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As someone who has struggled with anxious attachment in the past, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to cultivate healthy relationships.
It’s easy to get caught up in our fears and insecurities, to feel like we’re not good enough, and to push away those who care about us the most.
That’s why I believe it’s so important to approach relationship anxiety with compassion and understanding. By recognizing the root causes of our anxiety, we can begin to heal and grow in ways that allow us to form deep and meaningful connections with others.
Attachment theory is one framework that can help us better understand the origins of our anxiety. As John Bowlby and others have shown, our early experiences with attachment figures shape our beliefs and expectations about relationships for years to come. For those with anxious attachment, these early experiences may have been characterized by inconsistent or unpredictable care, leading to a fear of abandonment and a sense of unworthiness.
But understanding the origins of our anxiety is just the beginning. To truly heal and overcome our fears, we need to take action.
Here are three (less known) ways to release relationship anxiety:
1. “Part’s Work” or IFS (Internal Family Systems)
A modality I use with my clients that I find absolutely incredible is “Part’s Work” or otherwise called IFS.
Parts Work is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals identify and work with the different aspects or “parts” of their personality that may be causing emotional or behavioral issues. These parts can include feelings, thoughts, beliefs, memories, and behaviors that are often associated with specific experiences or emotions.
Have you ever felt one “part” of you saying to “just relax” when they don’t respond to your message, and another “part” is tugging and screaming at you to call again until you get an answer?
Or maybe you go on a date, and one part of you says, “Wow, they are amazing! I really want to see them again,” and then another part responds, “But do you really? They might not be right for you. You might get hurt.”
So when we have this constant battle of “parts,” this creates a split within the Self, which obviously generates anxiety. Integrating these parts is a crucial step in creating a sense of calm, peace, and wholeness.
2. Release shame and practice self-compassion
Releasing shame and self-judgment is crucial when working on relationship anxiety because these negative feelings can create a cycle of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that can amplify our anxiety and make it difficult to form healthy relationships.
Imagine you are already feeling stressed or anxious and then you judge yourself for feeling this way…what will happen? You are adding to the already existing negative charge, making it even bigger.
So, if you are wanting to heal the wounds that created the anxiety in the first place and come to a place of calm and peace, the foundation of this process is releasing shame and being kinder to yourself. Here’s an amazing self-compassion practice I usually give to my clients, by Dr. Kristen Neff.
3. Get better relaxing in “the void” by regulating your nervous system
One of the most underrated skills when navigating relationships (and life) is being able to sit in “the void.” What do I mean? It’s the place, the “in-between,” where nothing is certain but anything is possible.
It’s the question of: “Do they really like me?” “Will they ask me out again?” “Will I be met or rejected if I express my desires?” “Will this relationship work out?” “Will I ever find love?”
Often, because of our fears of abandonment, rejection, and loneliness, we steer clear of “the void” at all costs. We do this by staying in our comfort zone, by staying in relationships that are not aligned, by not asking that person out, by not applying to the job, by not putting ourselves out there. And the list goes on.
One amazing way to feel more comfortable in the void is by expanding our nervous system’s capacity to hold more discomfort and uncertainty. A tool I love using with my clients is called the Pendulation Technique, by Dr. Peter Levine.
I encourage you to try it as you continue to read the instructions.
This is how it works:
1. Close your eyes and scan your body. Do you notice any tension? (i.e. your chest). Focus on that area of tension. Be with it for a moment.
2. Now, shift your attention to an area in the body that feels calm, safe, and regulated (i.e. your hands). Focus on that area. Notice how it is possible to anchor into safety and relaxation in your body.
3. Now, shift your awareness back to the area that feels tense. Go back to the “calm” area and then back to the “tense” area. Do this for a few rounds.
4. As you continue to “pendulate,” notice how the distress changes and how you can actually anchor into safety in your body.
You can try this when you feel stressed or anxious, or just as a daily practice to reconnect with the body and regulate your nervous system.
Let me know in the comments what you thought of the article and what came up for you when trying out the Pendulation technique. I will personally respond!
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