The Anxious Attachment Style and Breakups: How to Handle Them (2023 Guide)

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Are you currently in the midst of a painful breakup and looking for a way to heal?

If you’re insecurely attached, breakups can be hard. And that’s especially true for anxious attachment breakups. 

Let’s get to the bottom of the source of this emotional turmoil and find out how we can use it as a healing tool!

What is the anxious attachment style?

People with an anxious attachment style generally want a lot of closeness in their relationships. They want it quickly and they want it unconditionally.

I like to refer to these people as ‘Open Hearts’.

Attachment theory 101

The Open-Hearted attachment style is just one of four relationship attachment styles, with the other three being: secure, avoidant (‘Rolling Stones’), and disorganized (‘Spice of Lifers’). We’ll discuss some of these later.

Of these four attachment styles, three are the so-called insecure ones. While all four develop in early childhood, the childhood of a person with an insecure attachment style is generally characterized by the lack of a secure, stable bond with caregivers and not having one’s needs met.

According to psychologist John Bowlby, the inventor of the attachment style theory, these early-life dynamics shape us in fundamental ways, influencing how we approach all later relationships in our lives.

We now have an idea of what creates anxious attachment, so, let’s delve deeper into what it is.

Anxious attachment 101

Do you often walk on eggshells, hoping to please a partner? Perhaps feeling like you’re pouring everything into a relationship? Or do you have a tendency to feel extremely attracted to emotionally unavailable people? Does the mere thought of remaining alone scare the hell out of you? And do you often look outside yourself for approval and validation?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, that could be an indication that you might have an Open-Hearted attachment.

An insatiable hunger for love and affection is typical of an Open Heart. This is in part because they often experience deep feelings of unworthiness. So, they hope that someone will come along, love them deeply, and remove all these negative, unwanted feelings.

At the beginning of a relationship, this may even seem to work. The newness of a fresh romance can be so exhilarating that an Open Heart finally gets to forget about their typical worries. Even if just for a bit.

Sooner or later, however, the doubts tend to come back with a vengeance as worrying about attracting a partner shifts to worrying about keeping your partner.

Because of this, an Open Heart can become increasingly vigilant and sensitive to any negative emotional cues as time goes by.

What are people with an anxious attachment attracted to?

Connection, closeness, and intimacy. That is what an Open Heart desires. But is it also what they necessarily find attractive?

Not always. Because despite the Open Heart’s yearning for intimacy, vulnerability also scares them. They might have experienced being told that “they are just too much” one too many times, so, to win a partner’s love, they can develop ways of hiding certain parts of themselves that they deem unattractive or undesirable. Unfortunately, this not only complicates being your true, authentic self, but it also leads to a certain disconnect. Both from yourself and others.

Anxious attachment and crushes

Open Hearts usually develop intense crushes very quickly. This is not entirely surprising. After all, a crush often has much more to do with one’s fantasy than anything else.

A crush is exciting and fun. It allows you to feel strong emotions for someone without necessarily having to deal with the ‘scarier’ sides of a relationship, like true intimacy. Without even really knowing who the other person is, you can feel a strong bond and relish in all the lovely feelings and fantasies that go along with it.

As long as someone is able to also (eventually) see the person in front of them, stripped away of all the fantasies and expectations, this tendency to develop strong crushes early on does not necessarily mean relationship doom. What is advisable not to get into, however, is the anxious-avoidant trap.

The anxious-avoidant trap

The anxious-avoidant trap refers to the rollercoaster cycle of an unhealthy, push-pull relationship.

As people with an anxious attachment style tend to feel attracted to those with an avoidant attachment style (the so-called ‘Rolling Stones’), and vice versa, this trap is quite common.

The cyclical pattern can be summarized like this: The Open Heart seems to want far too much, the Rolling Stone far too little. Yet when the Open Heart reaches a breaking point and decides to call it quits, the Rolling Stone is pulled back in again.

This could either be because the low ‘danger’ of reciprocation makes the Rolling Stone feel safer or because they admire the Open Heart’s new-found strength and independence. But either way, unless things fundamentally change, the cycle is likely to repeat itself.

As the Open Heart starts pouring in all their love and energy again, the Rolling Stone, once again, feels uneasy and unsafe. The words ‘needy’ and ‘cold’ are thrown around. And the anxious-avoidant trap remains in full force.

Why do anxious and avoidants attract?

Now, why are those with anxious attachment drawn to those with avoidant attachment style and vice versa?

