5 Things I Learned About Myself After Understanding My Anxious Attachment Style
As a total Type A personality, I love learning everything I can about human relationships.
It comforts me to have an idea of what's going on under the surface, and then to put each interaction into separate boxes that I completely understand. Well, completely may be an exaggeration, but you get the point.
After I chewed through The Five Love Languages, I had to find something else to give me some insight into my complicated feelings and behaviors. That lead me to Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—And Keep—Love by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. This book takes a scientific approach to human relationships. Using research methods and sociological studies, the authors explain the various ways that people become attached to their partners. Through their research, they discovered three basic attachment styles: secure, avoidant, and anxious.
(Riverdale via The CW)
I'll skip all the scientific mumbo-jumbo and get straight to the point. Secure people are good at relationships, avoidant people push others away and anxious people cling too tightly to those they care about. As soon as I read about the anxious attachment style, I knew that was me. I'm a handful in relationships, to say the least, and I quickly connected to the description of anxious people who sense threats in their relationship when none exist.
At first, I was frustrated by my classification. Did that mean I was less valuable in our relationship than my secure partner? Are my feelings less valid because I tend to overreact to small situations? However, the more I read about the anxious attachment style, the more comforted I became. Maybe I can't change the way I bond with people, but understanding the subconscious mechanisms that control the way I make decisions has totally changed my understanding of my relationships.
Keep reading for five things I learned about myself after understanding my anxious attachment style.
I Think Every Change in My Relationship Is About Me
People with an anxious attachment system are super sensitive to the outside input they receive from their partners. These people (me) are more aware of emotional shifts. If something is even slightly off, those with an anxious attachment system will be able to sense it.
Because of my anxious attachment system, I pick up on every subtle change in my relationships. Whether it's a small change in tone, a difference in texting or a few less "I love yous" than usual, I notice it all. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop at just noticing it. Not only am I hyper-aware of my partner's moods, I also believe that every change is a signal that I've done something wrong.
(Stranger Things via Netflix)
As a person with an anxious attachment style, I tend to interpret everything I sense about the relationship as a negative. Not texting me as much? They must be cheating on me. Not excited to speak to me? They probably want to break-up.
While I actually enjoy having a sixth sense for danger in my relationship, I've had to take a step back and talk myself out of those unfounded anxiety spirals. Instead of giving in to every negative emotion and confronting my partner, I've had to learn to wait before I react in order to get a clear view of what's going on. Even if I just take a few minutes to think about the situation, I often find that I'm able to talk myself down and look at what's happening with a clear head. It's totally against my nature, but it's led to much less conflict in my relationships.
Patience Is Key in a Relationship
Once I feel that something's wrong in a relationship, my attachment system is activated. I feel worried and insecure, and I'm unable to calm down until I get a clear indication from my partner that everything's okay. Unfortunately, an activated attachment system can lead to really strong emotions, which means I'm often acting on impulse rather than using my head. Instead of just asking my partner to be closer to me, I have a bad habit of throwing out accusations, acting hostile and threatening to leave to push my partner towards loving me. Of course, all these behaviors only do the opposite—push them away.
(Stranger Things via Netflix)
Once I understood my anxious attachment style, I realized that—more than anything else—a patient partner is the key to a successful relationship with me. And I'm talking about above and beyond patience—the kind that feels a little superhuman when you find it.
While I'm constantly working on responding better to my anxieties, sometimes they still take control. Rewiring your brain is no easy feat, and I'm sure I'll struggle to respond differently for… well, probably forever. Knowing that, I need a partner who's patient with my bad habits and understands where they're coming from, instead of one who gets angry and frustrated with me every time I feel anxious.
I Have to Stand Up For My Needs
People with an anxious attachment system are needy—that's just the truth of it. We easily feel like the relationship is in danger, and we require consistent signals and attention to set our minds at ease. Unfortunately, those with an anxious attachment system often feel guilty about their needs. They don't want to ask for affection and reassurance because it's much more acceptable to be strong and independent, with little need of assistance from anyone.
I've definitely felt insecure about my needs. I believe that what I'm feeling is silly, so I don't say anything about it. Unfortunately, that just means I'm not getting the necessary signals to calm down. I spiral further and further into worry, eventually lashing out at the person I care about.
(Pretty Little Liars via Freeform)
If I were simply open and upfront with what I needed from my partner, I could put a stop to all that anxious nonsense. My insecurity about my needs keeps me from saying, "Hey, I'm feeling a little weird right now. Could you give me a little extra affection?" or any other variation that might indicate to my partner that I'm feeling off. By worrying about what my needs say about me, I'm not even giving our relationship a chance to thrive.
By understanding my anxious attachment style, I've also realized that I have to stand up for my needs. If I don't advocate for myself and openly express the things I want, I'm basically expecting my partner to read my mind. Not only does that keep our relationship from growing, it also keeps me trapped in my own insecurity. Instead of proudly standing up for my emotional well-being, I'm left feeling worried and nervous about even speaking up. It's a habit I'm trying (and struggling) to change.
I Don't Fight Fair
I've always considered myself to be pretty good at communication. Sure, I have my flaws, but in general I thought I was pretty darn decent at working through conflict. After reading up on my attachment style, I had to come to terms with a really annoying fact about myself—I don't fight fair.
While I still think I'm good at communication in most cases, the second I feel upset or threatened, all my healthy tactics go out the window. I feel desperate to reestablish closeness with my partner, and I'll use all kinds of unhealthy means to accomplish my goal. I throw out accusations, I cry instead of talking things through, I threaten to leave, I emotionally withdraw from the conversation, and I don't give my partner time to process their feelings. I know—I sound like the worst.
(New Girl via Fox)
But the truth is I'm totally lost in my anxious attachment system, and I never realized how harmful my behavior could be. Honestly, I hadn't even identified it. It was my natural instincts kicking in—I never thought to second-guess those behaviors.
Understanding my anxious attachment style has forced me to realize that I need to improve my conflict management skills. I can't continue to use unhealthy techniques and then wonder why my arguments don't solve themselves. Although it's been a blow to my ego, it's a necessary fact that I need to examine if I want to improve my relationships.
I Have to Steer Clear of Avoidant Partners
When I first started reading the book, one thing became abundantly clear—as an anxious person, I have to stay away from avoidant partners.
Anxious people need stable, supportive relationships with plenty of emotional availability. Again, we're needy—we have to pair up with partners who will be around to ease our constant worries. Unfortunately, avoidant partners are pretty much the opposite. An avoidant partner struggles to open up, keeps people at a distance and despises emotional vulnerability.
Because they prefer to keep people at arm's length, avoidants are often in the dating pool in much higher numbers than other attachment styles. In addition, anxious and avoidant people are drawn to each other. The tension and strain between the two feels like passion, which causes these mismatched attachment styles to pair up in unhealthy situations that last far too long.
(Pretty Little Liars via Netflix)
For an anxious person, being with an avoidant is basically torture. You never get what you need, so you're left feeling upset, vulnerable and worried most of the time. After reading through the description of anxious-avoidant partnerships, I realized many of my past relationships functioned on that same dynamic. No wonder I always felt so anxious!
Understanding my attachment style allowed me to come to terms with the type of partners I should be looking for. While an anxious-avoidant match can work, I know from personal experience that it isn't the choice for me, which I never would have realized without understanding my attachment style.
If you want more insight into attachment styles, click HERE for a full rundown on this scientific theory and what it says about your relationships.