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Understanding Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

Man hugging partner kissing head looking like they have problem

Do you ever feel like you’re too “needy” or “clingy” in relationships? Do you regularly feel insecure and need reassurance from your partner? Or do you get jealous easily and struggle to control your emotions? If so, you may have an anxious preoccupied attachment style.

About 20% of American adults have this attachment style, which can stem from inconsistent caregiving or adverse experiences in childhood.

While not a disorder in itself, having an insecure attachment style can have a significant impact on your mental health and self-worth. It can also disrupt your ability to form healthy and fulfilling adult relationships. In the long run, it can even contribute to other problems, such as intimacy disorders and sex addiction.

Understanding Attachment Styles

Anxious preoccupied attachment is one of four possible attachment styles, or ways in which people connect and form bonds with one another, proposed under attachment theory.

Attachment theory is a prominent psychological model first developed by British psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s. It suggests that early experiences with caregivers shape people’s ability to form and maintain relationships throughout their entire lives. 

In other words, the quality of care provided by your parents or primary caregivers as a child creates a framework for how you develop relationships as an adult. 

After research on the subject, four primary attachment styles were identified. 

The four attachment styles and how they develop in children are:

  1. Secure. The primary caregiver is available and responsive to a child’s physical and emotional needs. This allows the child to develop a sense of security and trust.
  2. Anxious. When the primary caregiver is inconsistent in their care, the child realizes they can’t depend on them to meet their needs, leading to anxiety and distress.
  3. Avoidant. If the caregiver is neglectful or insensitive toward a child’s needs, the child may avoid showing distress and no longer seek reassurance.
  4. Disorganized. This style often stems from childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect. It contains aspects of both anxious and avoidant attachment. The caregiver may become a source of both comfort and fear. This can lead to confused or disorganized attachment behaviors.

How Attachment Styles Manifest in Adults

Relationships between adults are different from those between a child and a caregiver. However, the attachment style you establish during childhood can impact how you form relationships later in life — especially intimate romantic relationships.

The four main attachment styles in adults are:

  1. Secure. Adults with secure attachment styles feel comfortable with intimacy, have high self-esteem, and can trust their partners. They are capable of expressing their needs and emotions openly with loved ones.
  2. Anxious Preoccupied. People with this attachment style often fear rejection and abandonment. They have difficulty respecting others’ boundaries, become overly dependent on their partner, and require constant reassurance from others.
  3. Dismissive Avoidant. People with dismissive-avoidant attachment styles tend to be hyper-independent. They don’t feel the need for intimate relationships, pull away when people get too close, and avoid emotional intimacy.
  4. Fearful Avoidant. This style usually stems from disorganized or avoidant attachment as a child. People with this style may desire close relationships but also fear rejection and find it difficult to trust. They tend to believe they don’t deserve love and struggle to self-soothe their emotions, often turning to self-destructive behaviors to cope. 

The last three are also known as insecure attachment styles. People with these insecure styles often find it more difficult to develop and maintain healthy adult relationships. 

People with insecure attachment also are prone to developing sex addiction because they seek out others to help them feel better emotionally. Here’s more about the relationship between insecure attachment and sex addiction

Understanding Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

According to attachment theory, anxious preoccupied attachment originates from inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving experiences during childhood. 

Inconsistent parenting means that sometimes the caregiver is nurturing and attentive toward their child, while at other times, they are insensitive or unavailable. 

This inconsistency isn’t always intentional. Some caregivers can’t be fully available for their child due to physical or mental illness. Other factors such as divorce, childhood illness, death of a parent, or time spent in foster care can also lead to inconsistent caregiving experiences.

Whatever the cause, this unpredictability can cause a child to become confused and anxious. They are unsure whether their caregiver will be able to meet their needs.

In response to this confusion, they may become “needy” or “clingy.” They become extremely distressed when separated from their caregiver. They also exaggerate distress and display  “attention-seeking behaviors” to elicit a caring response. Some children may end up developing attachment disorders.

