Preoccupied Attachment Style: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Preoccupied Attachment Style

What is preoccupied attachment style?

Preoccupied attachment style (also called anxious-preoccupied attachment) manifests itself as a high degree of anxiety related to our relationships and connections.

Relationship attachment refers to the feelings and behaviors an individual exhibits when it comes to their significant relationships. When we are young, we develop attachment styles, though these styles may change over the course of our lives as a result of life experiences, trauma and treatment.

Researchers have learned how children’s attachment styles influence their response to unfamiliar situations through the work of developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth.

People with preoccupied attachment styles may find it difficult to trust others and may have a strong fear of rejection. Your anxiety about abandonment could interfere with your ability to form close, intimate relationships, even though you desire such bonds.

Read: Anxious Attachment Style

Traits of preoccupied attachment style

Low self-esteem and a negative view of oneself are common characteristics of individuals with a preoccupied attachment style. They see other people as superior to themselves, and as a result, tend to rely on and depend upon others. The fact that you feel inferior to others does not imply that you are inferior, but that you are preoccupied with that feeling.

Preoccupied attachment styles tend to struggle with trust issues, a strong need for close relationships, and fear of rejection and abandonment. These fears may lead you to make insufficient assumptions about your partner’s mood because you’re overly sensitive to emotions and behavior.

It is common for children with a preoccupied attachment style to cling to their parents or caregivers and to exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety. Often, children express fear that their parents won’t return when they leave them with another caregiver. It is likely that the child will immediately run to the parent when he or she returns.

Causes of preoccupied attachment style

Preoccupied attachment disorder can be influenced by genetics, just as they are influenced by most other aspects of our mental health. Attachment styles are heavily influenced by early childhood experiences with caregivers.

The development of a preoccupied attachment style can be caused by traumatic or stressful events in a child’s life. Uncertainty and anxiety will develop about whether an infant’s needs will be met if they experience inconsistent responses from the caregiver. The child may feel insecure because they don’t know what to expect when the parent is available and nurturing at certain times and not at other times.

An overprotective parent can also lead to a child developing a preoccupied attachment style. An anxious parent might lead a child to believe that he or she is unsafe, and as such needs strong protection to avoid being harmed.

If a person experiences their partner’s or friend’s inconsistency in adulthood, that individual may develop traits of this attachment style. Partnering with someone who displays inconsistent affection or behaves in an emotionally abusive manner can make you feel insecure and anxious.

Your partner may start to think the same things about you if you are constantly told you are unintelligent, incompetent and incapable. You can rely on your partner for protection and care as a result of these beliefs if you feel incapable of providing them.

Uncertainty and anxiety about whether their needs are being met can develop in an infant if the caregiver responds inconsistently. Children may feel insecure when their parents are available some of the time but unavailable at other times since there is no way to predict their behavior.

Read: Avoidant Attachment Style

Preoccupied attachment style symptoms

People with preoccupied attachment styles usually have low self-esteem and view themselves negatively. In relationships, they may tend to be reliant and dependent on others, as they see others as superior to them. In the case of having a preoccupied attachment style, it means that you don’t think you’re inferior, but that you feel inferior to others.

Attachment styles with preoccupation might have a need for close relationships, a fear of abandonment and rejection, and it might be hard to trust people. It’s possible that you are overly sensitive to emotions and behaviors in others, and you may tend to make snap judgments about your partner’s mood because of these fears.

Having a preoccupied attachment style usually means a child will cling to their parents or caregivers and will have separation anxiety symptoms. Parents may worry about their children when they leave them with another caregiver, and they may be upset when they fear their parents will not return. A child may run to their parent for comfort immediately upon their parent’s return.

Read: Disorganized Attachment Style


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not include preoccupied attachment style as an official diagnosis, but it can affect many diagnoses, including:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder: BPD sufferers are preoccupied with avoiding real or imagined abandonment, a characteristic of preoccupied attachment style.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): People with social anxiety disorder experience intense anxiety about being criticized or thought negatively of by others and may become preoccupied with attachment issues.
  • Substance Use Disorders (SUDs): Researchers have found that some individuals with a substance use disorder may display an attachment style that is preoccupied.

