Relationships are as unique as the people that are involved in them. People navigate through relationships in different ways. In psychology settings, these varied experiences are called "attachment styles."
Your thoughts, beliefs, and expectations about your current and future intimate relationships stem from your attachment style. These styles can have a big impact on the way you view your relationship and your partner. For example, if you experience attachment anxiety, you might be worried about the future of your relationship. By understanding attachment styles and attachment anxiety, you can gain greater confidence and experience greater peace in your relationships.
What Is Attachment Anxiety?
Attachment anxiety stems from a section of psychology founded by psychologist John Bowlby, known as attachment theory. This theory suggests that whatever relationship a person develops with their caregivers when they are an infant remains constant in other relationships throughout their lifetime even as they grow older. A person's attachment style can impact how they respond to stress and intimate relationships.
Attachment behavior has been shown to be evolutionarily beneficial. Throughout history, it has helped children and adults receive care when they're hurt and food when they're hungry. It's supposed to help people survive by forming close attachments with those around them.
Attachment behaviors are turned on when a person needs something or is feeling stressed. And, they are turned off when the need and stress have been resolved. But what if the stress and anxious behaviors don't turn off?
When a person has an anxious attachment style, they often feel as though their relationship is unstable. In addition, they often worry that they will be underappreciated or abandoned by their partners. For this reason, it is labeled as an insecure attachment.
According to Bowlby, the way a person is treated by significant others throughout their lifetime shapes their expectations and attitudes about future relationships and partners. For example, if you were constantly lied to in intimate relationships in the past, you will most likely believe that your future partners will lie to you, as well.
A person with an anxious attachment style really wants to feel more secure in their relationship. This means that they often try to get closer emotionally with their partners to gain the security they're looking for. They can become extremely invested in their relationship.
People with attachment anxiety often have negative self-views, and act guarded towards their partners in order to protect themselves in case their worries end up being truthful. It can also cause them to be more critical of their partner's words and actions because they actively look for information to prove their suspicions.
People with anxious attachments don't know if they can rely on their partners. This can cause people to seek constant reassurance in their relationship. And, more importantly, makes it hard to develop trust.
Humans are social creatures. If someone's closest relationship is unstable, it can have a big impact on their life. Research has found that anxious attachment styles can decrease a person's overall well-being. In fact, attachment anxiety has been found to have several negative effects, including:
- Decreased ability to cope
- Decreased adjustment to relationships
- Decreased relationship satisfaction
- Higher rates of dysfunctional behavior
- Increased activation of attachment systems
- Increased negative view of their relationships
- Increased rates of stress
- Increased use of emotion-focussed coping strategies
- Poorer mental health outcomes
How to Cope With Attachment Anxiety
There are many ways to reduce stress and anxiety symptoms to build stronger, healthier relationships. These strategies help with romantic relationships and fortify friendships and family connections, as well. It all comes down to emotional regulation. These are some ways to gain more control over your thoughts and feelings.
Talk to Your Partner
Whether it's new relationship anxiety or an anxious attachment style, one of the first things you can do is talk to your partner. They have no way of knowing how you feel if you don't share it with them. This can be an awkward and intimidating conversation. Remember to let your partner know that your anxious feelings might not be based on any real evidence or on their behavior. Explain to them how your experiences in past relationships have changed how you think about your current relationship. Together you can make a plan on how best to support and understand one another going forward.
People with insecure attachments want to feel secure in their relationships. They don't want to feel anxious forever, they want to feel like they can believe in and depend on their partners. This is why it's important to build up trust. This isn't something that is going to happen overnight. However, with open communication and validation of one another's feelings, it can grow.
Monitor Your Thoughts
Thought patterns can cause a person to focus on worries about the future or ruminate about events of the past. Most of the time, these thought patterns are unhelpful because they increase feelings of worry. They may also and cause people to get stuck in cycles that increase anxiety or irritation.
One way to help combat this pattern is to monitor your thoughts. Whenever you notice an unhelpful thought arise, simply note that it's there. Then, shift your attention to a different task to disrupt the cycle.
People that experience any form of anxiety often have constant thoughts of worry and experience a lot of stress. This combination can make them feel even more anxious. It's a cycle that feeds into itself.
If you reduce stress, you may be able to reduce the feelings of anxiety that can disrupt your relationship. You can start a mindfulness or meditation practice. Or, find a creative outlet that has been shown to have therapeutic effects, such as:
Sleep has been found to impact almost every part of a person's mental and physical health. In fact, it has been found to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. This means that if you get enough sleep, it may help keep some of those anxious feelings and though at bay. Have you gotten enough sleep recently? If not, it may make you feel irritable and less able to cope with any emotions that arise.
Get Some Exercise
Not only has sleep been shown to have positive mental health impacts, but exercise has, as well. It can reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety. So, hit the gym. Or, stay home and practice a yoga flow or simple stretches. It can even be as simple as taking a walk. Physical activity can boost your mood, which may make you feel more open to communicating with your partner. They might even be open to exercising with you.
Attachment anxiety can put a lot of strain on you and your relationship. It can be helpful to reach out to someone to receive some support and validation while you manage your experiences. You may find that it feels good to talk to somebody that is just there to listen, or that has had similar experiences to you. Some ways to find support include:
- Explore therapy options. If you want one-on-one support from a mental health professional, then therapy might be for you. You can work with your healthcare provider to learn more about the basis of your attachment anxiety and behavior patterns.
- Join a support group. If you hope to be part of a community that acts as a support network, then you may want to join a support group. Support groups put you in contact with people that have gone through similar experiences, which can be particularly validating and comforting. You can find one online or in-person.
- Talk to friends and family. If you want a more personal approach to support, then turn to friends and family. These are the people that know you best, and that want to be there for you through whatever you experience. Let them know if you want advice, or if you just want someone to listen.
Attachment anxiety can negatively impact your intimate relationship. This attachment style has been shown to decrease relationship satisfaction and make it harder for couples to connect openly with one another.
However, having an anxious attachment style doesn't mean that all of your relationships are doomed. It just means that you may have to take different approaches and incorporate different coping strategies into your relationship and daily life. You can still have fulfilling relationships. So, get out there and communicate your way to a healthier relationship.