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  • Writer's pictureJasmine Wilson, LCSW

What is Attachment Anxiety and How Does it Affect Relationships?

Attachment anxiety is characterized by worry or fear of losing people you care about. This can include friends, family, and romantic partners. It stems from early childhood experiences but can result in instability and insecurity in adult relationships later in life. 

Individuals with attachment anxiety tend to constantly question if they are loved and if their relationship is safe. Even when everything in the relationship is seemingly fine.

In this blog, we're going to dive into what attachment anxiety is and how it can affect romantic relationships. Whether you've experienced attachment anxiety yourself or know someone who has, keep reading to learn more. If you or someone you know is struggling with attachment anxiety, Therapy for Anxiety in Brea, CA can be incredibly beneficial. By working with an anxiety therapist at Adaptive Resolutions Counseling Services like me, you can explore the root causes of your anxiety and develop coping mechanisms to manage it effectively.

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What is Attachment Anxiety?

Attachment anxiety is a term used to describe a specific pattern of behavior and emotions in relationships. If you often worry about your relationship, feel insecure about your partner's love and commitment, or fear rejection and abandonment, you might be experiencing attachment anxiety.

At its core, attachment anxiety stems from a deep-seated fear of losing the people we care about. It's like having a constant sense of unease or doubt, even when there's no obvious reason for it. You might find yourself constantly seeking reassurance from your partner. You might also need to hear "I love you" repeatedly, or feel anxious when your partner isn't around.

Individuals with attachment anxiety often have a heightened sensitivity to signs. Most of the time these signs are related to potential rejection or abandonment. They may interpret innocent actions, like a delayed response to a text message or a canceled plan, as evidence that their partner doesn't care about them. These interpretations can trigger intense emotional reactions. This leads to arguments or emotional withdrawal to protect themselves from getting hurt.

One of the key features of attachment anxiety is a strong desire for closeness and connection, coupled with a deep fear of rejection. This paradoxical combination can create a rollercoaster of emotions in relationships. This can lead individuals to swing between intense longing for intimacy and overwhelming anxiety about being left alone.

Signs of Attachment Anxiety in Adults

Here are common signs of attachment anxiety:

  • Feeling a constant need to connect or be close to your partner

  • Feeling unworthy of love while simultaneously craving it

  • Feeling anxious when your partner is not around

  • Negative self-view or self-worth

  • Hypervigilance to signs that your partner is pulling away

  • High value placed on receiving approval and validation from others 

  • Heightened sensitivity to abandonment or rejection

  • An intense desire for intimacy or closeness

  • Fear of infidelity or partner betrayal 

  • Fear of losing your relationships, especially after conflict

Causes of Attachment Anxiety

Attachment anxiety often originates from early experiences with caregivers and significant others. Here are some common causes:

Early Childhood Experiences

Our first interactions with caregivers lay the foundation for our attachment style. Children who receive consistent love, attention, and care are more likely to develop a secure attachment. Meanwhile, children who receive inconsistent caregiving, neglect, or experience abuse tend to develop an insecure attachment. 

Parental Bonding

The quality of the bond between a child and their primary caregiver, usually the mother or father, significantly influences attachment development. Children who experience a warm, responsive, and nurturing bond with their parents are more likely to develop secure attachment styles. In contrast, children with distant, emotionally unavailable, inconsistent, or overbearing parents may develop insecure attachments. This includes attachment anxiety (or “anxious attachment”).

Traumatic Experiences

Trauma during childhood or adolescence can disrupt attachment development. This can include the loss of a loved one, parental divorce, or physical or emotional abuse. These experiences can create a sense of instability and unpredictability in primary relationships. This causes attachment anxiety in relationships during adulthood.

Relationship Experiences

Past relationship experiences also shape attachment styles. Repeated rejections, betrayals, or abandonment in romantic relationships can reinforce attachment anxiety. Similarly, growing up in a household with unstable relationships or witnessing unhealthy relationship dynamics can contribute to attachment insecurity.

Genetics and Temperament

Some research suggests a genetic predisposition to certain attachment styles. Additionally, individual temperament plays a role in attachment development. Children with more sensitive or reactive temperaments may be more prone to developing attachment anxiety in response to environmental stressors.

Internal Working Models

Our internal working models are mental representations of ourselves, others, and relationships. These are based on past experiences. For individuals with attachment anxiety, these models often involve negative beliefs about themselves ("I'm not worthy of love") and others ("People will always leave me"). This perpetuates feelings of insecurity and fear in relationships.

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Effects on Romantic Relationships

Attachment anxiety doesn't only impact the individual experiencing it. It also affects the dynamics of their relationships. Here's how it influences various aspects of romantic connections:

Strained Communication:

  • People with attachment anxiety often struggle with open and honest communication in relationships. They may have difficulty expressing their needs and emotions. They fear that doing so will push their partner away. This lack of effective communication can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.

