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Anxious Preoccupied Attachment: Understanding and Overcoming It

Anxious preoccupied attachment is a specific attachment style that develops in childhood and continues into adulthood. It is characterized by a strong need for reassurance and validation from others, particularly in close relationships. Individuals with this attachment style often worry about abandonment or rejection and may become overly dependent on their partners or friends.

People with an anxious preoccupied attachment style often have an intense fear of rejection and a strong desire to be liked. While you might desire close, intimate bonds, your high levels of relationship anxiety can interfere with your ability to form and maintain romantic or interpersonal relationships.

This article delves into the core features of anxious preoccupied attachment, examining its origins, behavioral manifestations, and potential strategies for fostering healthier relationships.

What Is  Anxious Preoccupied Attachment?

Anxious preoccupied attachment is an insecure attachment style that occurs in adulthood. In childhood, this style is known as ambivalent attachment. It is characterized by desiring intimacy yet being too anxious and insecure about relationships. 

People with an anxious preoccupied attachment style are often described as “clingy” or “needy.” They constantly need assurance and worry incessantly about their relationships and whether others like them.

This attachment style is rooted in early experiences with caregivers who were inconsistent in meeting the child’s emotional needs. As a result, the child learns to constantly seek attention and approval in order to feel secure. They may become hyper-vigilant to signs of rejection or disapproval and interpret neutral or ambiguous behaviors as evidence of abandonment.

People with an anxious preoccupied attachment style tend to have low self-esteem and may struggle with feelings of unworthiness. They may also have difficulty setting boundaries and may become overly enmeshed in their relationships.

Understanding Attachment Styles

Rooted in early life experiences and interactions, this attachment style can have far-reaching effects on one’s interpersonal dynamics, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Attachment styles shape how individuals connect, communicate, and form emotional bonds and relationships. 

Attachment theory suggests that our earliest bonds with caregivers are vital in shaping the relationships we later have as adults. 

These early relationships can be described as either secure or insecure. Secure attachments help foster safety and trust, whereas insecure attachments are marked by poor emotional connections and a lack of trust.

Anxious preoccupied attachment can seriously impact how individuals approach intimacy, seek validation, and deal with emotional insecurities.

Characteristics of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

Some of the common signs of an anxious preoccupied attachment style include:

  • Excessive worry about being rejected or abandoned by your partner
  • Fear that your partner will leave you or be unfaithful
  • Constantly trying to gain your partner’s approval
  • Wanting constant reassurance from others
  • Feeling worthless if you are not in a relationship
  • Thinking about the relationship all the time
  • Poor self-worth
  • Being hypersensitive to your partner’s words, actions, or moods
  • Overreacting to anything that seems to threaten your relationship
  • Always checking in with your partner
  • Feeling panicked if your partner wants to spend time apart

These feelings often emerge in romantic relationships, but they can also affect other types of relationships in a person’s life, including platonic friendships.

How to Tell If You Have Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

It isn’t always easy to recognize your own attachment style, but there are a few signs to look for if you think you might have an anxious preoccupied attachment style:

You Always Need Reassurance

One key indicator is a constant need for reassurance and validation from others. You may frequently seek attention and approval, fearing that you are not loved or valued. This need for validation often stems from a deep-seated fear of abandonment.

You Are Dependent on Others

Another sign is a tendency to become overly dependent on others, particularly in close relationships. You may feel insecure and rely heavily on your partners or friends for emotional support and validation.

You Overreact to Minor Criticism

Individuals with an anxious preoccupied attachment style often have a heightened sensitivity to signs of rejection or disapproval. You may interpret neutral or ambiguous behaviors as evidence of abandonment, leading to feelings of anxiety and distress.

You Have Poor Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem and difficulty setting boundaries in relationships are also common indicators of this attachment style. You may constantly seek validation from others to feel a sense of self-worth and struggle with asserting your own needs and desires.

You can also learn more about your attachment style by taking our Attachment Style Quiz.

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How do you feel about emotional intimacy?

How do you feel about being affectionate with your partner?

What's your greatest fear about your relationship?

Do you feel like your partner understands you?

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How often should someone tell you that they love you?

How do you feel when your partner shows their emotions?

Do you feel like you always need to be in a relationship?

How would you describe your relationships?

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Do you tell your partner what you really think and feel?

How comfortable are you with relying on your partner?

How do you think your partner feels about you?

How do you feel if my romantic partner isn't around when you need them?

What Is My Attachment Style? Take the Quiz
Your Attachment Style: Secure
Based on your quiz answers, you have a predominantly secure attachment style. People with secure attachments tend to feel comfortable with themselves and their relationships. Securely attached individuals tend to have happier, long-lasting relationships. You feel comfortable sharing your feelings with your partner and are able to turn to your partner for support. While this quiz cannot fully describe every aspect of your attachment style, it can provide a basis for understanding more about your romantic attachment style.
Your Attachment Style: Avoidant
Based on your quiz answers, you have a predominantly avoidant attachment style. People with avoidant attachments tend to have difficulty with close, intimate relationships. You may feel uncomfortable sharing your thoughts, feelings, and ideas with your romantic partner. In some cases, you might even come up with excuses to avoid intimacy. While this quiz cannot fully describe every aspect of your attachment style, it can provide a basis for understanding more about your romantic attachment style.
Your Attachment Style: Anxious
Based on your quiz answers, you have a predominantly anxious attachment style. People with anxious attachments tend to worry more about romantic relationships. You may worry that your partner does not feel the same way about you as you do about them. You may also be concerned that your partner will leave you. In some cases, those with an anxious attachment style want to become very close to their partners but worry that this will scare the other person off. While this quiz cannot fully describe every aspect of your attachment style, it can provide a basis for understanding more about your romantic attachment style.

