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Attachment theory explains how and why we behave in certain reactive, distancing, and secure patterns in our most important relationships.
Understanding these patterns and impulses better in yourself and your loved ones is an important first step to building skills that promote stable and lasting relationships.
An attachment style develops from a child’s expectations about the responsiveness of their attachment figure. The main attachment styles are Anxious (Anxious Preoccupied), Avoidant (Dismissive Avoidant), Disorganized (Fearful Avoidant), and Secure. There is an abundance of resources online diving into the styles and tests you can take to determine your style
That being said, I suggest not to overly identify with one style, but instead understand that you might have certain dominant tendencies, and use this knowledge as a blueprint to navigate your relationships and understand what you need so you can feel safe, secure, and nurtured.
By healing our attachment wounds and practicing some of the exercises I outline below, we can most definitely shift to a more secure style of relating. Also, depending on who we are with, our tendencies might be augmented or we might even be “pushed” toward opposing styles.
I’m going to be unpacking the anxious attachment style here, offering some insights around the origins, and outlining certain steps you can take to start your healing journey and shift into a more secure style of relating.
If you are someone who has anxious attachment tendencies, then you probably identify with (some) of the following:
>> You may experience strong fears of being left or abandoned.
>> You value and long for love and connection. Finding a romantic relationship is a top priority and can become an obsession.
>> You require constant reassurance and validation that the people in your life love and care about you.
>> You feel like you are “clingy” or “needy” in relationships.
>> You crave closeness and intimacy but struggle to feel fulfilled.
>> You often feel lonely, like you don’t belong.
>> You are sensitive to threats outside the relationship and can experience jealousy and obsessive thinking.
>> You identify as an empath or highly sensitive person. You are overly attuned to the needs and energy of others.
The Origins of Anxious Attachment
So, how did the anxious attachment style develop?
I want to remind you that you are not broken, you are not “too clingy,” and you are not “too needy.”
Instead, I want you to fully internalize the following:
The anxiously attached individual is the manifestation of a child who did not feel seen and heard. A child who did not get the consistent love and affection they needed to feel (emotionally) safe.
The result: a dysregulated nervous system that seeks regulation through connection.
You are not broken or weak. Your behaviors are a result of attachment wounding and coping mechanisms that you adopted growing up.
This understanding will allow you to extend compassion to yourself when you do act in ways that you might regret, when you do settle for breadcrumbs or unhealthy relationships, or when you do forgive people who disrespect you.
Understand that these patterns are fuelled by what I like to call love deficiency and a deep-seated fear of abandonment.
It’s so understandable. And so many of us experience relating in this way. You are not alone.
My clients always ask me why they tend to attract emotionally unavailable or narcissistic partners. One reason is that in relationships we gravitate toward the familiar. Do you see how these people are inconsistent with their love and presence, and essentially reflect back to you how you felt growing up?
So ask yourself: how are your partners similar to your parents? What similarities do you see between how you felt and acted growing up and how you feel and act in your adult relationships?
3 Ways to Start Healing
Here are three ways that you can start healing your anxious attachment and self-regulating (because these two go hand in hand).
1. Sooth your inner child
The main premise here is to identify the fear behind the trigger and soothe your inner child.
“The inner child is the unconscious part of the mind where we carry our unmet needs, suppressed childhood emotions, our creativity, our intuition, and our ability to play.” ~ Dr. Nicole LePera
Let’s say, for example, someone I’m dating does not respond to my text message for a few days. If you have anxious attachment tendencies, then you probably know the anxiety that something like this can create. So, when you are feeling triggered, pause for a moment and identify the root cause.
In this specific case, it’s your inner child’s fear of abandonment and a fight-or-flight response is being triggered, which in turn creates stress, obsessive thinking, and maybe even pushes you to engage in what we call “deactivating strategies” (i.e. calling multiple times), in a (futile) attempt to regulate your emotions.
What you can do instead is put your hand on your heart, do some deep breathing, and start self-soothing by speaking to yourself as you would to a child you love dearly. Speak to yourself as the wise parent (you never had). This is a foundational piece of reparenting and inner child healing.
Tell your inner child: “People’s behavior does not mean anything about my worth. This person might be busy or dealing with their own problems. You are safe. You are worthy. You are wanted. I’m here for you, always. You are not alone.”
Some phrases I usually give my clients are:
>> “You are safe.”
>> “I am here for you. I’m not going to leave you.”
>> “You are worthy of love.”
>> “You don’t have to betray yourself for love.”
>> “It’s safe to relax now.”
2. Create Consistency
Remember what one of the origins of anxious attachment is? A lack of consistency from our caregivers.
So now, as part of our reparenting practice, we should see how we can create consistency for ourselves.
Reflect on the following:
>> How can you create feelings of safety, stability, and consistency in your life?
>> How can you consistently practice self-love?
>> Are there people in your life you know will be there? (Interdependency)
3. Create a strong sense of self
“The anxiously attached individual derives their sense of self from their relationships. When one of their relationships is ‘failing’, the feeling can be comparable to a ‘slow death of self’. This is how painful and agonizing it can feel.” ~ Cassandra Michael
This is a core part of my program Secure in Love and I cover these focus areas with my clients when guiding them toward creating a strong sense of self:
1. Get clear on who you are and what makes you happy.
2. Find meaning in other areas of your life (besides relationships).
3. Create and maintain your identity outside of the sphere of relationships.
5. Cultivate self-worth.
Closing, I would like to make something important clear:
Healing is not about being comfortable with avoidant behavior; on the contrary, it’s about walking away from emotionally unavailable people and instead choosing people who are good for you and your nervous system. People who make you feel safe, calm, and supported. It’s about choosing you, over and over, and not settling for breadcrumbs ever again.
I would love to hear if this article landed for you and feel free to ask your questions in the comments. I will personally get back to you!