Identifying your attachment style can help you understand how you interact with others and assist in developing an appropriate treatment plan, even if it does not determine whether an individual will develop a diagnosis.

Read: Secure Attachment Style

Treatment for preoccupied attachment style

Because of their preoccupied attachment style, people with preoccupied attachments may struggle with relationships, emotions, and mental health. However, our attachment style can change over the course of our lifetimes depending on how we respond to experiences and treatments.

People with this attachment style can benefit from counseling and other evidence-based treatments for their mental health conditions if they have a diagnosable condition. Maladaptive attachment styles can be addressed through attachment therapies.

Couples therapy could help those with a preoccupied attachment style in long-term relationships to identify their emotions and develop healthy ways of communicating with their partners. Families can benefit from family therapy to help children and teens form healthier attachments with caregivers. Family therapy that promotes healthy attachment between parents and children is parent-child interaction therapy.

We have seen in research that our attachment style changes over time, depending on our experiences and treatments.

Read: Insecure Attachment Style

Coping with a preoccupied attachment style

The first step in understanding your behaviors and emotions in relationships is to recognize if you have a preoccupied attachment style. This knowledge can be useful for finding and pursuing appropriate treatment.

  • Practice using your voice when you are struggling and learn healthy communication skills with your loved ones.
  • Befriend and connect with a lot of people so that you can turn to them if you have problems.
  • Gain more self-confidence and competence by building your self-esteem.
  • When you are experiencing difficulties, remain healthy and rely on your self-care techniques.

How do relationships with anxious preoccupied people go?

It is possible to have intense and stressful romantic relationships with anxious or preoccupied adults who are both anxious and preoccupied. 

Relationships between anxious attachment styles and avoidant attachment styles are not uncommon. Avoidant attachment makes people incapable of committing and feeds into their anxiety. 

Several factors can affect a relationship when anxious preoccupied attachments are present: 

Worried about the relationship

Preoccupied attachment can make a person feel insecure in relationships. 

A person may constantly worry about the stability of their relationship and be anxious that their partner may leave at any moment. 

Often, they are fearful of rejection and abandonment, catastrophizing situations to reinforce their beliefs. It is possible to feel abandoned if a partner is unresponsive, such as by not responding to texts right away. 


People with anxiety preoccupied attachments may appear clingy, controlling, possessive, or jealous because of their deep insecurity. Relationships can be strained when acted upon in this manner. 

It is possible that they may fall in love very easily and become ‘obsessed’ with their partner as a result of their relationship. 

Their partner may feel overburdened by being apart from them. Therefore, people with anxious preoccupied attachments may have trouble coping with long-distance relationships. 

Attuned to partner’s needs

Those with anxious preoccupied attachment styles usually hold high regard for their partners. Their partner’s needs may be very important to them, and they may take great care to ensure that their partner is met. 

Ups and downs in emotions

It can be incredibly stressful to be in a relationship with someone who has a preoccupied anxious attachment. They may not be able to predict what their partner will do from moment to moment. 

Both parties may feel anxious, stressed, and unsatisfied in the relationship. The anxiety preoccupied partner may not be able to offer emotional stability to their partner, resulting in low relationship satisfaction. 

The anxious, preoccupied individual may not communicate their needs through communication but may act on them. Intense emotions can manifest as crying or screaming, requiring sooth from their partner. It can lead to a vicious cycle of frustration and exhaustion for both partners. 


The way someone deals with conflict can be influenced by their attachment style. The insecurity, negative beliefs, and hypersensitivity to the moods and actions of a partner can lead to conflicts for those with an anxious preoccupied attachment. 

Conflicts can occur when a partner with a preoccupied anxious attachment continues arguing in order to elicit the response they want. It may take their partner a while to meet their need for assurance before they can calm down. 

Their tendency to feel highly emotional makes conflict with a partner intense and upsetting. 

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