An anxious attachment style in relationships

anxious attachment in relationships


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This is part 1 of a 3-part series on attachment styles with the intention of helping you understand yourself and the patterns that are present in your romantic relationships that are causing distress in your life.

Attachment styles are what we need to emotionally and intimately connect in our relationships.  They are learned, whether from our childhood or later in life through our relationship experiences.

There are four basic styles each having its own patterns of behaviour.

    • Anxious ambivalent or preoccupied
    • Avoidant,
    • Fearful avoidant or detached, and
    • Secure

In this series, I’m talking about the first three styles and will reference secure behaviours throughout.

While I believe that labels inhibit your growth, and put you in a pigeon hole or box, I also believe that the awareness of self is the key to healing things in your life that are keeping you from the true connection to who you are and the ultimate joy and happiness that you deserve.


A story about Tamara and Greg

This story comes from the book, Attached.  Written by Amire Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller.  

I first noticed Greg at a cocktail party at a friend’s house. He was unbelievably good-looking and I found the fact that I caught his eye very flattering.

A few days later we went out for dinner with some other people and I couldn’t resist the glimmer of excitement in his eyes when he looked at me. But what I found most enticing were his words and his implicit promise of togetherness, that he conveyed the promise of not being alone.

He said things like, ‘Tamara, you don’t have to be home all by yourself. You can come and work over at my place.’ ‘You can call me anytime you like.’

There was comfort in these statements; the comfort of belonging to someone, of not being alone in the world. If I had only listened carefully I could have easily heard another message that was incongruent with this promise; a message that made it clear that Greg feared getting too close and was uncomfortable with commitment.

Several times he’d mentioned that he’d never had a stable relationship, that for some reason he always grew tired of his girlfriends and felt the need to move on.

Though I couldn’t identify these issues as potentially problematic at the time, I didn’t know how to correctly gauge their implications. All I had to guide me was the common belief that many of us grow up with the belief that love conquers all. And so I let love conquer me.

Nothing was more important to me than being with him yet at the same time the other messages persisted about his inability to commit.

I shrugged them off, confident that with me things would be different. Of course I was wrong.

As we got closer his messages got more erratic and everything started to fall apart.

He began telling me that he was too busy to meet on this night or that. Sometimes he claimed that his entire work-week looked crazy and would ask if he could just meet on the weekend. I’d agree but inside I had a shrinking feeling. Something was wrong. But what?

From then on, I was always anxious, I was preoccupied with his whereabouts and became hypersensitive to anything that could possibly imply that he wanted to break-up.

But while Greg’s behavior presented me with ample evidence of his dissatisfaction, he interspersed pushing me away with just enough affection and apologies to keep me from breaking up with him.

After a while the ups and downs started to take a toll and I could no longer control my emotions. I didn’t know how to act and despite my better judgment I’d avoid making plans with friends in case he called. I completely lost interest in everything else that was important to me.

Before long, the relationship couldn’t withstand the strain, and everything soon came to a screeching halt.


The Anxious Ambivalent or Preoccupied

Does this story sound a bit like something you experience in your relationship(s)?

The one thing that stands out the most is how Tamara wasn’t listening to her intuition.

If only I had listened carefully,

Other messages persisted about his inability to commit, I shrugged them off,

I had a shrinking feeling,

Against my better judgment.

Trusting our intuition and have the courage to listen and walk away is gold super-power but can there also be something else going on?


Here are a few characteristics of someone who lean towards an anxious attachment style.

    • Wants to be closely connected in their relationship,
    • Are rejection sensitive,
    • Fear being rejected or abandoned which make them worry and non trusting,
    • Feel not good enough, or lovable therefore seek constant validation,
    • Get attached quite quickly and don’t take time to see if their partner can or wants to meet their needs,
    • Idealize their partner,
    • Make excuses for bad behaviour,
    • Overlook potential problems

The Patterns of the Anxious Ambivalent in Relationship

Here are some patterns that you may see in your relationship if you are resonating with this style.

1. Give up their needs to please and accommodate their partner but become unhappy

In our story Tamara mentioned that she gave up making plans with her friends and stopped doing things that were important to her.

She sacrificed her need for creativity, and connection with other people in an effort to maintain that feeling of being connected to Greg.


2.  Rejection-sensitive so they anticipate rejection or abandonment, and they look for signs that their partner is losing interest (creep social media, their phone to look for evidence)

Tamara mentioned she was always anxious. She became preoccupied with Greg’s whereabouts and became hypersensitive to anything that could possibly imply that he wanted to break up.


3. Play games in a relationship to get attention, act out, try to make their partner jealous, or withdraw and stop answering texts or calls.

Greg interspersed pushing Tamara away with just enough affection and apologies to keep her from breaking up with him.

This created the emotional highs and lows she referred to in her story.  

There is a saying with children when they consistently act out. ‘Even negative attention is better than no attention.


3. Waffle between outbursts of anger and pleas for forgiveness and support.

One can only endure so much emotional stress and strain, and given the inconsistent connection and affection, one would threaten to break up but then feel the elastic band snapback with the pain of separation.


4. Lose themselves in relationships, seem clingy and demanding or possessive, and feel overly dependent on their partner for validation.

It becomes easy to see how you, and like Tamara would lose who you are in such an inconsistent relationship.

So much energy goes into trying to stay connected with a person who feels uncomfortable and fears that level of closeness.


5. Attract Avoidant people

Greg has an Avoidant attachment.  It doesn’t make Greg a bad person.  It just means that he has never learned to open himself to being vulnerable and open to a deeper level of connection.


Why Anxious and Avoidant are attracted to each other

Humans are creatures of our patterns and their underlying beliefs.

If you are like Tamara, people who fear rejection and abandonment and need reassurance that their partner is emotionally connected to them will subconsciously play out their fear with someone like Greg’s avoidant style because his avoidance keeps her vigilant in her pattern and belief that love is inconsistent and that at any time love will leave.


Your attachment style needs communication and confirmation of the relationship.

When you pair with someone with a secure attachment style they have the ability to provide this level of connection, communication, and emotional intimacy. 

You will thrive in all areas of your life because you feel supported, there is consistency and communication and you feel safe to venture out into the world and try new things knowing that your love life is stable.

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba on Unsplash 

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