Well, we tend to behave in ways that validate and reinforce our attachment models. Of course, this usually happens unconsciously so most of the time we are not even aware of it.

For example, Open Hearts frequently pair with partners who ultimately won’t give them what they want, namely long-lasting closeness and intimacy.

Because Open Hearts can experience deep-rooted feelings of unworthiness, they generally like a challenging partner who makes them work for it. They can spend months, if not years, chasing someone, hoping to ‘win’ over their love and prove to them (and also themselves) that they are worthy. That they are, in essence, lovable. A feeling that they never experienced much during childhood.

Yet, by chasing someone unattainable, you do the complete opposite. Instead of feeling lovable, you constantly feel like you are unlovable, thus validating your own deepest fear.

How do people with an anxious attachment style deal with breakups?

A breakup is often an Open Heart’s worst fear. So, how do anxious attachment handle breakups?

They can experience extreme feelings of unworthiness and despair. And because they feel incapable of fending for themselves in the face of emotional adversity, they are prone to engage in unhealthy, numbing behavior. Together with a tendency to ruminate, this usually only further worsens the emotional turmoil they are already in.

In contrast, while someone with an avoidant attachment is just as likely to behave in unhealthy coping behavior after a painful breakup, this is done in a slightly different way. They generally ruminate less than an Open Heart and will instead do everything they can not to think of their ex-partner too much. Sometimes even outright ghosting their ex.

If you like the idea of me doing a video or blog post on how different attachment styles deal with breakups, then make sure to let me know in the comments!

Anxious attachment breakup stages

While everyone deals with a breakup differently, and every breakup in itself is also unique, there are usually a few breakup stages that someone with an anxious attachment style goes through. Let’s explore this further.

1. Sensitivity towards relationship threats

Because an Open Heart is so scared of losing a partner’s love and affection, they tend to be hypervigilant of any negative signs. They have a sort of ‘spidey sense’ that allows them to notice the tiniest of shifts. Even before a breakup actually occurs. In and of itself, this can be a good thing. After all, noticing issues early on can be favorable for everyone involved.

When these doubts can’t be brought up in a healthy, constructive way, however, it often only further worsens the situation.

For example, if an Open Heart feels like something is off and finds that their partner does not reassure them enough, they may exhibit protest behavior (so-called anxious attachment protest behavior). This includes things such as withdrawing, excessive calling or texting, manipulation, trying to make the partner jealous, threats, hostility, etc.

While the goal is to reestablish contact with the partner and pull them in closer again, it often ends up doing the exact opposite. Pushing the partner even further away.

2. Intense negative reactions

A breakup feeds into an Open Heart’s fears and greatly triggers their attachment system. This is especially true when the separation was instigated from the ex-partner’s side.

After a breakup, Open Hearts often deal with intense pain and an extreme desire to see their ex-partner again. They feel abandoned, unloved, undesirable, rejected. And besides their initial anxiety, they may experience severe depressive symptoms. 

Life feels meaningless. And the thought of waking up each day without this partner by their side can seem like torture. Numerous painful feelings can be felt, ranging from anger and shame to intense sadness and despair.

While friends and family may be able to provide support, the Open Heart’s reactions might seem slightly exaggerated to them. And because Open Hearts often haven’t developed effective or healthy self-soothing practices yet, they can feel extremely overwhelmed by it all. Sometimes reaching for unhealthy tools to try and alleviate their pain.

3. Urge to get back together

Because the pain of a breakup is often so immense, an Open Heart tends to have a strong urge to get back together with their ex, hoping that this will restore a feeling of safety.

They are prone to putting their ex and the relationship as a whole on a pedestal, focusing on all the great parts while overlooking the more negative sides.

With each passing moment, the breakup looks more and more like a terrible mistake. One that should be corrected as soon as possible!

They might start reading endless articles and books on How to win an ex back, fantasizing about how beautiful things could be if they just had another chance together. This immense doubt and fantasizing can also happen even if the Open Heart was the instigator of the breakup. 

To reduce the agony, they would basically do almost anything to get back together again. This often includes making many, many promises about how they would change. While this might work to convince a partner to reunite, it can also cause a certain loss of self. Especially when it seems like the Open Heart is the only one in the relationship who would be willing to make such big changes.

4. Rumination and jealousy

Anxious attachment, rumination, and jealousy often go hand in hand. After a breakup, this is all the more noticeable.

If attempts to get back together fail, the Open Heart might experience intense feelings of jealousy and anger. Imagining their partner moving on can be extremely painful and bring up many difficult emotions.

