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What Does "Anxious Attachment" Mean?


Attachment styles are a type of bond that is created between mother and child during child development, which can affect relationships later in life. An anxious attachment style is often created when an insecure attachment develops because the child's emotional needs aren't met by their caregivers.

Defining Anxious Anxiety

What are the types of attachment styles?

How Anxious Attachment Styles Shape Adult Relationships

Can You Change Your Attachment Style and How?

How to Help Your Anxiously Attached Partner

How can I form a secure attachment with my child?

Getting Help for Insecure Attachment With an Attachment Theory Specialist

Defining Anxious Anxiety

Someone with an anxious attachment style can have either an anxious-ambivalent attachment style or an anxious-avoidant attachment style.

Those who are anxious-ambivalent may show the following signs:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Neediness in relationships

In the case of this type of anxious attachment style, inconsistent parenting may be at play. Your parents responded some of the time to your emotional needs, but other times they may have been distracted or distant.

Those with anxious avoidance may show the following signs:

  • Avoid connecting with others
  • Find emotions difficult to deal with
  • Self-reliant
  • Crave freedom from others

Anxious-avoidant attachment styles can be caused by emotionally unavailable parents. The child learns to self-soothe and may never have learned closeness, so they avoid it altogether.

What are the types of attachment styles?

Attachment styles are part of a psychological framework called attachment theory. In attachment theory, the bonds that we form with our initial caregivers affect how we relate to others for the rest of our lives. There are four main attachment styles: secure attachment style, insecure attachment style (which can take the form of anxious ambivalent or anxious avoidant attachment styles), or disorganized attachment style.

Secure Attachment Style

A secure attachment forms when a child's emotional needs are consistently met by their caregivers. Your parents were likely managing their own stress well and responding to your needs. In this attachment style, the individual feels secure and stable and is able to feel empathy while also creating boundaries. Signs of a secure attachment style include:

  • An ability to openly express feelings
  • A good sense of their own self-worth
  • Enjoy being with others, but do not get anxious when alone
  • Can ask for help easily

Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment Style

This type of anxious attachment style, as mentioned, is a result of inconsistent parenting. The child may have sometimes had their emotional needs met, but not always. These individuals are often needy and anxious in adult relationships.

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment style

On the other hand, an anxious-avoidant attachment style can take form when parents or caregivers are consistently distant. These individuals can be considered "cold" as adults, avoiding emotional closeness with others and putting an emphasis on self-reliance.

Disorganized Attachment Style

A disorganized attachment style can develop when parents or caregivers ignore their child's needs or create a chaotic environment in childhood. These caregivers may have had their own mental health challenges and were unable to create stability in the home. Signs of a disorganized attachment style can include:

  • Feel undeserving of love from others
  • Experience high levels of anxiety or fear

How Anxious Attachment Styles Shape Adult Relationships

Anxious attachment styles formed in childhood can impact an individual's ability to have a healthy relationship as an adult. The signs of anxious attachment style in adult relationships include things like emotional unavailability or a need for constant reassurance. Some other signs of anxious attachment style include behaviors like:

  • Becoming obsessed or overly fixated on relationships
  • A lack of boundaries
  • Disregard for other's feelings
  • Crave intimate relationships but lack trust in others
  • Pulling away when someone else becomes needy
  • Anxious or jealous when away from their partner

People with anxious attachment often have low self-esteem and may not be able to facilitate emotional closeness very easily.

Can You Change Your Attachment Style, and How?

While insecure attachments are formed in childhood, you can change your behavioral patterns and develop better relationships with others through learning skills related to a more secure attachment style. Anxious attachment can be helped by these strategies.

Develop relationships with people who are securely attached.

While it may be difficult at first, developing relationships with those who have a secure attachment style can help demonstrate what stable relationships look and feel like. This includes both a romantic partner and friendships. It helps if these secure attachment relationships have strong boundaries and high self-esteem.

Improve your verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

With an anxious attachment style, you may feel unsure about asking for what you need and how to express your feelings to others. By taking some time to study both verbal and nonverbal communication, you can learn how to better react to others in your life.

Resolve any childhood trauma.

Therapy is another way that anxiously attached individuals can improve interpersonal relationships. Those with insecure attachment styles may resolve some of their strong triggers and feelings through psychotherapy with a licensed therapist.

How to Help Your Anxiously Attached Partner

If you are in a relationship with an individual with an anxious attachment style, there are some ways you can help them feel secure. Educate yourself on attachment styles, especially anxious attachment styles. Learn what behavioral patterns to expect and offer your support.

People in romantic relationships with people with anxious attachment styles can also encourage their partners with anxious attachment styles to go to therapy to help heal the trauma that may have led to that attachment.

If you are someone with a secure attachment, make sure that you are communicating your boundaries openly and taking care of yourself. Be a model of secure attachment to your partner by demonstrating self-awareness, self-care, and strong communication.

How can I form a secure attachment with my child?

To create a secure attachment style with your child and avoid anxious attachment, listen to your child. If they express fears, don't blow them off, but take the time to show empathy and explain that they are safe with you. Honor their childhood experiences.

Some things can't be avoided, but by taking care of your own mental health, you can prevent an insecure attachment to your child. According to attachment theory, those who are dealing with symptoms of their own mental health conditions may be inconsistent in their attention to their children.

Keep your home a safe, secure, and welcoming place for your child. Be careful of how you react in front of your child, and if your partner is abusive in any way, seek help and protection. Childhood trauma is a strong indicator of an anxious attachment or disorganized attachment style.

Getting Help for Insecure Attachment With an Attachment Theory Specialist

If you feel that the signs and symptoms of an anxious attachment style apply to you and that you have been having difficulty creating bonds with others, then therapy in Brooklyn can help. By working with a mental healthcare therapist, you can learn strategies to manage the symptoms of your insecure attachment style, improve low self-esteem, and avoid passing on anxious attachment to the next generation.

Healing is possible for those with insecure attachment styles, and people with anxious attachment styles can shift over time into a more secure attachment style that may strengthen romantic relationships as well as friendships and parent-child bonds.

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