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

Updated April 6, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

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’re being too needy in your relationship. We can draw on more technical terms in relationship psychology for the concept of neediness; these include "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.

Wondering how to get your needs met in a healthy way?

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 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 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 can be 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. 

The problem with codependency and anxious attachment styles

When people think of someone who is "needy," chances are they're envisioning someone codependent who may also have 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 "emotionally needy" to the point that it's codependency or an anxious attachment style can result in many negative consequences, which are 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 can arguably ne an unhealthy approach to love. If we expect someone else to complete us, it means we may not necessarily recognize our own "wholeness" as individuals. This can put 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 end up neglecting your own 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 someone else. You may go to great lengths for the validation of another, 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. 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 that they don't love you
  • Being angry or jealous if their plans don't include you
Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

How to break free from codependency 

Love can be a wonderful thing, but a codependent form of love can be mentally unhealthy and keep you from growing as a person. You don't have to continue down this path, however. You can stop being codependent and open yourself up to 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. Here are some steps to begin breaking free from the grip of codependency: 

Build self-esteem

When you feel positively about yourself, you may not 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. As you learn to accept yourself, 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 can 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. This can put both of you in an uncomfortable position and the pressure that this can create can be detrimental to the relationship. So, what can you do? Try to 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

If you want to have a healthy, happy romantic relationship, it can be important to learn how to be more independent. Learning to be assertive can help you stand up for yourself 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 own identity. They remain comfortable taking care of their own needs when the other person isn't available or lets them down.

Pursue personal interests

Are you so focused on getting someone to love you that you have no other interests in your life? This can be common among those struggling with codependency. By getting busy with interests outside of the relationship, you can start to heal. For example, try taking up a hobby, playing music, making art, going to community events, painting, seeing a movie, etc. Being involved in doing the things that make you happy can give you the bonus of making you a more interesting person.

Manage your mental health

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 may still need help to become more independent or build your self-esteem.

Wondering how to get your needs met in a healthy way?

Online counseling with Regain

Overcoming an unhealthy romantic relationship can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. With Regain, an online counseling platform, you can identify what has gone wrong in the past and learn new approaches to relationships. With online counseling, you can meet with a therapist on your schedule and move toward healthier relationships with more ease and convenience. A therapist can help you regain your sense of balance and overcome codependency, anxious attachment, or any neediness you might be experiencing. Learning to take care of yourself can be a process, but you may be able to make progress more effectively with a professional’s support and encouragement. 

The efficacy of online counseling 

If anxiety is present in your relationship, you could benefit from online counseling. In one study, researchers assessed the effectiveness of an online counseling intervention for couples and individuals experiencing issues in their relationships. They found that the program was successful in improving couples’ relationship satisfaction and reducing the distress they were feeling. Additionally, the intervention effectively improved symptoms of anxiety and depression that participants were experiencing.


While anxious attachment, codependency, and neediness are separate concepts, they often go hand in hand and can create one-sided, unhealthy relationships. Many of these behaviors are learned, but with the right tools and support, you can unlearn them. You deserve a healthy, reciprocal relationship and a professional can help you move toward just that. A Regain therapist can offer advice, guidance, and support as you learn how to prioritize yourself and your needs. Over time, you can heal from what’s been holding you back and experience the satisfaction of a healthy relationship with yourself and others.  

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