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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
It’s thought by many that our experiences as a child, and the sense of security we have as children (or lack thereof), shape how we attach and form relationships as adults.
This theory, called attachment theory, was developed by a man named John Bowlby. He was a British psychoanalyst and was trying to wrap his head around the intense distress that infants who had been separated from their parents felt.
Bowlby wound up developing a theory that essentially is predicated on the idea that emotional disorders are connected to early attachment-related experiences — like separation from or harsh treatment from parental figures. Attachment in children can lead to issues as adults.
To learn more about this fascinating concept, along with how it can lead to something called anxious attachment — keep reading!
Out of attachment theory, four different styles of attachment developed. The first is secure attachment style. As an adult, this means you understand you are worthy of love and have a positive way of attaching to other people. You generally believe that other people are accepting and responsive.
Then, there’s something called avoidant attachment. In infants, this is thought to display as a baby not seeming to notice or care that a parent has separated from them. In adults, similar displays of disinterest may show.
Disorganized attachment is next. With infants, they don’t show any type of consistency in how they react when separated from a parent. Likewise, adults may show the same inconsistency in personal relationships if this is their attachment style.
Drumroll please…finally, we have come to the anxious attachment type, which is classified as an insecure attachment style and sometimes also called preoccupied attachment. Traits of an adult with anxious attachment style include someone who might need lots of attention and who is extremely expressive. Someone with anxious attachment may also idolize others and depend highly on interpersonal relationships.
It can also show up as needing reassurance, guidance and support because a person with anxious attachment doesn’t trust herself.
People with insecure attachment styles find that it can interfere with their mental health.
Going back to childhood experiences, it’s thought that people with anxious attachment lacked a safe, loving parental relationship.This could be because of emotional neglect, abuse, abandonment, inconsistent parenting or an inattentiveness to needs.
As an adult, the lack of a safe, loving parental relationship can continue to have an effect — especially on romantic relationships. As mentioned above, someone who has anxious attachment needs attention and constant reassurance and often feels very dependent in relationships.
Given this, anything that makes that person feel neglected or like a loved one is pulling away could be a trigger. For example, say you go to a party with a significant other and they spend the evening wrapped up in conversation with other people — that could cause you to feel ignored and upset. Or if you feel a close friend pulling away from you or getting sucked into a new relationship, it could lead to you spiraling in your emotions.
Considering the fact that anxious attachment can affect your mental health, therapy is never a bad idea for someone dealing with this.
While there are a number of different types of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be one worth considering. This type of therapy involves identifying patterns and behaviors that may not be helpful to your life and working with a therapist to develop problem-solving skills to cope.
If you think about it, CBT could be really helpful for those with an anxious attachment style. You could work with a therapist to look more deeply at the times you feel most neglected or needy and then come up with ways to address those feelings going forward.
Having an anxious attachment style can also cause conflict in adult relationships. To mitigate this, couples therapy could also be helpful to promote a healthy relationship. And speaking of romantic partners, one study also found that when someone perceived gratitude from a partner, there was a decrease in anxious attachment.
If you’re single, looking for someone who is good at expressing gratitude may be wise. Already coupled up? Consider starting a daily gratitude practice with your significant other. Tell them something they did that you are grateful for and ask them to reciprocate.
Attachment theory is based on the thought that the way we bond (or don’t bond) with our parents when we are young can predict how we will form attachments to others when we are adults.
There are four different types of attachment styles. Anxious attachment is characterized as feeling like you need frequent reassurance and are dependent in intimate relationships.
You may notice these feelings increase if you don’t find your partner giving you the kind of affection you crave or if a loved one is suddenly a bit too busy for you. This style is also sometimes called preoccupied attachment or anxious-preoccupied attachment.
To cope with anxious attachment, therapy may help. If you’d like to speak with a mental health professional, Hers offers the chance to speak with a licensed professional from the comfort of your own home.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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