Want to overcome anxious attachment?
You’re in the right place.
Today, you’ll learn everything from common anxious attachment style triggers that cause conflict to ways to transform from anxious attachment to a more secure attachment style.
So, how do you overcome anxious attachment once and for all? Let’s find out.
What is anxious attachment?
Anxious attachment is one of the four attachment styles that adults form in relationships. These styles are something we develop from infancy and apply throughout our lives. Here’s what you need to know about what anxious attachment is.
What are attachment styles?
Attachment styles come from the theory of attachment developed by John Bowlby.
According to this theory, we develop our outlook on relationships during childhood. The very first relations we have with caretakers or parents affect our adult relationships. It is due to these relationships that we as adults might feel, say, abandoned or dismissive.
This was expanded upon by other psychoanalysts who eventually defined the four attachment categories for relationships that we use today:
- Anxious: Adults who struggle with feeling unworthy of love
- Avoidant: Adults who are rooted in fear and avoid commitment
- Disorganized: Adults who deal with insecurity and have unpredictable behaviors
- Secure: Adults who are overall open to relationships and have a positive self-image
Those who aren’t securely attached have insecure attachment styles.
All humans display one of these four attachment styles, so what does this mean for you?
How do the four attachment styles affect you?
The four relationship attachment styles have a direct impact on us. Biologically, they affect us:
- From the deepest recesses of our instinctual (limbic) brain
- From the stimulation of our nervous system
- Through epigenetics within our DNA
- From a chemical cocktail of neurotransmitters
In this quick video, I explain it all:
Fisher discovered that when we love someone, our brain produces dopamine and rewards our pleasure centers. This flood of dopamine also activates our stress systems, so in short, our relationships directly feed these neurotransmitters.
Your (and your partner’s) attachment style colors your beliefs going into a new relationship. They also make it easy to predict why relationships fail since you fall into the same traps over and over.
What’s more, “like attracts like” when it comes to attachment styles.
Anxiously attached and avoidantly attached people often end up together because they reinforce each other’s beliefs about relationships and attachment. On the other hand, securely attached often attract others who are securely attached.
This is why you, if you are insecurely attached, can easily end up in a vicious cycle of failed relationships.
That’s because as someone who is anxiously attached, you tend to follow specific patterns in relationships -- just like everyone else.
Here’s what you need to know about those patterns.
What does anxious attachment look like in relationships?
Anxious attachment comes from an underlying fear of abandonment and rejection. This often causes a fear of not being good enough.
I talk more about this in this anxious attachment 101 video:
I like to call Anxious people “Open Hearts” because the word anxious sounds judgmental. (And who needs any more of that?)
If you’re an Open Heart and in love, you’re desirous of attention and affection. You frequently need reassurance and are constantly seeking approval. Often, you rely on your partner to be the primary source of your emotional wellbeing.
On the other hand, some Open Hearts might overcorrect and suppress their needs, fearful that their neediness might push someone away. These are all warning signs of being in a toxic relationship.
So, how do you behave in relationships if you have an anxious attachment style? As an Open Heart you might feel that your partner...
- Doesn’t appreciate you and takes your generosity for granted
- Shows up 100% one day and then disappears without explanation the next
- Treats you like an intimate partner, but doesn’t give you any physical intimacy
- On the flip side, maybe they only seem to be interested in sex, but exclude you from other aspects of their lives
- Avoids labeling the relationship and makes you feel like the crazy one for needing it
- Behaves in a needlessly secretive fashion
- Ignores you for weeks at a time then texts “I miss you” at 2 a.m.
- Makes it unsafe to talk directly about feelings or the nature of the relationship
- Sleeps with other people as a way to keep you in your place or does so to put distance between you
- Or, they might commit to you, but then they pull back emotionally. In time, you start feeling more lonely together than when you are apart
You might feel confused and overly preoccupied with trying to make them happy. You think this is the way to finally feel calm and safe in the relationship.
In reality, walking on eggshells only leads to unhealthy people-pleasing. It forces you to hide your feelings and needs just to avoid rocking the boat. You suppress them in order to avoid conflict.
Eventually, resentments begin to grow, but you’re afraid to express your anger. You conceal that anger and it causes you to become increasingly anxious, depressed, obsessed, and clingy.
Here’s what I mean:
Example of an anxious attachment relationship
Let’s take a look at an example of anxious attachment in a relationship: the story of Katie and John.
Katie is an anxious “Open Heart” with a habit of falling headlong into love, but after a while, things always fizzle. After 3 months with John, she was flying high on romance but at this point, John began to pull back.
