What Does Anxious Attachment Mean For You?
By: Toni Hoy
Updated June 16, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault
When we talk about unhealthy parenting styles, anxious attachment is another type that comes about from negative parenting. It's important to understand just what your child is experiencing. No matter how you work with them or treat them, it's important to understand your parenting style to form healthy attachments with your children. When it comes to anxious attachment, you want to get some help if you find yourself following this parenting approach and leading your child down this path.
What Is Anxious Attachment?
Anxious attachment, more commonly referred to as anxious-avoidant attachment, is an unhealthy attachment style formed by children who have an unhealthy relationship and bonding experience with their parent or caregiver. This style of attachment is characterized by a child who will generally ignore their caregiver whether the caregiver is nearby, leaves, returns, or behaves in any fashion. The child may look to the caregiver, but if they do, they still do not approach the caregiver unless they are coaxed and, even then, will generally try to get away quickly.
Studies have been conducted with children to determine their reaction to the caregiver. In these types of situations, an anxious-avoidant child will completely ignore their caregiver during play. They are unlikely to explore their surroundings whether the caregiver is present or not and seem to completely ignore the caregiver themselves when they leave and when they return.
Those children who do seem to show attention when their caregiver returned would approach but then turn away or pass the caregiver instead of going to them. The highest level of greeting from these children was a smile or a look at the caregiver.
When picked up by a parent or caregiver, these children tend to squirm to get down or attempt to look away rather than leaning into the contact as most children of the same age would do. Even still, research shows that the child does feel stress when the caregiver leaves, as evidenced by an increased heart rate, but they have learned to mask these feelings of stress with an outward appearance of being disinterested and uncaring.
These children will generally avoid the caregiver entirely when they return after an absence, sometimes even moving further away or pointedly looking in a different direction.
What Causes Anxious-Avoidant Attachment?
So why do some infants develop this style of attachment with their parents? Well, this style comes about as a result of not having their needs met by the caregiver. Because the infant learns that attempting to communicate their emotional needs does not lead to attention or response from the caregiver, they stop showing those behaviors and stop attempting the communication.
The child attempts to ignore their emotions and attachment needs from the caregiver because they fear rejection. As a result, they can get protection from the caregiver's proximity but avoid the potential for rejection by seeming to desire that proximity.
What It Means For The Future
What happens to a child with this attachment style as they get older? Adults with this attachment style tend to desire closeness and intimacy from others, but they don't know how to achieve that level of closeness. Because they did not receive attention or support for their emotional needs as a child, they don't know how to receive it as an adult. Instead, they focus all of their attention on the needs and desires of their partner, attempting to give up everything for themselves for the partner to be happy.
These individuals may take everything very personally and may assume negative outcomes or intentions. They may use manipulation, withdrawal, acting out, jealousy, provoking jealousy in a partner, or even threatening to leave to draw attention and reassurance from a partner. They may become overly jealous and call or text continuously to check in on a partner.
Because the individual is so insecure, they don't know how to accept a normal relationship or accept emotional support because it was never received previously. This causes them to sabotage their relationship without understanding how it happens.
Intimate Relationships And Anxious Attachment
Dating brings a degree of anxiety for nearly everyone. Once two people establish a connection and they begin to spend more time together, they soon develop a level of comfort and intimacy with one another. Over time, trust develops, and both partners come to rely on some routine. It's natural to seek physical closeness with your romantic partner. Both of you learn to seek help and comfort from your partner. At times, it's difficult and distressful to be apart for long periods.
When one adult hasn't benefited from being strongly attached to a loving, nurturing parent or another caregiver, it can interfere with the way they respond during intimate relationships. In severe instances of anxious attachment disordered adults, the disorder's symptoms can be destructive, resulting in devastating consequences for both of you.
Anxious attachment in adults is often accompanied by depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Other symptoms manifest in the adult with constant fear and wanting to avoid people and situations. They have hypervigilant feelings about being abandoned, and they're constant worriers. High anxiety causes them to seek attention and care from others. They feel incapable of handling their distress and anxiety, which causes their symptoms to escalate even more.
If you have an anxious attachment, you tend to have intense negative thoughts and reactions. When positive things are going on in your life, you tend to dismiss them. You think things through over and over.
If you have secure attachments with your parents, you'll have positive expectations about intimate relationships with others, and you'll get long to establish a closeness with your romantic partner. If you have an anxious attachment, you tend to get nervous when anyone gets too close to you. It's common for such adults to state that they prefer to independent and they don't trust or need anyone, including a love interest. On the flip side, some people with anxious attachment respond to those they love by being overly clingy and jealous. They're always worried about being rejected and constantly worry about being rejected.
Adults with anxious attachment often have an overarching fear of infidelity and abandonment. They're more sensitive to feelings of rejection and may be more inclined to misperceive certain innocent behaviors as signs of cheating. Some partners tend to work hard to influence their mate not to cheat or end the relationship.
Men tend to have anxious romantic attachment more than women. Outward signs of anxious attachment in men may manifest in being guarded or vigilant. Women try to attract and keep their men by enhancing their appearance and giving their mate care and attention.
If you see a couple that openly displays being clingy, controlling, or aggressive in public, the chances are that one or both partners have attachment disorders. Being overly dependent on their partner for stability and completeness, people with anxiety disorders gives their life definition and completeness. Unfortunately, being jealous and overly clingy puts a strain on most relationships and doesn't feel great for either partner.
Those who live with anxiety attachment issues often have difficulty breaking up. They may be angry after a breakup or become preoccupied with them. In some cases, preoccupation can lead to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
If you believe that you have an anxiety disorder and you want to have an emotional relationship, you'll have better luck in securing a lasting, successful romance by first going through therapy to overcome anxiety attachment disorder.
An attachment therapist can help you and your partner to understand why you have anxiety attachment disorders and how it could affect your relationship now and in the future. The good news about anxious attachment disorders is that our brains have a level of plasticity, which means that we can retrain them to think differently. Getting a good diagnosis from a qualified therapist is the first step to improving attachment.
If you have been parenting your child into an anxious-avoidant attachment style, it is not too late to make some changes. The older your child is, the more difficult it will be to show them the changes and make a difference in your relationship, but keep in mind that it is never too late. There are always ways that you and your child can build a stronger and healthier relationship. Even if your child is an adult now, there are steps that you can take to help the relationship improve.
If you were raised with this type of attachment style, then you must seek help for yourself. Parenting your children in the future or even building a healthy relationship with a significant other can be extremely difficult if you are not certain how a healthy relationship works. By speaking with a professional, you may be able to improve your communication method and how you interact with your partner, which could save your relationship or help you form a healthy one in the future.
No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it's important to seek professional help to get you where you need to be. Healthy and happy relationships are possible; they require a little effort and a little bit of help. With ReGain, you will get some of the help you're looking for and set yourself up for a better future.
The program is entirely online and allows you to interact with a mental health professional without ever having to leave your own home. You'll be able to sit in your favorite place and communicate with a professional entirely online, making sure you can be as open as possible.
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