Anxious Attachment and Codependency: Are You Worried About Being “Needy”?

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated April 16, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

Being "needy" isn't exactly a technical term, but it's something that many of us can relate to. Perhaps you're in—or have been in—a relationship with someone you felt was too needy. Or maybe you are worried that you might be too needy.

We can draw on more technical terms in relationship psychology for this concept: "anxious attachment" and "codependency." Read on to learn more about these terms and how they can help you better understand what it means to be "needy" in a relationship.

Anxious Attachment

Going back to the 1980s, researchers in the psychology of relationships applied the idea of "attachment theory" to adult relationships. This same theory has its origins in the 1950s with a researcher named John Bowlby, who explored how young children reacted to temporary separation from their mothers.

In relationships, it is completely normal and healthy to feel attached. After all, this is what many of us are seeking in relationships: someone with whom we can feel truly connected.

Nonetheless, like with everything, attachment can be taken to extremes. When an individual develops significant anxiety surrounding their attachment to another figure, this can potentially be harmful to both people. Researchers in this field generally refers to this form of unhealthy attachment as "anxious attachment."

Codependency

Codependency is another concept with close ties to the anxious attachment.

Someone who finds themselves in a codependent relationship will generally show "a pattern of compulsive behaviors that are motivated by a dependence on another's approval and is designed to find a sense of safety, identity, and self-worth."

While it is perfectly natural to want to feel wanted by people who are important or special to us, for example, with a romantic partner, there is a line between healthy and unhealthy behaviors. When someone falls under the codependent umbrella, they are much more likely to feel insecure and unappreciated, even when this isn't necessarily the case. 

You Are Worthy Of Love
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.

The Problem with Codependency and Anxious Attachment Styles

When people think of someone who is "needy," chances are they're envisioning codependent and who has an anxious attachment style.

Of course, we all have needs. Abraham Maslow studied human motivation and published a paper on motivation that included his hierarchy of needs. His pyramidal graphic includes physiological, safety, love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs. Most people would not argue with the idea that we need some measure of love.

Nonetheless, being "needy" to the point that it's codependency or an anxious attachment style can result in many negative consequences, which will be outlined below.

Expecting Someone to Complete You

There's a common idea about love in that we are just halves looking for our "other half." While this idea goes back to Plato, it's arguably an unhealthy approach to love.

If we expect someone else to complete us, it means we don't recognize our own "wholeness" as individuals. It puts great emphasis on the approval and continual validation of another when ultimately we have to come to terms with our own needs and desires before anyone else's.

Poor Personal Development

If you're spending all your time worrying about someone else, you may very well neglect your well-being and your personal development. Rather than trying to learn, mature, and accomplish personal goals, you may instead be passing more time thinking about and trying to appeal to your attachment figure.

Even if you focus on yourself, it may be motivated primarily by the desire to please others. This is unfortunately true for so many people. They end up going to great lengths for the validation or another (or others), only to end up feeling empty because it didn't correspond to their true desires and needs.

Increased Insecurity, Anxiety, and Depression

Codependency and anxious attachment styles often stem from deep insecurities. People afraid of displeasing others are most likely to develop these issues. Unfortunately, however, the problem mostly only worsens rather than improves their insecurity.

By fixating in an unhealthy manner on others, people with high anxiety regarding attachment figures are more likely to experience increased anxiety and possibly depression.

Behaviors Associated with Codependency and Anxious Attachment

Here are some behaviors that people with codependency or an anxious attachment style may exhibit with their partner or another attachment figure:

  • Clinging to them despite their lack of interest
  • Giving more than you get
  • Always doing things their way
  • Actively pursuing their love despite rebuffs
  • Keeping in constant contact
  • Becoming jealous or suspicious easily
  • Begging them for reassurance that they love you
  • Ignoring their hurtful actions
  • Not maintaining personal boundaries with them
  • Denying your needs but expecting them to take care of them
  • Looking for signs, they don't love you
  • Being angry or jealous if their plans don't include you

How To Break Free from Codependency

Love is a wonderful thing. Loving in a codependent way? Not so much. In fact, this form of love is mentally unhealthy and can keep you from growing as a person. You don't have to continue down this destructive path, however. You can stop being codependent and open up the possibility of being in a healthy, loving relationship.

You won't become less "needy" by depending on a partner or potential partner to meet your needs. Instead, you can make it your project. You can do it to become a better you regardless of whether someone falls in love with you or not.

Build Self-Esteem

The first step is to build your self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself, you don't have such a strong need for someone else to build you up with praise or attention.

One way to build your self-esteem is to think of positive things about yourself and focus on those things. As you learn to accept yourself better, you can begin to make changes that matter to you.

Negative self-talk can keep you feeling bad about yourself even when you do something to impress others. A therapist can teach you techniques for changing those thoughts and the feelings that go with them.

Work On Your Social Network

Reach out to your family and friends and aim to spend more quality time with them. Do fun activities together, have long conversations, maybe even work together on a community project. By spending quality time with other people, you become less desperate to get love from your significant other.

Take Responsibility for Your Happiness

Being codependent often comes from needing someone else to make you happy. That puts both of you in an uncomfortable position. They have to figure out what it will take to do that, and you have to wait and hope they manage it. The pressure that this causes can be detrimental to both of you.

So, what can you do? You'll be much happier if you take control over what you have the power to do to make you happy. Understand that it is no one else's job to make you happy. Besides that, you are in the best position to know what happiness is for you and how it can be achieved.

Develop Your Independence

Want to be codependent? Probably not. If you want to have a healthy, happy love relationship, you need to become more independent. Learning to be assertive can help you stand up for yourself better without hurting others unnecessarily. You can ask your partner's opinions on your individual decisions but remember that they're yours to make. Strive to become independent enough to get what you need for yourself.

People in a healthy relationship are usually interdependent. This means that they work together to meet both their needs. At the same time, they each have their identity. They remain comfortable taking care of their own needs when the other person isn't available or lets them down.

Pursue Personal Interests

Don't get so focused on getting someone to love you that you have no other interests in your life. You'll be much less codependent if you get busy with your interests outside of the relationship.

For example, try taking up a hobby, playing music, making art, going to community events, seeing a movie, playing, concerts, etc. Being involved in doing the things that make you happy will give you the bonus of making you a more interesting person.

Manage Your Mental Health Issues

If you've been in a one-sided relationship for a long time, you may have developed mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or panic attacks. Even if you don't have these issues, you likely need help to become more independent and or build your self-esteem.

You Are Worthy Of Love

A short-term unhealthy love relationship might be easy to overcome if you're willing to do some work. You'll have to identify what went wrong and learn new approaches to relationships. However, if the relationship has gone on for a long time or you've been dwelling on finding love for a long time, you may find it very difficult to regain your sense of balance and overcome your neediness.

If you need help to deal with the relationship or learn new skills for new relationships, you can talk to a licensed counselor at ReGain for online therapy on your schedule. You can move toward a healthy relationship when you learn to take care of yourself and stop waiting for someone else to prove their love. When that happens, you'll be emotionally healthier and truly ready for love!

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak With A Licensed Therapist
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
Get The Support You Need From One Of Our Therapists
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.