Calming the Anxious Attachment Style
Explore Productive Ways to Self-Soothe During an Anxious Attachment Flare-Up
Attachment style refers to the unique way in which you bond, communicate, connect, share intimacy, and separate from others. This pattern of bonding begins to develop in utero and continues to evolve throughout childhood.
While genetics may play a role in shaping attachment style, early attachment experiences can have a profound impact on relationship patterns throughout the lifespan. Understanding your attachment style can help you to develop healthier, more fulfilling connections with others.
The attachment style that we develop as adults is often shaped by the quality of care that we received from our primary caregivers during childhood. Individuals who had positive and stable bonding experiences with their caregivers are more likely to develop a secure attachment style, which enables them to feel safe and stable in their relationships and experience minimal distress and separation anxiety.
On the other hand, children who faced abandonment, neglect, abuse, or trauma may develop anxious, fearful, or avoidant attachment styles as adults.
These attachment styles can cause challenges in building and maintaining healthy relationships, but identifying one's attachment style can be a helpful step toward achieving more secure and satisfying interpersonal connections.
People with an anxious attachment style will often experience the following symptoms in their adult relationships:
Overthinking about why someone didn’t call or text you.
Wondering if you did something wrong or if other people are mad at you.
Catastrophic thinking such as imagining the worst-case scenario.
Fantasizing about how you want the relationship to be.
Fear that the other person doesn't like you or that you're lacking in some way.
Preoccupation with other people and how they aren’t living up to your expectations.
Feeling unworthy and as if you constantly have to prove yourself to other people.
A desire to solve other people's problems at your own expense.
Feelings of extreme loneliness, emptiness, neediness, clinginess, or despair.
High emotional reactivity when someone isn't available in the way you want them to be.
Questioning your reality and whether you are overreacting to other people.
Feeling stuck in anxiety, anger, or resentment.
Fear of abandonment.
The Neuroscience of Anxious Attachment
People who experience symptoms of anxiety in their relationships might be affected by the way their brain is structured. Early childhood trauma, for instance, may cause physical changes in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for detecting danger, leading to hyper-vigilance and difficulty distinguishing real threats from perceived ones. This can result in missing actual red flags or overreacting to minor issues.
However, there are ways to calm your nervous system, activate more helpful parts of your brain, and restore your sense of inner strength. Learning to recognize and manage anxiety can help you build stronger and healthier relationships.
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7 Unhelpful Habits to Avoid When Your Attachment Anxiety Flares Up
1. Being too available + abandoning yourself. You're likely abandoning yourself if you find that you're stalking someone on social media, waiting all day until they call or text you, or chasing them by sending too many texts for every one-word response they send you. This can be demoralizing and reinforces low self-worth, which is inherent in some attachment disorders. Self-abandonment can also include disengaging from your own life or dropping everything for the other person as soon as they want to see you. When you do this you're not valuing your time or boundaries. By abandoning yourself, you’re teaching other people that it's ok to abandon you.
2. Compromising your values to make someone happy. When it comes to co-dependent relationships, it's easy to fall into the trap of compromising your values and boundaries in order to please others and feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. However, this often leads to feelings of resentment and discomfort, which is a sign that it's time to recalibrate your compass of values and establish healthy boundaries. By identifying your values and setting clear boundaries, you can avoid abandoning your own needs and desires in favor of others. This doesn't mean neglecting the needs of those you care about, but rather, finding a sense of balance where everyone's needs are respected and addressed. Remember that healthy relationships are built on mutual respect and understanding and that prioritizing your own well-being is a vital component of any successful partnership.
3. Self-harm instead of self-care. When separation anxiety is experienced, it can trigger childhood feelings of pain and despair. This can result in an overwhelming flood of emotions that may cause harmful coping behaviors, such as binge drinking, overeating, under-eating, or workaholism. Unfortunately, these actions can only make things worse, reinforcing feelings of trauma and stress while also chipping away at one's sense of self-worth.
Read more: Anxious and avoidant attachment patterns are often similar to symptoms of codependence. Explore some of the overlapping symptoms of codependency and attachment disorders.
4. Negative thinking. When people experience triggers that challenge their sense of safety, they may fall into negative thought patterns that exacerbate their stress and anxiety. This can take many forms, including catastrophizing, ruminating on the past, and feeling overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy.
5. Savior fantasies. Separation anxiety is a common experience among children who may feel abandoned or alone when separated from their parents. As a coping mechanism, children may often fantasize about being saved or rescued from their situation. However, if this coping mechanism persists into adulthood, it can have negative consequences on our relationships and mental health. When we continue to rely on the fantasy of being saved as adults, we may put others on a pedestal, give them our power, and miss important red flags or other realities of a situation. This can result in unhealthy relationships, codependency, and a lack of agency in our own lives.
