Want to learn how to self-soothe anxious attachment?
You’ve come to the right place. In today’s guide, you’ll learn how to calm your anxious attachment and move closer to secure attachment.
Want to learn more? Read on!
Want to learn more about your attachment styles? Take the quiz!
What is anxious attachment?
Anxious attachment is one of four attachment styles. Attachment styles are based on attachment theory, which explains relationships between humans. A child needs to build a relationship with at least one primary caregiver who meets the child’s physical and emotional needs to learn how to build emotional connections with, or attach to, others.
If they do, they develop secure attachment. However, if they don’t, they will likely develop insecure attachment. There are three insecure attachment styles, including anxious attachment. The two other insecure attachment styles are avoidant attachment and disorganized attachment.
In this short video, I explain attachment styles in more detail:
Let’s take a look at insecure attachment styles and anxious attachment.
Insecure attachment styles
Having anxious attachment typically means that you need attention and recognition from your partner, while avoidant attachment is the polar opposite of your attachment style.
Those with avoidant attachment often withdraw from their partner when they become “too much” and they tend to feel happier alone. But even though these attachment styles are so different (or because of that), they often end up in self-perpetuating relationships where their behaviors trigger each other. Disorganized attachment style, on the other hand, is a mix of anxious and avoidant attachment.
In this article, we’ll focus on anxious attachment. But what does anxious attachment look like in relationships? Let’s take a look.
Anxious attachment and relationships
How do individuals with anxious attachment tend to behave in relationships?
Compared to those with secure attachment, individuals with anxious attachment report higher negative affect, lower positive affect, and a greater fear of losing control in their daily lives. Anxious attachment is a learned behavior and a coping mechanism that often leads to negative emotions and lower self-esteem.
The root cause of anxious attachment is a fear of abandonment and rejection. For example, a study found that a history of emotional neglect or antipathy during childhood was linked to anxiety disorders later in life. In the same way, you can develop anxious attachment if your caregiver didn’t offer enough emotional support.
Note that anxious attachment can develop later in life. For instance, if your partner is avoidant, you might become anxiously attached as a response to their behavior.
In relationships, you’re someone who can easily feel like you’re not good enough and become clingy if your partner withdraws. You always feel like you’re walking on eggshells and nothing you do is good enough for your partner.
As someone with anxious attachment, you might easily feel jealous. You crave your partner’s attention and you might become overly helpful and revert to people pleasing to get it. You also take the majority of the blame, guilt, and responsibility in a relationship. And you tend to struggle with feeling unworthy and suffer from self-esteem issues.
Because you’re attached to the idea of closeness, you often get lost in the potential of the relationship instead of the reality of it. Sometimes, those with anxious attachment also struggle with addiction, such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, food addictions, hoarding, gaming addictions, and shopping addictions.
A study found that those with anxious attachment are more prone to manipulative behavior to keep their partners in a relationship. This behavior can include snooping through their partner’s phone or talking to someone else at a party to make their partner jealous. However, giving in to these anxious tendencies seems to make people even more anxious.
As said, all of this is due to patterns from your childhood. When someone gives you love and affection too freely, you find them “boring” or “too nice.” Fortunately, there are ways to break this pattern.
But to learn how to self-soothe anxious attachment, you first need to understand what your triggers are. Let’s take a look:
Anxious attachment triggers
When do you feel triggered? A few example situations might include:
- Your partner withdraws and stops responding to you
- You feel abandoned because you feel your partner is acting cold towards you
- You’re jealous of your partner and feel they are withholding things from you
- You feel that your partner downplays your feelings
Statements like “It’s not that big of a deal, why are you so upset?” or “I need some time alone to think about it” can easily trigger you.
As someone with anxious attachment, you might engage in protest behavior, which means that you try to re-establish the connection with your partner and get their attention. Because people with anxious attachment and avoidant attachment tend to end up together, your partner might react according to their attachment style and pull back. And so the spiral begins; you try to connect with them even harder and they reject you.
Now you know what it means to be anxiously attached and why you behave as you do in relationships. But how do you self-soothe your anxious attachment? That’s what we’ll look at next:
How to self-soothe anxious attachment
Your attachment style is not something that defines you or that you can’t change. You can! Self-soothing your anxious attachment starts with increasing self-awareness, not falling into a victim mindset, and regulating your emotions.
When you notice that you revert to your old behavioral patterns, it’s time to self-soothe your anxious attachment. If your partner makes you jealous or you find yourself trying to get closer to them when they are withdrawing, take these steps:
Step 1: Breathe
Start by taking deep breaths. While you’re breathing, focus on being present in the moment and notice what you’re feeling. Where in your body do you locate that emotion? Create an anchor you can return to whenever you feel triggered.
