When you think about your love life thus far, has it been filled with a lot of over-thinking, self-doubt, and anxiety? If so, chances are you have an anxious attachment style.
That’s exactly how I used to be. I’d stare at my phone, waiting for my dates to text me back. The slightest change of tone in my ex’s voice would set me off. If overthinking were a sport, I would have many gold medals.
Someone with an anxious attachment worries a lot about their love life and makes decisions out of fear. You may have found that this keeps you from forming relationships or, the opposite, makes you cling to anyone who shows you attention.
When an anxious attachment style is triggered, the behaviors and actions of that person does are called protest behaviors. In a sense, they’re that person’s way of trying to make things OK again.
Some anxious attachment style protest behaviors are:
- Excessively calling someone.
- Stalking social media profiles.
- Crying to make the other person feel bad.
- Analyzing the relationship every free moment you have.
- Blaming or guilting the other person during an argument.
- Questioning what the other person thinks about you.
- Withdrawing (emotionally or physically).
These behaviors might feel like the right thing to do, but they hurt the connection between two people. Plus, giving into them only makes you feel more anxious and feeds the vicious cycle.
If you want to be more confident and secure in your love life, one way is to learn how to regulate your emotions when you’re feeling triggered. AKA, how to not engage in protest behaviors.
Create a list of healthier coping activities.
Several years ago, a therapist friend told me to make a list as long as my age (25 at the time). She said to fill it out with activities that help make me feel better when my anxiety feels overwhelming.
So I sat down one night and wrote that list. I wanted to make sure I didn’t write activities just because I thought they would make me feel better (like hiking). I wanted a list uniquely for me.
Four years later, and I still have that list.
I want you to create a similar list. Use it whenever you feel like engaging in a protest behavior like excessively texting your date. This list will teach you how to self-regulate rather than going to other people to help you feel better.
Re-frame the limiting thoughts you have.
Have you ever thought any of the following:
- “Why can’t I be good enough for them?”
- “Everyone is going to leave me.”
- “What’s wrong with me?”
- or my old go-to, “No one likes me.”
Those are some pretty potent thoughts, but not in a good way. When you constantly tell yourself negative statements like those, they become beliefs that hold you back from feeling joy and experiencing happiness with other people.
For a few days, I want you to take note of your thoughts. What are the unkind things you tell yourself the most? How do those thoughts make you feel?
Once you know what your main limiting thoughts are, begin re-framing them. Like when you think, “I don’t deserve love,” replace that thought with, “I deserve love, and it will come to me.” Over time, you’ll start to re-wire your core beliefs.
Clarify things if need be.
In specific scenarios, asking questions can be a good thing for people with an anxious attachment. Since uncertainty is uncomfortable and only makes our anxious thoughts worse, clarifying could be your answer.
Say you’ve been on a few dates with someone, and you’re wondering how they feel. Typically, you might pick apart every single interaction and text you have with them to try and find an answer. Which never works.
These are the moments where you can take your love life into your own hands. You don’t need to wait around to see if that person likes you. Let them know how you feel and ask what their feelings are.
Your anxious attachment can easily trick you into thinking your mind has the answers it can’t possibly have.
Put your thoughts into the physical world.
When someone with an anxious attachment is triggered, it can feel like their thoughts and anxieties have taken over their world.
It’s a powerful process to put your thoughts into the physical world. Instead of them only existing inside your head, you give them less power by acknowledging their existence.
So figure out what your thing is — whether that be writing, drawing, painting, or dancing — and express all those pent-up emotions. Let everything come out all at once without any judgment or reservations.
Remind yourself you’ll be OK.
People with an anxious attachment have a lot of fear. I’m not saying those fears are irrational; they’re often a result of something that happened when you were a child or with an old romantic partner.
But what those fears are telling you is that your world will end if people don’t like you or someone decides to stop dating you. And if you consider this when you’re calm and level-headed, I’m sure you’ll admit that’s not true.
So as often as you can, remind yourself that you’ll be OK no matter what happens in your love life. Sure, there would be some (or a lot) of sadness, but feelings come and go. They’re not who you are.
Remember, this is only one step to feeling more secure as someone with an anxious attachment. If things feel too overwhelming to change on your own, therapy is always a great choice. It did wonders for me.
But with a bit of knowledge, effort, and practice, you can begin to change the way you react when triggered. And once you start handling your triggers more healthily, you can begin to tackle becoming someone with a secure attachment.
Want to learn more exercises that can help you feel more secure in your love life? I’m teaching a live, online anxious attachment workshop!
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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