What Causes Anxious Preoccupied Attachment?

Anxious preoccupied attachment is often rooted in early childhood experiences and the quality of the relationship between a child and their caregiver. Understanding the causes of anxious preoccupied attachment can explain why certain patterns and behaviors exist. In the next section, we will explore the impact of anxious preoccupied attachment on individuals’ relationships and overall well-being.

The following are some factors that can play a role:

Inconsistent Caregivers

One of the primary causes is inconsistent or unpredictable caregiving.

When a child’s needs are met inconsistently, they may develop a heightened sense of insecurity and fear of abandonment. This can lead to a constant need for reassurance and validation in adult relationships.

Trauma or Neglect

Another factor that can contribute to anxious preoccupied attachment is trauma or neglect during childhood. Experiencing neglect or abuse can create deep-seated feelings of unworthiness and a fear of being unlovable. These experiences can shape the way individuals perceive themselves and others, leading to anxious attachment patterns.

Caregiver Attachment Styles

The attachment style of primary caregivers can influence the development of anxious preoccupied attachment. If a caregiver has their own anxious attachment style or struggles with emotional availability, it can also impact the child’s attachment style.

Relationship Experiences

It’s important to note that while early experiences play a significant role, later life events and relationships can also influence attachment styles. For example, experiencing repeated rejections or betrayals in romantic relationships can reinforce anxious attachment patterns.

Related Mental Health Conditions

Anxious preoccupied attachment is not a mental disorder, but it may be connected to some mental health conditions. People with anxiety disorders, for example, may be more likely to exhibit this style of attachment. Some conditions where this style may appear include:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Substance use disorders

Impact of Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

The impact of anxious preoccupied attachment can be far-reaching, affecting various aspects of an individual’s life. 

  • Relationship anxiety: In relationships, those with an anxious preoccupied attachment style often experience heightened insecurity and fear of abandonment. This can lead to a constant need for reassurance and validation from their partners, which can strain the relationship.
  • Lack of trust: The constant anxiety that is a hallmark of this style makes it difficult to trust your partner. This can impair intimacy and makes it more challenging to build a lasting, trusting connection.
  • Poor self-image: Individuals with an anxious preoccupied attachment style may also struggle with low self-esteem and a negative self-image. They may constantly doubt their worthiness of love and attention, leading to feelings of unworthiness and self-sabotaging behaviors.
  • Unhealthy relationship patterns: The constant need for reassurance and validation can lead to a cycle of seeking out partners who are emotionally unavailable or who reinforce their fears of abandonment. This can perpetuate a pattern of unhealthy and unsatisfying relationships.
  • Decreased well-being: Anxious preoccupied attachment can also affect an individual’s overall well-being. The constant worry and fear of rejection can lead to high stress and anxiety levels. This can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, and difficulty sleeping.

Understanding the damaging effects of anxious preoccupied attachment is crucial in order to address and manage its effects. While it takes effort, there are things you can do to cope with an anxious preoccupied attachment style and cultivate healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

How to Cope With an Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Style?

Coping with an anxious preoccupied attachment style can be challenging, but with the right strategies and techniques, individuals can learn to manage their attachment patterns and cultivate healthier relationships.

Work on Self-Awareness

One important step in coping with anxious preoccupied attachment is to develop self-awareness. Recognizing the signs and patterns of this attachment style can help individuals understand their behaviors and emotions better. This self-awareness can also help in identifying triggers that may lead to anxious thoughts and behaviors.

Find Ways to Soothe Anxiety

Another effective coping strategy is to practice self-soothing techniques. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress can help individuals regulate their emotions and manage anxiety. This can include practices such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or engaging in hobbies that bring joy and calmness.

Consider Professional Help

Seeking therapy or counseling can also benefit individuals with an anxious preoccupied attachment style. A trained professional can provide guidance and support in exploring the underlying causes of attachment patterns and help develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Find Social Support

Building a support network of trusted friends and loved ones can also be helpful. A support system that understands and validates one’s experiences can provide security and reassurance.

Treat Yourself Kindly

Practicing self-compassion is crucial. Learning to be kind and understanding towards oneself can help individuals challenge negative self-beliefs and develop a more positive self-image.

By implementing these coping strategies, individuals with an anxious preoccupied attachment style can work towards developing more secure and fulfilling relationships and improving their overall well-being.

Key Points to Remember

By understanding the anxious preoccupied attachment style and implementing these coping strategies, individuals can work towards developing more secure and fulfilling relationships and improving their overall well-being. It is important to remember that attachment styles can be influenced by past experiences, but they are not set in stone. 

With self-reflection, support, and the willingness to change, individuals can cultivate healthier attachment patterns and create more satisfying connections with others. Remember, change takes time and effort, but it is always within reach.

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Marmarosh CL, Tasca GA. Adult attachment anxiety: using group therapy to promote change. J Clin Psychol. 2013;69(11):1172-1182. doi:10.1002/jclp.22044

Read DL, Clark GI, Rock AJ, Coventry WL. Adult attachment and social anxiety: the mediating role of emotion regulation strategies. PLoS One. 2018;13(12):e0207514. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0207514

Rodriguez LM, DiBello AM, Øverup CS, et al. The price of distrust: trust, anxious attachment, jealousy, and partner abuse. Partner Abuse. 2015;6(3):298-319. doi:10.1891/1946-6560.6.3.298

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