As a people-pleasing Open Heart, Katie said she was fine with it but underneath was terrified of losing John. While she felt like acting calm and cool would help, she couldn’t stop stressing that she did something wrong.
John, who’s an avoidant (I call them Rolling Stones), began to feel suffocated. Katie was making things too easy for him and he started to desire a bigger challenge. He began feeling annoyed, over-obligated and emotionally exhausted. As a result, his feelings for Katie started to turn into resentment.
Now, John felt confused by Katie. She said she’s willing to wait for him, but then kept sending desperate texts asking how long this will take. John started to feel like maybe he couldn’t give Katie what she needed.
That’s what a relationship, where one partner is anxiously attached, can look like.
But how do you break the cycle of ending up in these relationships? Here’s what you need to know.
How do you break the cycle of anxious attachment?
Good news: you CAN break out of the cycle to overcome anxious attachment.
You can make a partner go from “I need space” to “I want to be a better partner for you.”
Breaking the anxious attachment cycle will help amplify your attractive energy and boost your confidence allowing you to show up to your relationships as the best version of yourself, even during difficult circumstances.
My student Stacy is a real-life example of how breaking the cycle is possible. She explains that once you understand how insecure attachment styles affect your relationships, you can shift your perspective. This helps you realize what’s going on so you can break the cycle, and why you should.
Here’s what she has to say:
What does it take to break the cycle of anxious attachment?
Too often, my clients think, "Once I finally meet 'the one' all the pieces will be in place, and I can relax and start enjoying myself."
But, that’s not true.
The enjoyment has to start long before that.
No relationship will fix that feeling.
Becoming more secure with your attachment style does not depend upon being in a romantic relationship or even actively seeking a romantic relationship.
Relationships are just one dimension. They allow us to see the manifestations of how secure you feel inside yourself and about yourself -- relationships are not anything that will “fix” us.
You have an inner landscape that must be balanced and fulfilled on your own before you can take on the second, outer landscape of a relationship.
The good news is, you don't have to be perfect before attracting, recovering or revitalizing love in your life.
If you find satisfaction within, you can thrive in both worlds through “felt security.”
Felt security is an internal, subjective experience of "self-sovereignty" that you bring to your relationships, including your romantic ones.
This inner resource can help you develop a more constructive attitude toward life, navigate stresses more easily, and find more confidence in others through self-efficacy.
The benefits of felt security include and are exemplified by things like:
- Increased clarity around what is your “intuition” versus “reactive attachment” impulses. That way, you don't feel out of control when a powerful emotion pops up unexpectedly.
- Increased clarity around automatic negative thoughts that may influence decision-making on a subconscious level. You’ll start to act in ways that open up the possibility of love, rather than shutting them down prematurely.
- Increased clarity around the intensity of survival and safety concerns in relationships. This helps you realize when to stay in or leave an unhealthy situation.
- Increased clarity around your own values and how highly you should prioritize them. You can better articulate your needs and GET THEM MET like you deserve.
When you have a deep understanding of your attachment wounds and how to heal them, you can more easily connect emotionally in an authentic way.
This can be difficult without the right tools and with no models to guide you. That’s where anxious attachment triggers come in, which we’ll look at next.
What triggers anxious attachment?
To change your normal patterns, you need to learn to recognize your triggers.
Remember: these are not necessarily things that your partner does out of spite. In fact, they might want to be treated in this way and don’t realize that it’s the opposite of what you want and need.
For example, if you had a hard day, your partner might think that you want some space because that’s what they would prefer. But what you might want is attention and emotional connection, like a hug.
This disconnect creates a conflict, which often leads to triggers that escalate the situation, as I share here:
Three triggering phrases
What makes you feel triggered? Here are three of the most common anxious attachment triggers and what you might be craving to hear instead:
1. “You are overreacting.” This is usually an attempt to diffuse a tense situation and reduce anxiety, however you might perceive it as dismissive and devaluing.
What you might want to hear is: “Even if I can’t understand why you’re feeling this way, I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed. Your feelings are important to me so please tell me how I can support you.” Move forward by finding common ground that each of you has felt overwhelmed in life.
2. “I’m sorry you feel that way, that must be hard for you.” This comes across as a non-apology and stems from a lack of emotional vocabulary. Your partner isn’t actually empathizing with the emotion and doesn’t want to accept the responsibility of making you feel this way.
What you might want to hear is: “Tell me more about what you’re feeling so I can understand. Then we can come up with solutions together.”