Rumination is also common. They overanalyze everything that ever happened. Not only during the breakup but also during the entire relationship. From start to finish.

While self-reflection is a very good thing, rumination usually only leads to even more distress. And because Open Hearts might still be putting their exes on a pedestal, they might be overly focused on all of their own perceived wrongdoings.

So, they mull over everything they supposedly did wrong, believing that things could have been so much better had they just done this or that differently.

What they often do not realize is that relationships are meant to be a two-way street. You can’t save a broken relationship on your own. No matter how hard you are willing to try.

How do you get over a breakup as an anxiously attached person?

While every breakup process is unique, knowing what your triggers are can greatly help in dealing with it in a healthier way. Understanding where your pain is coming from is a crucial step toward healing. It helps you see things with more clarity and prevents you from staying stuck in your pain.

What triggers an anxiously attached person?

Any signs of potential abandonment or rejection greatly trigger an Open Heart. It taps into their fear of being left alone and reinforces their worries about being unlovable.

Now, what happens when anxious attachment is triggered?

Triggers are essentially semi-automatic gut reactions. They are not very rational and can bring up a well of intense emotions.

Listening to our gut feelings is important. But knowing how to distinguish our defensive or overprotective instincts from our healthier intuition is perhaps even more crucial.

For example, does the immense urge to get back with your partner stem from an intuitive knowing that this is the right relationship for you? Or may it also be somewhat driven by old emotional needs and fears and a desire to cling to a harmful but familiar sense of identity? One in which you are not fully seen or heard, and are instead fighting for the other person’s love and approval?

In this video, I discuss in more detail how you can decode your own triggers and learn to work with their deeper wisdom:

Anxious attachment breakup tips

There’s no clear-cut plan to get over breakup pain. But there are some useful tips that can make the process as healthy and healing as possible:

Let go of the fantasy

However hard it may seem, try to keep a realistic view of the past. Don’t put your ex on a pedestal and also don’t demonize yourself. Living in the present is a beautiful gift that we usually don’t practice often enough. What are some things that could ground you in the present and reduce rumination?

No contact

Doing no contact with anxious attachment is not easy, but it can bring so many benefits. Important, however, is that you do it for YOU! Sure, it may make your ex miss you more, but that should not be the main goal.

Process the four crucial emotions

During the breakup process, four crucial emotions must be experienced: anger, sadness, fear, and grief. Take a look at this video, to know why these are so important: 

Allow yourself to move one

Allowing yourself to truly move on can be extremely cathartic for an Open Heart. And embracing wonder can help with this. After all, an inability to let go often also has to do with a fear of the unknown. 

Benefits of having an anxious attachment style in breakups

Now, before you fervently start looking for things such as: “Can you heal anxious attachment?” Or “How do you overcome attachment issues after a breakup?” Just know that an anxious attachment brings with it many positives. Not only during the relationship but also afterward.

As mentioned earlier, a tendency to ruminate generally also indicates a high level of reflection. And due to feeling heartbreak so intensely, a breakup often serves as a catalyst for transformation for Open Hearts. 

With that being said, wanting to feel a little less like you’re lost at sea, drowning in your emotions, is also completely normal. Change is possible, and moving towards a more secure attachment style can happen! And yes, research literally backs this up.

So, if you would like to learn about things such as how to break free from anxious attachment or how to calm down anxious attachment, then I have lots of tools and sources to help you out!

The first step is to figure out your own attachment style. Take my free quiz here to do so:

With that being said, let’s never forget that you are also perfectly okay the way you are right now. In fact, desperately trying to heal all the time actually keeps us wounded in many ways.

If you would like to delve deeper into this topic, then this video will help you: 

Over to you!

That was it for today, now you know what anxious attachment breakups look like. 

Breakups can be incredibly hard. This is true for everyone, but perhaps even more for an Open Heart. While the emotional turmoil can seem so painful, eventually, it can also help us emerge as stronger and more whole human beings.

Do you have any other questions about what anxious attachment feels like during a breakup? What coping mechanisms do you rely on while dealing with a breakup? Would you label these as healthy? Or would you rather develop some new ones?

Share it in the comments below!

 

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Hi, I'm Briana.

And I love romance novels and campy science fiction shows (anyone else a die-hard Supernatural fan?). I also like being my own boss. Doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. And treating work like play. Through my education, professional experience, and personal life experiences, I have come to passionately serve insecurely attached adults, who want to experience soul-deep intimacy, in their romantic relationships.

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