4 Ways I Overcame My Anxious Attachment Style
According to MindBodyGreen, anxious attachment is defined as “a type of insecure attachment style rooted in a fear of abandonment and an insecurity of being underappreciated.”
Anxious attachment can manifest itself in many ways. In my past relationships, I’ve seen my own anxious attachment most prominently when I do something wrong or see my partner experiencing negative emotions. I used to always be on high alert, looking for signs of annoyance or distress from my boyfriend. I would ask “What’s wrong?” several times a day, and I would never believe him when he said nothing.
When I was dating my first boyfriend in high school, I would get in bed every night and say, “God, please just let me get to next weekend without being broken up with.” When my high school boyfriend eventually broke up with me during our first college Thanksgiving break, I felt like all my fears were confirmed. I decided he had wanted to leave me the whole time, just like I thought. And the fact that he left me for another girl didn’t help.
After that, my anxious attachment was worse than ever. When my relationship with my current boyfriend began years ago, I constantly thought he would break up with me over every tiny thing. One time I made chili that was too spicy, and I cried because I thought he would leave me. But he didn’t. He stayed. And then the next time we argued, he stayed again. And again and again and again. But my anxious attachment didn’t go away. I was so afraid to lose him. I was terrified of doing one tiny thing wrong that would be “the last straw.”
Finally, I realized I had to address my anxiety. I couldn’t keep living my life, just hoping our relationship would make it to next weekend. I wanted to feel confident and safe and happy, and I wanted to enjoy the moments I was spending with my boyfriend without worrying they would be our last.
So I made some changes. Big changes and little changes, easy changes and hard changes. And now, I can safely say I have a secure attachment style. And it feels so good. I feel happy and confident, and I know that everything is going to be okay. Here’s what helped me the most.
I Got a Therapist
Last year, I started seeing a therapist for the first time. She was wonderful, and I would recommend therapy to anyone, even if you don’t feel like you need it.
We talked a lot about my attachment style, and the most important thing we did was work through why I felt the way I did. We constantly talked through what had caused my constant insecurity and doubt.
Getting to the root of that why is essential for change. When you know why you feel a certain way, you’re able to look at your own actions with understanding rather than frustration or anger.
In therapy, I also worked on recognizing my habits that contributed to my anxiety. Here are three of the most common mind-traps that you might recognize in yourself:
- Mind-Reading: Assuming you know exactly what your loved one is thinking, even if they’re telling you something else. For example, not believing them when they say nothing is wrong.
- Personalizing: Taking everything personally. Thinking that everything is about you. For example, crying because your boyfriend said your chili is too spicy.
- Worst Case Thinking: Automatically believing that the worst-case scenario is going to happen. For example, believing your significant other will break up with you over a tiny argument.
When you define these behaviors, you start to recognize them in your daily life. When you notice yourself falling down one of these paths, you can stop yourself and redirect.
I Started Calling a Time-Out
If you have an anxious attachment style, you may overreact at little things your partner says or does, and then you may experience even more anxiety and guilt when you realize you’ve reacted badly.
I remember once, my boyfriend and I were both working from home. His coworker texted him and asked if he wanted to come to the office and keep him company. So my boyfriend went to spend time with his friend at work. No big deal, right? Wrong. I went into an anxiety spiral. I couldn’t believe he would rather spend time with his coworker than me. I wondered if I was annoying him, and that’s why he left? Or maybe he just didn’t really like hanging out with me that much? I asked myself repeatedly what it meant that he would choose someone else over me, even though I would never have done that if I had been in his situation.
When he got home, I acted cold and distant. I was trying to regain control. I perceived his actions as a sign of his disinterest, and I didn’t want to seem like I liked him more than he liked me. Of course, he asked me what was wrong, and I said, “why do you want to spend time with your coworkers instead of me?”
Of course, what followed was a very uncomfortable conversation. I immediately realized I was wrong, and I began to see the crazy logic that led me to this point, so I tried to apologize. I wanted to explain myself, but at that point, I wasn’t even sure how. I apologized repeatedly, and I just knew he would break up with me for being so unreasonable. Of course, he didn’t.
