Anxious attachment is also known as preoccupied attachment or ambivalent attachment, which speaks of the various processes that are part of this relating style.

We can have a lot of negative judgement and shame about this relating style, not helped by words such as “clingy” or “needy”. It’s important we bring compassion to ourselves as we try to be more autonomous and resilient in our relationships.

When we are young we require a lot of regulation in order to feel secure in the world and relationships, so we learn people can meet our needs and we don’t need to worry. If the care we received was inconsistent, unpredictable or escalated our upset, this imprints in to our nervous system that life is scary, we need to be vigilant for danger at all times, and that we are dependent on others regulating us – and others are often unreliable. We learn relationships are a source of stress, and when there’s a change in someone else, that is profoundly threatening for us.

We are conditioned to be on the lookout for changes in our loved ones, and when we see change, however major or minor, it signals danger to us. Then in our adulthood we are stuck in the false belief that our needs are met by others.

That is why when we are dysregulated we look to our partners to soothe us. We need to develop ways of emotionally regulating ourselves.

Key aspects to this adult attachment are:

1. DEPARTURE STRESS

Different to the avoidantly attached ‘Approach Stress’, people with this attachment style get triggered into anxiety when any perceived departure, rejection or abandonment is sensed.

2. PROXIMITY SEEKING

We do not want distance –when we were young we learnt distance is dangerous. We are often anxiously wanting supreme closeness; our attachment system is over-active and we need reassurance, contact and intensity all the time.

3. RELATIONSHIP HYPERFOCUS

We become over-focused on the relationship and it can take over our mental and emotional lives. This is the preoccupation part of this attachment style.

4. SURPLUS OF RIGHT BRAIN ACTIVITY

The highly emotive Right Brain often dominates and we can feel at the mercy of our emotions without utilising the regulating, rational and calming Left Brain.

5. HYPERSENSITIVITY TO THE NEGATIVE

We view ourselves, our partner or relationship through a distorted negative lens which perpetuates our upset and the playing out of our patterns. Our perspective is highly skewed towards pessimism and hopelessness, and we get stuck in a mind-set of “never enough” often saying “Yes, but…” when referencing our partners. This is the highly unhappy place of ambivalence.

We need to take responsibility for this and train our brains to value that which we don’t immediately recognise: when someone makes love demonstrations, reliability, acts of service, calm connection and respectful intimacy.

6. SELF-PERPETUATING CYCLES

We have an unconscious investment in maintaining the status quo and our established patterns, even if it means we are constantly ‘disappointed’ or ‘let down’. This is our script, which we will always seek to maintain by doing the above behaviours.

7. NEED FOR REASSURANCE

Can we give ourselves the reassurance we need? Because otherwise we can be codependently looking to others to reassure us and soothe us (which you might notice doesn’t really work in the long-term). So the relationship is imbalanced… couples are meant to support and cheerlead each other but we need to come to our relationships as adult as we can, obtaining healing and support, not parenting.

HOW TO BE LESS ANXIOUSLY ATTACHED


• Notice caring behaviours that will build security, trust and safety.
• Integrate value and appreciation into our daily practice.
• Emotionally regulate – recognising our ‘justified upset’ needs to be soothed by us to arrive at what genuinely needs to be worked on.
• Have consistent and reliable relationships outside our romantic partners.
• Self-soothe – bring compassion and care to the harsh and negative mind-set we can often have.

Having awareness of and working on the above can help us develop robustness in the face of anxiety, ambivalence and preoccupation, and slowly improve our ability to be secure and calm in relationships.


How To Be Less Anxiously Attached

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