3. “You must have done something to cause this.” This is often a deflection of responsibility or your partner is trying to inspire you to be more proactive. They’re trying to express that if you caused the problem, they have the power to fix it. This flopped attempt at empowering is a trigger that sparks distrust.
What you might want to hear is: “What can I offer to support you? Do you want advice to solve the problem or do you want me to just listen? Do you want me to take action or do you simply want me to be here for you?”
By recognizing these triggers and the statements you want to hear instead, you can learn to communicate in a way that doesn’t create a greater conflict. Although triggering phrases usually come from a place of love, it’s not always easy to see that in the situation.
How to avoid being triggered
To avoid being triggered, first, stop and take a breath to reground yourself in the present moment.
Notice the sensations you feel within your body. Where do you feel the stress - in your stomach, your chest, your head? Allow yourself to have the feeling you’re experiencing and try to look inward.
If you’re triggered, you may feel like you’re being flooded and overwhelmed by your feelings. Rather than react, leverage body activation to shift gears within and try to think ahead. Instead of denying your feelings, switch your thinking to something positive.
For example, if you find yourself in a spiral of negative thoughts, don’t get angry at yourself and try to stop them. Let these feelings run their course but at the same time, plan your next vacation.
Another tip that helps? Focus on being the hero of your own story. When you accept that your life and your happiness are in your control, you are less likely to feel triggered.
How do you overcome insecure attachment?
Different relationship styles demand different methods to heal. So, how do you overcome insecure attachment?
The four healing phases for attachment styles in relationships are a great place to start. These phases explain how you feel in relationships and what you need to do to grow from it. Let’s break them down.
This first phase is led by compulsion. You don’t know why your relationships fail, so you tend to attract the same toxic partners you always have. You often cling to fantasies of what a relationship could be instead of seeing the relationship for what it really is. Many people stay in this phase forever since growing from it is quite painful. To move on, you need to start asking “why.”
This second phase feels raw and vulnerable. You start to question your feelings which leads you to seek therapy or read self-help books, but you continue to struggle and can’t overcome these feelings despite new insights. Growth from this phase involves building an emotional vocabulary and enhancing your coping skills. You’ve learned tools, but really don’t know how to apply them. At the end of this phase, you realize there is no short-term fix and it’s going to take more work.
This is when much of the knowledge and research you’ve done begins to materialize. You’re searching for a deeper sense of meaning for what you’ve experienced. You want to connect with your body and dive into a deeper sense of spirituality and understanding of “why.” Growth from this phase means recognizing that old habits resurface so that you can reframe how you view them. This opens you up to a new level of sophistication and spiritual maturity.
You have finally come to a place of understanding and forgiveness towards yourself and past partners. This new sense of resilience may lead you to reconnect with people or deepen current relationships in a more authentic way. Your openness to give and receive love has expanded. You may feel fearful, but it’s no longer debilitating. Growth revolves around applying the skills you’ve learned like prioritizing self-care, spiritual practices, and letting go of judgment.
Regardless of what phase you are in, just acknowledging these four steps can give you hope that your attachment style can evolve into secure attachment.
And if you want results faster, here’s how the MacWilliam Method can help you.
The MacWilliam Method
The MacWilliam Method is my approach to healing attachment wounds.
It is based on the idea that self-mastery evolves out of a continuous loop between conscious awareness and creative expression. The method leverages three practical tools to maintain its momentum and heal attachment wounds. They are:
- Cognitive reframing
- Body activation
- Arts-based experientials
Through tutorials and psycho-spiritual activities, we reframe experiences on a cognitive level to rewrite painful narratives into positive statements of self-confidence.
Amanda was a student in The MacWilliam Method course and her success story explains how she saved her marriage. For her, the course answered “why” things were going wrong and gave her the tools to fix them.
She found that the arts-based experientials were especially releasing for her. It opened new things for Amanda and helped her release feelings she didn’t even know she had.
Art therapy techniques, like the ones in The MacWilliam Method, help tap into your body and brain in new ways. They exercise your creative side and allow you to reframe your thoughts about how you show up to your relationship. These effective experiential practices help students heal their attachment wounds once and for all:
Over to you!
There you have it. Now you know how to overcome anxious attachment in relationships.
What it comes down to is understanding how anxious attachment affects you, recognizing triggering behaviors and having patience as you learn to reframe how you show up to your relationship. It takes time, but it’s well worth it for both you and your loved ones.
What’s your #1 question about overcoming anxious attachment?
Let me know in the comments below.