These anxious attachment behaviors can then transfer into adult relationships later in life. As an adult, you may crave intimacy, but you’re not confident that others will be able to meet your needs based on your past experiences. This can lead to an intimacy disorder.

Recognizing Symptoms of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

Understanding your attachment style as an adult can help you become more self-aware and promote personal growth. It’s also a powerful tool for fostering healthier, more fulfilling relationships in the future.

Seeking advice from a mental health professional is the best way to identify your attachment style and begin working through it. Although, there are some common signs and symptoms you can watch for to understand if your attachment style may be problematic.

Signs of anxious preoccupied attachment in adults include:

  • Low self-esteem and feeling unworthy of love
  • Excessive worry about rejection or abandonment
  • Seemingly constant need for attention and closeness
  • Ongoing need for approval and validation from others
  • Becoming overly fixated on relationships
  • Struggling to set and respect healthy boundaries 
  • Difficulty trusting your partner and getting easily jealous
  • Hypersensitivity to your partner’s actions and moods
  • Poor emotional regulation and conflict management 

Anxious preoccupied attachment is also linked to a higher likelihood of anxiety disorders and other mental health problems in adults. 

How Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Impacts Relationships

This attachment style is characterized by a heightened need for closeness and reassurance in relationships, as well as a fear of abandonment and rejection. 

If you have this insecure attachment style, you may become overly dependent on your partner and have problems being away from them. You may have trouble feeling secure and worry about your partner’s feelings and intentions, requiring constant reassurance. You may also experience intense emotional reactions like jealousy to possible threats to your relationship. 

These insecurities can make it challenging to maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. You might be seen as clingy, needy, insecure, possessive, or jealous. In the long run, this can put a strain on your relationship. You may end up pushing your partner away.

Overcoming Your Anxious Attachment Style

The good news is that it’s possible to overcome your insecure attachment style. Many strategies can help you feel more secure in yourself and teach you how to develop healthier and more fulfilling relationships moving forward.

Strategies for overcoming an insecure attachment style:

  • Recognize the Signs. Acknowledge and become aware of the signs and behaviors associated with anxious attachment. Do these impact how you behave in relationships? Why do you think you relate to people the way you do today? Self-awareness is essential in overcoming insecure attachment.
  • Increase Self-Esteem. Work on building your self-esteem and self-worth outside of your relationships. Engage in activities that promote self-confidence and self-compassion. It’s vital to recognize your own value and worthiness of love and acceptance, independently of any external validation.
  • Learn Self-Regulation. Try techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and guided talk therapies. These can help you challenge negative thought patterns and regulate your emotions and behaviors.
  • Heal From Unresolved Trauma. Address and work through any negative experiences that may have contributed to your anxious attachment style. Seek support from a specially trained trauma-informed therapist to help you heal from any unresolved traumas.
  • Communicate With Your Partner. If you’re in a relationship, make sure your partner is aware of your attachment style. Communication can help them be empathetic toward your emotions and behavior. Couples therapy may also help you work through any ongoing issues.

While some of these strategies can be done by yourself, working through the steps with a licensed therapist can make a huge difference. A therapist can guide you through the process of developing a more secure attachment style.

Professional Treatment at Begin Again Institute

If you think you may have an intimacy disorder or mental health condition resulting from an anxious preoccupied attachment style, it’s important to seek professional help. 

At Begin Again Institute, we offer intimacy disorder treatment for men. This treatment comes in the form of intensives. You can choose from a 14-Day Men’s Intensive or a 14-Day Christian Men’s Intensive to launch your healing.

Our therapists can help you identify, understand, and process the childhood experiences that led to attachment and intimacy issues. We can then provide you with the tools you need to help you improve your life and relationships moving forward.

Contact us today to discover more about how BAI can help.

  • Category: Intimacy Disorders
  • By Begin Again Institute
  • May 3, 2024

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