But what’s an anchor? While you can allow yourself to feel your emotions, they are far more difficult to control if you’re flooded with them. That’s when it’s useful to have an anchor where you cultivate an image you can access at any time. Think about what you can see in this safe space, what you can feel, smell, taste, and so on.
This is the first step to self-soothing. The next is to reverse your thought patterns.
Step 2: Switch your thinking
When you’re feeling anxious, you probably have a lot of thoughts running around in your head. Maybe you’re ruminating over a situation or feel anxious about a present situation with thoughts like “Why did they not text back?” or “What’s going on with them?” that keep popping up.
Let these thoughts run freely without pushing back. (Because pushing back will only make them more persistent.)
To get rid of them, switch gears and think about something else, like your next vacation. Go to websites, look at hotels and flights, make a plan for your trip, and so on to focus your mind on something different and positive. This is not about denying your feelings but shifting into positive thoughts.
3. Be the hero of your story
Finally, we’re all the heroes of our own stories. But often, due to our attachment wounds, we act as if we’re observers of other people’s stories.
So you might put a lot of energy on your partner. You mold yourself to fit their life. And you forget that your life should actually be primarily about you.
Help yourself snap out of putting all your focus on other people by asking yourself: “How would I write my story, how am I the hero of my own story? What would I need to be doing at any given moment to be the hero of my story?”
Then, try to act from that place to avoid falling into a victimized identity.
In the extreme, people who have experienced immense trauma become heroes of their stories by taking charge of their lives (for example, starting a non-profit that raises millions for cancer research). But you don’t need to start a multi-million foundation to change how you approach your own life. What matters is that you take your pain and turn it into something positive for yourself and others.
In this video, I explain these three steps in more detail:
Other strategies to self-soothe anxious attachment
What are some other strategies you can use right away to self-soothe anxious attachment in your day-to-day life? Here you go:
1. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that makes you aware of your emotions and sensations in the present moment without judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help you identify your own emotions faster and become more self-aware of your actions so that you don’t act out of habit, but have the opportunity to understand your actions and act in a different way.
That’s why mindfulness can be a helpful tool to address your attachment wounds. In fact, research has found links between mindfulness and lower levels of insecure attachment.
In this short video, I share how to do a short meditation to raise awareness around your attachment style:
2. Build a support system
Sometimes you just need to get things off your chest. That’s where a support system of friends or loved ones can be helpful. However, friends can’t replace professional help; they might have their own attachment issues to work through.
What can be even more valuable is finding a guided community of people who are working towards the same goal as you are (self-soothing and healing their attachment styles).
For instance, my online courses offer such a community for you to pop in and ask questions about steps you can take to calm your anxious attachment.
Want to understand more about attachment styles? Take the free quiz to identify yours!
3. Find a therapist
Therapy can be an important step for you to heal your attachment wound. Your therapist can also be a person you build rapport with, who notices your patterns and who can guide you in the right direction.
However, while therapy is important for healing trauma and gaining more self-awareness, it’s not a complete fix. You also need to heal at a mind and body level, which requires experiential interventions (such as creative arts interventions).
You see, therapy is typically a “treasure hunt” into the past. And once we have some insight into how the past has affected our present moment, then, the thinking goes, that insight is going to release the energy around it.
But those insights don’t affect changes on the body level or the energetic level, which is how you feel and experience your life day to day (who you’re attracted to, who is attracted to you, and so on).
Working with the mind and body will help you develop a more robust emotional vocabulary. And this, again, will help you name, claim, and organize your energetic and emotional states. We’ll look more at these steps at the end of this article.
Before we do, though, let’s take a look at something that is important for our mental well-being and our ability to self-soothe… getting enough sleep.
4. Get enough sleep
As mundane as it might sound, you need enough sleep to be able to self-soothe. Research has found that those who are prone to anxiety are especially sensitive to a lack of sleep. And overall, insufficient sleep affects our mood and mental health. By not sleeping enough, your anxious tendencies might become more intense. That’s why you should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
5. Exercise enough
In the same way, sufficient exercise is key to being able to keep your anxious feelings in check. Exercise can divert your thoughts and moving your body decreases muscle tension, which lowers the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.
What’s more, exercise changes your brain chemistry and increases the availability of anti-anxiety neurochemicals, such as serotonin and endocannabinoids. Exercise also activates the frontal regions of the brain (responsible for executive function) and helps control the amygdala and the way we react to real or imagined threats.
In other words, exercising (walking, dancing, running or moving your body in other ways) will help you regulate your thoughts on both a mind and a body level.
6. Identify secure behavior
People in secure relationships are happier than those in insecure relationships. That’s also what you move towards as you learn to self-soothe and heal anxious attachment. While anxious and avoidant partners often trigger each others’ insecure behavior, secure partners can help you adopt a more secure attachment style.
Identify secure behavior so that you can move towards this attachment style. I outline what secure attachment looks like in relationships in this short video:
Note that the hallmark of secure attachment isn’t that you are in a long relationship. It’s about felt security; how you feel on the inside.