Uneven Emotional Labor:

  • Partners of individuals with attachment anxiety often bear the burden of providing constant reassurance and support. This can create an imbalance in the relationship. Usually, one partner shoulders much of the emotional labor.

Impact on Autonomy:

  • Attachment anxiety can also affect the autonomy of both partners. Individuals with attachment anxiety may struggle to give their partner space or independence. They fear that distance will lead to abandonment. Meanwhile, partners may feel suffocated or restricted by their partner's clinginess.

Emotional Rollercoaster:

  • The intense emotions associated with attachment anxiety can create a rollercoaster of highs and lows in relationships. One moment, the individual may feel deeply connected and in love, only to be consumed by fear and insecurity the next. This emotional volatility can be exhausting for both partners. It may also strain the relationship over time.

Difficulty Building Trust:

  • Trust is essential in any relationship, but attachment anxiety can make it challenging to trust one's partner fully. Individuals with attachment anxiety may constantly doubt their partner's intentions or fidelity, even in the absence of evidence. This lack of trust can erode the foundation of the relationship. While also creating a cycle of suspicion and mistrust.

Impact on Intimacy:

  • Attachment anxiety can affect intimacy in the relationship. The anxious partner's constant need for reassurance and validation may overshadow moments of intimacy. This makes it difficult for both partners to connect on a deeper level.

Decreased Relationship Satisfaction:

  • The strain caused by attachment anxiety can lead to decreased relationship satisfaction for both partners. Constant conflicts, feelings of exhaustion, and a lack of emotional connection can take a toll on the relationship's overall happiness and fulfillment.

Understanding Attachment Anxiety from an Attachment Theory Framework

It's essential to grasp the premise of attachment theory to understand attachment anxiety. It provides a framework for understanding how our early experiences influence how we form and maintain relationships throughout our lives. It was developed by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s. Bowlby believed that your sense of security as a child is critical to your attachment style as an adult.

At its core, attachment theory suggests that from the moment we're born, we have a basic need to form close bonds with caregivers. These bonds, often formed with parents or primary caregivers, shape our expectations and behaviors in future relationships.

Attachment Styles

Four main attachment styles stem from our early experiences. Each one shapes how we perceive intimacy and respond to emotional closeness: 

Secure Attachment

People with a secure attachment style feel comfortable with both intimacy and independence. They trust their partners, feel safe expressing their needs, and believe they are worthy of love and support.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment*

This style is characterized by a strong desire for closeness. This is coupled with fears of rejection or abandonment. Individuals with this style may worry that their partner doesn't care enough or will leave them. This leads to clinginess and heightened emotional reactions. Anxious-preoccupied individuals also tend to be hypersensitive to changes in their relationships. This means that they may seek constant reassurance to alleviate their fears.

Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment

People with this attachment style value independence. They may also avoid close relationships or intimacy. They may appear aloof or emotionally distant, preferring self-reliance over relying on others. Dismissive-avoidant individuals often downplay the importance of emotional connection. They also avoid deep emotional conversations or commitments.

Fearful-Avoidant Attachment (also known as Disorganized Attachment)

This style combines elements of both anxious-preoccupied and dismissive-avoidant attachment. Individuals with this style want closeness but fear getting hurt. This leads to a push-pull dynamic in relationships. They may push their partners away out of fear, only to pull them back in when they crave intimacy.

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Learn How to Move Past Attachment Anxiety in Brea, CA through Therapy for Anxiety Today!

Attachment anxiety can feel really overwhelming. It can also lead to distress in relationships. Understanding your attachment style can provide insight into your relationship patterns. It can also help you understand how you interact with others. While secure attachment is the healthiest attachment style, it's important to remember that insecure attachment styles can change over time. This change happens with self-awareness and personal growth. By addressing attachment anxiety and building healthier relationship dynamics, you can begin to cultivate deeper connections. As well as greater emotional well-being and more fulfilling relationships in your life.

If you're struggling with attachment anxiety, seeking Therapy for Anxiety in Brea, CA with Adaptive Resolutions Counseling Services can provide the support and guidance you need to navigate these challenges. Follow the steps below to get started:

Other Therapy Services Offered at Adaptive Resolutions Counseling Services in Brea, La Mirada, and Online Throughout CA + AZ

At Adaptive Resolutions Counseling Services, I offer a variety of services tailored to your individual needs. In addition to Therapy for Anxiety in Brea, CA, I specialize in Therapy for Life Transitions and Therapy for Self-Esteem. I also offer personalized approaches to support your journey. Whether you prefer Individual Therapy or Group Therapy, my goal is to help you improve your anxiety and navigate social situations with confidence. Reach out today to discover more about my services and how I can support you in freeing yourself of anxiety and living a more balanced life.

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