Anxious attachment style is one of four kinds of attachment styles. It may be difficult to feel secure in relationships for people who have developed an anxious attachment. During their young years, young children may cling to caregivers or become inconsolable when they are left alone.
Relationships between a baby and a caregiver are crucial for development and learning.
Observing the caregiver’s behavior, as well as the way that he or she interacts with others, is an important way for babies and young children to learn early social skills.
Children’s attachment styles may be affected by the way a caregiver interacts with them.
In adulthood, they may be susceptible to feelings of jealousy or insecurities. Ambivalent attachment may also be referred to as anxious attachment.
Read: Avoidant Attachment
What is attachment theory?
Psychologists created the attachment theory in the 1960s. The model was designed to describe how infants and adults connect to each other emotionally.
According to attachment theory, an infant’s caregiver sets up the pattern of attachment during the first few years of life by meeting its needs.
4 types of attachments styles
Early attachment styles are believed to have lifelong effects on:
- Communication skills between you, your partner, and friends and family
- How you deal with conflict
- Understanding what you expect from your relationship
The attachment style can also be broadly divided into two categories: secure and insecure. Unsecured attachment can be expressed as anxiety.
Attachment styles aren’t the only factor that influences the patterns you observe in relationships, but they can explain certain aspects of who you are.
Related: Preoccupied Attachment Style
What causes anxious attachment style?
Research suggests that parenting style and behavior may influence a person’s attachment type, but they aren’t clear exactly why that happens.
An inconsistent parenting style may be a contributing factor to the development of an anxious ambivalent attachment type.
The parenting behaviors of inconsistent parents can vary from nurturing to emotionally unavailable to antipathetic (cold to critical) at different points in time.
There can also be a lack of response from parents when their baby is in distress. When you refuse to pick up a crying baby in order not to spoil the child, you could actually cause your child to develop an anxious ambivalent attachment to the caregiver.
Consistent behavior by a parent or caregiver helps prevent children from becoming confused or insecure because they never know what to expect.
If a child is anxiously attached to a caregiver, they may be clingy or whiny in an attempt to meet their needs.
Genetic factors may also contribute to anxious attachment.
Signs of anxious attachment
This type of attachment can be seen in both children and adults. When separated from their caregiver, a child who has grown anxious toward them may make notably anxious noises. Often, after they are reunited with their caregiver, the child becomes difficult to comfort.
Individuals who have developed anxious attachments may require constant reassurance and affection from their partners in adulthood. Single people may also have difficulties being alone.
Signs of anxious attachment in children
- Inconsolable crying in children
- Exasperation when caregivers leave
- Holding tightly to attachment figures
- Not exploring as much as peers their age
- Showing signs of general anxiety
- Avoiding contact with strangers
- Unable to control and regulate negative emotions
- Poor peer interactions and aggressive behavior
Signs of anxious attachment in adults
Adults with an anxious attachment style may display the following behavior:
- Inability to trust others
- Low self-esteem
- Concerns about being abandoned by partners
- An intense desire for closeness
- Overdependence in relationships
- Demanding frequent assurances that others care about you
- Reacting inappropriately in a partner’s presence
- Excessive emotionality, impulsivity, unpredictable behavior and mood swings
Anxious attachments among adults and adolescents may increase their chances for anxiety disorders.
Researchers found that anxiety disorders later in life are often linked to historical neglect (antipathy) during childhood, according to a study conducted on 160 adolescents and young adults.
Such disorders include:
Women are more likely to suffer from these anxiety disorders than men. Depression is another potentially problematic condition.
Read: Secure Attachment Style
Can certain children be at risk?
People who develop this attachment style are more likely to have the following experiences during childhood:
- Being separated from a caregiver or parent early on
- Being abused physically or sexually as a child
- Being neglected
- If the caregiver mocked them or became irritated when the patient was in distress
What are the effects of anxious attachment on relationships?
If you feel this way, you may have difficulty relating to others, including family members, friends, and partners.
The following are some common difficulties you may face in relationships:
It’s also possible that you fear rejection or abandonment in relationships because you feel insecure.
Early studies have shown that women who were abused as children and had anxious attachments later in life had difficulty with relationships.
How can you help a partner with anxious attachment?
It is possible to help someone grow up with anxious attachment by doing a few things:
- Make sure they are constantly assured that you care for them
- Pay attention to them consistently
- Keep your commitments to them
- Help them overcome their anxious behaviors by encouraging them to be self-aware and self-reflective
Is it possible to change your attachment style?
It may be impossible to change your childhood attachment style, but you can work to feel more secure in your relationships and in yourself. Although it may take some self-awareness and conscious effort, you can do it.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Pay attention to how you speak and interact with others.
- Understand how you react when you feel insecure or anxious in a relationship.
- You may be able to help regulate and respond to these emotions through cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness exercises, such as meditation.
You may also wish to seek the help of a therapist or counselor for help.
How can you prevent anxious attachments?
Tips for parents and caregivers
Children as young as 6 months old can begin anticipating caregiver responses to their distress.
Parenting or caring for your baby consistently responds to his distress in an affectionate and sensitive manner can help prevent insecure attachments.
An organized and secure caregiver will always respond to the child’s needs when they are in distress. A child will know what to do when in distress.
Tips for adults with attachment issues
Make sure you speak up without hesitation. Let the person in your relationship know what you need.
It can be difficult to change how you communicate. You may find it useful to see a therapist.
When caregivers neglect, abuse, or are emotionally unavailable to children, they may develop anxious attachments.
Relationships are negatively affected by an attachment style that increases the risk for anxiety disorders and low self-esteem in the future.
A secure attachment style can be more easily achieved in adulthood when your thoughts are restructured. To achieve this, you have to be aware of your own limitations, patient and deliberately active.
An anxious attachment pattern can also be broken by working with a therapist.