“I’m sorry,” I said anxiously, my voice wavering. I could sense my partner was feeling frustrated. I didn’t know why, but I figured it had to do with me. “Do you still love me?” I asked.
Even though I knew logically she would say yes, multiple questions ran through my head. What did I do? How can I fix it, and quickly? Will she still like me and want to be with me? What will I do if she leaves?
Her irritation had nothing to do with me, of course, but I didn’t know that for sure at the time. This kind of situation is normal for me, no matter how loving and affirming my partner is, because I have an anxious attachment style.
An anxious attachment style is one of four attachment styles that describes how people can act and feel in relationships. They’re all a part of attachment theory, created by psychologist John Bowlby. As far as anxious attachment styles specifically, signs in adults can include low self-worth, worrying your partner will leave you, being dependent in relationships, needing frequent assurance your partner loves you, being overly sensitive to your partner’s moods, and more.
I don’t like this part of myself. When I ask, “Do you love me?” multiple times a day, I feel like I’m being annoying. I also hate the emotional turbulence I experience for little to no reason. I’ve tried to fight against it through therapy, self-affirmations, and more, all of which have helped me. However, working with my attachment style is a new perspective I’ve gained that can help too. For four steps on how to work with your anxious attachment style, read ahead.
. . .
Step 1: Be Gentle With Yourself, Realizing Anxious Attachment Styles Can Come From Past Hurt
While researchers aren’t 100 percent sure what causes an anxious attachment style, they believe parenting can play a role. After all, Bowlby discovered the concept of attachment theory when he was studying why babies become distraught when they’re separated from their parents.
Inconsistent parenting can be a factor leading to an anxious attachment style. Kids may spend their childhood feeling unsure if their parents will be attuned to or distanced from their emotional and physical needs. They may not know if they can expect warmth or insensitivity from their parents, and they may act “needy,” whining and clinging on to a parent, to get their unmet needs met.
If you’re someone with this kind of attachment style, try to be gentle with yourself. Getting upset with ourselves can be easy when we don’t want to act and feel the ways we act and feel, but that only worsens our distress. Instead, give your current self and your younger self some love and empathy, realizing you may have dealt with trauma and pain that played a significant role in the development of your relationship anxiety.
Step 2: Think About the Goal or Need Your Anxious Attachment Style Is Trying to Meet
Now that you’ve acknowledged that past pain, you can look deeper into the purpose it serves. Maybe you worry about people leaving you because people left you in the past, and you need to feel others’ love more consistently. Maybe your low self-worth is trying to protect you from pain if someone else leaves you, in that it’ll give you a reason and help the breakup feel less unexpected.
Preferably with a therapist, if you’re able, dig into these struggles and the deeper feelings underneath. Some helpful questions to ask yourself include:
- What’s motivating my concerns or questions?
- What did I need from my parents that my partner could support me by doing now?
- Are my feelings and worries a protection mechanism? If so, from what?
- What causes me to feel insecure, and how might that have resulted from my childhood?
This step is all about finding the purpose in the pain and realizing what your needs are. After you do that, you can get your needs met and feel the love you’re meant to feel.
Step 3: Think About How You Can Utilize, Meet, or Repurpose That Goal, and Take Action
After figuring out your needs, you can try to meet them, use them, or repurpose them to be more helpful. For this step, you’re meeting your previous hurt and attachment style where they are and figuring out how they can nudge you to improve your relationships.
I’m going to continue on with the examples from above, respectively, to help ignite some ideas for you.
- “I feel concerned my partner will leave me because I feel supported by them, and I believe I need their support to be okay. I can meet, utilize, and repurpose this by sharing how much I appreciate my partner’s care, therefore encouraging them to continue showing it.”
- “I needed my parents to not only tell me they loved me every day, but also to show it. Hugs, words of affirmation, and quality time would help with this. (Figure out your love language here to discover how you feel love most.) I’m going to ask my partner to do those things for me. While my parents may not be able to, I’m sure my partner will understand that giving me a little extra love after what I went through will go a long way.”
- “I tell myself I’m a horrible girlfriend so I won’t feel as surprised or angry when someone leaves me. To navigate these feelings in a more helpful way, I’ll try to be a better girlfriend, and also work on my self-esteem through these therapy worksheets. Additionally, I can ask my partner to give me a heads up if they want to break up. This way, I won’t need to use low self-esteem as a protective mechanism.”
- “I feel insecure when it seems my partner likes a previous partner or person more than me because I felt like a second choice in the past. I can meet this need by making my partner aware of this part of my history and asking them to affirm me specifically.”
After realizing your next steps, take them. Remember, you’re brave, you can do this, and your efforts will be worth it in the end.
Step 4: Reflect, Giving Yourself Compassion and Considering Helpful Changes For Next Time
Once you’ve taken action, you can reflect on how it went. Is there a more helpful way you can navigate the situation next time, or did it go well the way you did it this time? How can you practice self-care in a way that satisfies your remaining needs adequately?
As far as helpful navigation, maybe your partner seemed defensive this time, so you want to use “I statements” next time, saying “I feel ___ when ___ because ____. I need ____.” Maybe your partner was thankful you mentioned your concern and asked you to do so regularly. Essentially, for this step, think about how the situation went and how you wanted it to go. Are there differences? How can you address those changes in a way that will acknowledge your needs and communicate them more effectively?
As far as self-care, maybe you need to distract yourself with a comforting TV show. Maybe you need to spend some quality time with your partner or a friend. Maybe journaling would feel cathartic, or maybe it wouldn’t. Brainstorm ways you can make yourself feel better after having what might have been a tough conversation.
If you struggle with relationship anxiety, abandonment concerns, low self-esteem, codependency, or something similar, you may have an anxious attachment style. However, you’re also not alone: So does 20 percent of everyone else in the world.
If you’d like to work with your attachment style instead of against it, you’ll need to take four steps. First, acknowledge the past pain that could’ve led to your anxiety, and give yourself compassion. Second, figure out what needs your attachment style is trying to help you meet. Third, brainstorm ways you can meet those needs or repurpose those goals to be more healthy. Fourth, reflect and practice self-care.
Working with an anxious attachment style can take a good bit of emotional work, but it’s worth it. You and your relationships will grow more positive, and you’ll start to feel more happy and secure.
This post was previously published on Medium.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.