How does an anxious attachment style develop?
Most of the time, it stems from learned behaviors that you’ve witnessed or experienced during childhood, says Skyler. For example, an anxious ambivalent person might have had parents that were inconsistent with meeting their child’s emotional needs, says Laino. “Sometimes, their needs were met, and sometimes, they were just neglected,” she says, which can be confusing for a child.
When that person reaches adulthood (or any point where they start to form relationships of their own), this might cause them to cling to people they feel they can rely on for emotional support, even if they’re not doing so intentionally. It’s an aim to meet a need they were not afforded during their youth.
For an anxious avoidant person, their parents were likely unavailable most of the time. “They got the message that their needs weren’t important and they were rejected. They had to learn how to self-soothe,” Laino explains.
As a result of their unmet needs in childhood, the anxious avoidant person will attempt to become very self-reliant (which is nearly impossible), knowing that they have a history of not being able to depend on others for assistance or support. No matter how deeply they may yearn for it, they’re too anxious to go all in right away because they don’t want to be left.
Basically, your childhood experiences have a big impact on the way you develop connections. as an adult. “The theory is that all of this stuff develops in relation to the first people you had relationships with, which are your caregivers,” Laino says.
Remember: There’s a spectrum to the anxious attachment style. Your guardians may not have been completely neglectful at all times, or totally inconsistent. “It’s a sliding scale,” Skyler explains. Meaning, there are many different signs of anxious attachment—it’s not black or white.
What are the signs of anxious attachment?
First, know that excitement, enthusiasm, and nerves during a new relationship are different from anxious attachment. There will always be a bit of anxiety at the beginning of any connection when you’re simultaneously wondering where you stand with another person and excited by the prospect of new love, sex, or intimacy.
But, this healthy bout of nervousness is different from full-blown anxiety. “You know it’s an anxious attachment when this anxiety is overwhelming,” Skyler says. That’s one sign, but there are multiple ways that this anxious attachment can be expressed, according to Laino and Skyler.
You feel as if you want to get close, but then abruptly pull away. Because your relationships were either inconsistent or absent during childhood, you have a fear that once you get close to another person, they will leave you or push you away. To combat this stress, you push them away before they have the chance to do it to you first, even if you’re dying to get closer.
Conversely, you might cling tighter at the slightest sign of separation. When you’re becoming close to someone that you have a deep fear of losing, you grab on even harder, fearful that they will leave you and trying to prevent them from doing so. Oftentimes, this behavior can look erratic and desperate, as if you cannot survive or are unsafe without them.
You need constant reassurance. If you’re compulsively looking at your phone to make sure your partner has texted you back, if you don’t believe them when they’ve made it abundantly clear that they’re attracted to you, or if you cross boundaries by looking through their phone, you might have an anxious attachment style.
Your partners regularly tell you it’s difficult to connect. People who are anxiously attached may also have trouble accessing their feelings or expressing them if their needs were regularly ignored during childhood. In romantic relationships, this can look like an inability to connect with a partner long-term or communicate how much they care.
You’re overly sensitive to certain slights. Maybe your partner told you they’d be home around eleven o’clock, but they didn’t make it back until eleven thirty. While this might be annoying, it probably doesn’t warrant an argument (depending on the circumstances, of course). An anxiously attached person might pine over each minute their partner isn’t home on time, calling constantly, all because they are insecure without that presence. They may even express anger when the partner finally does get home.