by Above the Middle (Joe Gibson)
In a world where it would be great if we can all live securely in love, anxious and avoidant attachments ruin the fun. The two attachment styles, coined by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth now plague 21st Century romance. It’s not uncommon to hear a friend talk about their attachment issues or the reason their dates aren’t leading anywhere because of someone else’s.
The anxious attachment style describes individuals who attach easily to their partners and rely on them repeatedly for reassurance and comfort. It is believed that a caregiver relationship where the child’s independence wasn’t championed, or one where the parent was sometimes there and sometimes not is the reason for this attachment style.
As the infant’s mind sees everything as relating to themselves, they see this inconsistency as a reflection of their worth. They, therefore, don’t learn and aren’t taught to champion their independence instead turning to their relationships to find value. The inconsistency leads to a lack of trust in relationships and their low-self worth creates anxiety when there is distance or trouble (actual or supposed) in the relationship.
Despite how difficult managing attachment styles can be, as they’re often conditioned over a decade(s) worth of growth, you can change your attachment style. It just requires effort and awareness.
Today, I wanted to talk about a key area of growth for both attachment styles. Read this article today and begin changing your own.
A Growth Area For The Anxiously Attached
There are many characteristic traits the anxiously attached will have but the most impactful one we can change is our relationship to our independence.
This was a critical step in changing my relationship to my anxious attachment style.
For us to have to rely on someone else — for reassurance, comfort, love, and attention — we must not be able to give this to ourselves. Maybe your caregiver was overprotective of you when you were younger, “Don’t go too far away from me, you’ll hurt yourself” they may have said. They may have also suffered from an anxious attachment style themselves, modeling their own lack of independence onto you. They may have reassured you of their love for you one moment but vanished out the door the next — a common theme with divorced/on-and-off-again parents.
In any case, we’re reliant on others’ love to make us feel good because we can’t do this ourselves. We feel disconnected, lonely, worried, or even depressed on our own. Without a relationship, we feel like our fuel tank is empty. For women who are told their lifelong ambition should be to find a husband, they may feel like their worthiness isn’t valued without a partner by their side — and feel worthless when they’re alone.
To heal an anxious attachment style we have to feel whole and worthy on our own. But how can we do this when this has never been modeled for us? Where do we begin?
1. Championing Your Independence
Starting this blog and documenting my self-improvement journey hasn’t been so much to help others — though it’s been an incredibly fulfilling by-product — but to help myself.
I started writing because I wanted something that I could invest my time in and feel good about. Something that was mine; that made me feel good, and wasn’t dependent on someone else. I was looking to find sources of joy in my own life that could solidify my sense of self and prevent me from seeking that in others.
I remember sitting in therapy once explaining to the therapist that I didn’t know who I was in light of my first breakup. The relationship had become my sense of identity, though I didn’t feel I had much of one, to begin with. When we don’t have anything to lose, we will throw ourselves into every relationship that comes our way — it’s easier, and nothing holds us back.
Working to identify where you can find joy in your own life is critical to stopping your from attaching your worth to an external relationship.
2. Learning To Self-Regulate and Not Co-Regulate
In needing another to make us feel worthy, we’re essentially saying we’re unable to calm our negative emotions by ourselves — instead, we have to rely on others to do it for us. This is why we reach out when we shouldn’t, or double text when we don’t get a reply — we’re looking for comfort in another when we can’t give it to ourselves.
This isn’t any more apparent than in situations where anxious individuals get caught in unhealthy relationships. Even if the dynamic is unhealthy or toxic, they will still reach out. Why? Because they derive a sense of comfort from the attention another gives them, even if that person is also the cause of their pain.
For us to break the cycle of anxious attachment we have to start learning to calm our own nervous system and stop looking for others to do this for us. This can be difficult to do as the anxious drive to reach out can be so strong — but try we must.
There are numerous ways you can do this — meditation, breathwork, therapy, fitness, benefiting hobbies and critically, courage.
Rewriting an attachment style that has been ingrained since childhood isn’t an easy feat — if it was, everyone would do it. It takes persistence and a willingness to embrace the discomfort but it’s worth it.
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Photo Credit: Photograph by Designecologist on Pexels
Key Growth Areas for Anxiously Attached Individuals | by Above The Middle | ILLUMINATION | Feb, 2023 | Medium