After that conversation, I learned to take a time-out. When I would start to feel anxious or insecure, I would note my emotional state, and I would say to myself, if I still feel this way in 24 hours, I can bring it up with my boyfriend. Often, when I calmed down. I would see that I was being unreasonable, and I would happily let it go.
When you’re emotionally charged, and your anxiety is triggered, you want to jump in and demand answers right away. But if you give yourself a 24 hour time out to calm down, you may find that your perspective changes more often than not.
I Got a Hobby
One of the biggest problems with my relationship, in the beginning, was that my life revolved around it. It was the only thing that mattered in my world. I was so scared to lose it that I would drop everything, no matter what, for my boyfriend. I always wanted to be available for him, and I got upset when he wouldn’t do the same for me. But that’s not how relationships work. It’s all about balance. Now, we have boundaries, and we both understand that time apart is just as important as time together. If he wants to hang out with his friends, that’s awesome, I’ll see him tomorrow. If he asks me to hang out when I already have plans with my coworkers, I can say no, and the world won’t end.
Relationships are just one part of a person’s life. It can’t be someone’s only source of happiness. I read a quote in an article years ago that has always stuck with me.
“Lovers are great, but they’re fundamentally uncertain in a way that your joy shouldn’t be. They’re not to be counted on for something as crucial as personal happiness. They can’t be the source. It has to come from you first.”
I’m not saying your relationship shouldn’t make you happy. It should. If it doesn’t, we have a problem. But it shouldn’t be the only thing that makes you happy. You have to find things that bring you joy that are completely separate from your relationship. You need to find a hobby, something you love and can be proud of.
For me, this was writing. I started writing in early 2020, and I finally felt like I had something that was just mine. It was something I enjoyed, and it made me feel confident and happy and accomplished. And feeling those wonderful feelings and knowing that the source of my joy was me, not my relationship, helped me with my anxious attachment style.
And now, I feel like I’m a whole person again. I’m not part of a whole. I’m not bending over backward to be the perfect girlfriend anymore because there’s more to me than that. I’m a writer. My hobby gives me something healthy to obsess over, and my mind is occupied with my own personal growth more than it is about having the “perfect” relationship.
I Started Taking Care of Myself
People with anxious attachment styles often feel insecure and unworthy not just in their relationships but also in life. I know I did. I didn’t know how to love myself; I just knew how to put myself down. I thought frustration and anger towards myself would lead to change.
But then, in July 2020, my mom died. And as I was getting through that grief, I learned to nurture myself. I started asking myself what I needed and respecting those needs. I started taking baths, doing puzzles, and buying myself gifts. And it felt really good to take care of myself. I was learning to love myself, and I started relying on myself, rather than other people, to take care of me.
After those difficult few months, I realized that I can do hard things. My boyfriend was an incredibly important supporter during that time, and he fills my life with happiness and joy, but I realized that I wouldn’t wither away into nothing without him. I would still be me, and I would pick myself up again and take care of myself. When I stopped being afraid of the future and started spending more time in the present, my life and relationship got better.
So try and schedule some self-care. Put yourself first, and show yourself that you are your own best friend. Buy yourself some flowers. Order your favorite food for dinner. Read an excellent book. Watch a romcom and eat M&M’s.
Date nights with yourself are just as important as date nights with your significant other. Eventually, you’ll start to feel happy with who you are, and the more you love yourself, the more you’ll be able to receive genuine love from others.
In the past year, I’ve done a lot of work to overcome my anxious attachment style. I thought it would never work. For the first four months, I was so frustrated with myself because I would keep falling into old patterns, no matter how hard I tried to change. But that frustration was part of the problem.
Now, I am kind to myself when I feel anxious thoughts come up. I treat myself with understanding. I don’t think those feelings will ever go away, but now I know that they’re fiction and not fact. I’m happy in my relationship, and I don’t constantly worry about it ending, because I know I will take care of myself no matter what.