Being secure is about seeing your own value and trusting the important people in your life. Instead of subconsciously trying to avoid feelings of rejection or fears of abandonment with your actions (for example by smothering your partner or trying to get them to show their appreciation for you), you act in a way that your authentic self wants to.
7. Practice self-care
Our attachment wounds are based on learned behavior. You act as you were taught to act. But to break that cycle, you need to start by focusing on yourself.
Instead of focusing on the things lacking in your life, focus on your strengths, your life, and the future rather than the past to heal your attachment wounds and improve your mental health.
Self-care can be as simple as a short morning routine where you list things you’re grateful for in your life or think about your goals for that day.
8. Heal your inner child
Your inner child is your unconscious mind with all the memories and feelings that made you adopt an anxious attachment style in the first place. As an adult with attachment wounds, you need to reparent that inner child to heal your wounds.
However, you don’t trust yourself to take care of your inner child and, as a result, you have to earn the trust of your inner child. How? Through consistent action and behavior, cohesiveness between what you say and what you do, honoring your needs no matter what, believing that you have the right to have your needs and feelings met, being aware of your own boundaries and not letting anybody walk over you.
I talk more about it here:
While self-soothing in the moment is important to stop your learned behavior from repeating itself, you also need to work on your overall attachment style. But how do you move towards secure attachment? That’s what you’ll learn next.
How to move from anxious attachment to secure attachment
Ultimately, you heal your anxious attachment by moving towards secure attachment. Research shows that you can change your attachment style in adulthood. But to do so, you need to know how.
Here’s what you need to know about changing your anxious attachment style.
To move towards secure attachment, you must first develop a basic belief that you are valuable and you will always be okay. Not trusting that you are enough as you are is at the core of your attachment style because you likely learned early on that you weren’t. That’s also why you need to learn to trust your partner and that they have your best interest at heart.
In fact, a commitment to yourself is at the heart of a healthy relationship. If you and your partner prioritize each other’s needs as much as you prioritize your own needs, you have balance. But if one partner prioritized the other person’s needs less than their own and the other partner prioritized their partner’s needs more than their own, toxicity takes root.
That’s why those with secure attachment have a better grasp of their emotional boundaries. They don’t take everything personally, but are instead able to see things for what they are; someone else’s attachment wounds.
Moving towards secure attachment means adopting that same objectivity towards your own and other people’s emotions.
How do you get there? By working on the level of your mind, body, and spirit.
Focus on your mind, body, and spirit
To heal your attachment style, you need to heal on three different levels: your mind, body, and spirit. These levels will help you access your authentic self and understand what you want and need so that you can become more aware of the partners you choose for yourself and express your needs to them.
Let’s start with the mind:
The level of the mind
Your negative beliefs about yourself and the world (for example, “I don’t deserve to be loved”) are based on introjects or adapted beliefs from people around you that you’ve internalized as your reality. You keep on reliving these negative beliefs because that’s what feels familiar and safe. When you work on the level of the mind, you stop yourself from reenacting those painful scenarios.
The level of the body
However, there is a mind-body connection, which means that your negative beliefs impact your body and you need to work on the level of the body. The way you feel comes from what your nervous system is telling you.
To work on the level of the body to loosen and integrate energy around negative beliefs, I use creative arts interventions. Creative arts interventions are experiential interventions and have been found to be effective for treating depression, trauma, and negative mood. And research on attachment styles shows that these types of sensory-based approaches are key in treatment.
Creative arts interventions help you heal fundamental self-wounds and access your authentic self. They also create new sensorial experiences that can carve healthier synaptic grooves in your limbic brain, promote bilateral integration of the brain, and stimulate the socially active vagus nerve.
Art therapy can unlock information about your attachment patterns and your preferred ways to regulate your emotions. You get a better understanding of your needs and boundaries and a broader emotional vocabulary to express them. And you can communicate more effectively with your partner to let them know what’s really going on with you and allow them to try and meet those needs.
The level of the spirit
The level of the spirit is all about working with the wounded inner child or inner critic. You learn how to view your emotions as energy that is moving through your body so that you can view them more objectively and act on them accordingly.
On this level, you grow beyond your trauma. This requires you to adopt a new belief system and identity. You learn how to access your creative life force energy, the creative energy that feeds the conscious and unconscious mind.
You learn how to navigate relationships with an internal compass instead of trying to control situations and people outside of yourself.
Want to go from anxious attachment to secure attachment? Take the free quiz.
Over to you!
There you have it! Now you know how to self-soothe anxious attachment.
What it comes down to is that you learn how to regulate your emotions and slowly, but surely, move towards a secure attachment style.
Now I’d love to know:
What’s your #1 question about self-soothing anxious attachment?
Let me know in the comments below!