6. Going out of your way to prove your worth. When children are abandoned or abused, it can have profound effects on their sense of self-worth. As they move through life, they may struggle with the belief that they aren't good enough and need to constantly prove themselves in order to receive love and validation. Unfortunately, this can lead to destructive patterns in relationships, making them more susceptible to manipulation, caretaking, and overextending themselves. These patterns can take a toll on their mental health, resulting in anxiety, depression, and other negative outcomes.
Read more: It's common for people with an anxious attachment disorder to engage in love addiction and codependent behaviors.
7. Blaming or arguing when you’re triggered. When attachment anxiety is triggered, it can activate primal feelings related to safety and survival, putting you in fight-or-flight mode. This can make it particularly difficult to have productive conversations.
Calming Attachment Anxiety: 7 Productive Ways to Cultivate Healing and Empowerment
1. Regulate your nervous system. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by stress or triggering childhood wounds, taking a moment to change your physiology can make all the difference. One effective method is to pause and take three slow breaths into your belly and diaphragm. This helps signal safety to your brain, counteracting the effects of adrenaline and cortisol. In addition, finding other ways to self-regulate can help break the cycle of stress and anxiety. This may include activities like yoga, exercise, bodywork, or spending time in nature. Whatever works for you, take some time to get grounded and into your body. If you need extra support, don't be afraid to seek help from a therapist or other professionals trained in managing childhood trauma.
2. Consistent self-care. Taking time for yourself is crucial for maintaining mental and emotional health, especially when dealing with stress and anxiety. Even if you don't feel like it, make sure you do at least one regenerative activity every day to build up internal resources like resilience, mindfulness, and self-worth.
Read more: Explore the relationship between self-care, boundaries, and cultivating self-worth.
3. Reparent your inner child. To start this healing process, it's important to treat yourself with compassion and kindness, similar to how you'd treat a child. This means nourishing your body and mind with healthy activities, such as taking a walk, drawing, reading, or even just drinking water. By committing to these small self-care habits, you give yourself the opportunity to reparent and heal your inner child. These practices can help you detox from pain and shame from childhood while building emotional strength and well-being. Remember, it's important to prioritize self-care every day, even when it feels difficult or unappealing. By doing so, you can begin to overcome abandonment wounds and build resilience for a more fulfilling life.
4. Gain command over your thinking patterns. Dealing with negative thought patterns can be challenging, especially when they feel so real and overwhelming. However, it's important to remember that not every thought we have is objectively true. Next time you find yourself caught in a spiral of negative thoughts, try to take a step back and remind yourself that these thoughts may not be accurate. Refocus your attention on what's within your control in the present moment, and take a few moments to ground yourself through your breath or return your focus to your physical body. One powerful way to shift your mindset is through gratitude. Take some time to reflect on the things in your life that you're thankful for, even if they may seem small. Focusing on feelings of abundance instead of scarcity can help you cultivate a sense of safety and positivity. Remember, it's normal to have negative thoughts, but it's also possible to break the cycle and refocus your attention on the safety of the present moment.
Read more: Learn about different types of negative thinking patterns and how to overcome negative thoughts.
5. Externalize your feelings. Releasing pent-up emotions and stress is crucial for maintaining mental and emotional well-being. To accomplish this, you can experiment with different activities such as writing, artwork, movement, or music-making. Journaling is a powerful way to release stress and nurture and reparent your inner child. One useful journaling technique is to write from the perspective of your inner child and ask them why they're feeling sad or upset. Then, write from the perspective of your most empowered adult self to offer guidance, compassion, and healing advice. By practicing these techniques, you can begin to let go of negative emotions and free yourself from the clutter of negative thoughts and trapped emotions.
6. Remember your worth. Cultivating healthy self-worth will help you to avoid putting someone else on a pedestal or abandoning yourself. Repeat this phrase every day: "Everyone is equally and inherently worthy. I am inherently worthy of love and acceptance."
7. Practice mindful communication. Non-violent communication or the DBT technique D-E-A-R-M-A-N can be helpful tools to approach these conversations with grace and honesty, making requests without coming off as needy, bossy, controlling, or avoidant.
If you are experiencing attachment anxiety, there are ways to address it and begin the process of reparenting yourself. Remember that change is a gradual process, and it's important to be patient with yourself. Implementing self-regulation practices, processing your emotions, and setting healthy boundaries can be helpful in building a strong foundation for your self-worth and well-being. Remember to focus on what you can control, and take one step at a time toward progress.