this to be true of all of us. Layers upon layers. Exploring, expanding, shifting.
This essay was originally published to my weekly newsletter on August 4, 2019 and edited for publication here. If you would like to read my most recent essays, you can subscribe to my newsletter here.