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Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Style In Adult Relationship - What Is It?

Updated: May 15, 2023

anxious attachment style girl

When we fall in love, it can feel like our partner is the most important person in the world. We want to spend all our time with them and can’t get enough of them. But when a relationship encounters difficulties, your feelings or your view of your partner may change. Perhaps you now feel annoying or unimportant, rather than irreplaceable. It is also possible that your partner is now seen as someone who is a bit "needy". This has to do with attachment styles — specifically, the anxious preoccupied attachment style.

An individual's attachment style is largely shaped by their experiences as an infant, which determines how they interact with others as adults.

People with secure attachment styles feel comfortable and confident in their relationships with others. They are able to trust, open up, and be themselves in intimate relationships. On the other hand, people with insecure attachment styles are more likely to be obsessed with relationships (anxious-preoccupied attachment style) or hesitate to form close relationships (avoidant attachment style).

Let’s take a closer look at the anxious attachment style, its red flags, and how you can break its cycle. An anxious preoccupied attachment style sometimes referred to as “clingy” or “needy”, is one of the three types of insecure attachments in relationships. We will explore this attachment style and see if you are exhibiting signs of an anxious-ambivalent attachment style in your own relationship.

What is an anxious preoccupied attachment style?

An anxious preoccupied attachment style is one of the four attachment styles in the attachment theory. They are psychological patterns that develop from early childhood experiences with our parents or caregivers, shaping our adult relationship behavior.

Due to childhood experiences, someone with this attachment style may feel insecure and anxious about being alone.

It was often the case that caregivers could not meet these children's emotional needs consistently, which caused them to anxiously hold onto any moments when their needs were met in the relationship. With inconsistent attention, they will grow up fearing emotional and physical abandonment.

As anxious preoccupied attached adults, we have a strong desire to find reassurance and emotional fulfillment through our relationships with others. We would constantly search for a secure base in romantic relationships and do everything in our power to avoid abandonment and rejection.

Someone with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style tends to intensely seek intimacy and closeness in a romantic relationship.

anxious attachment style, ambivalent attachment style

How anxious attachment style expressed in adult relationships?

Oftentimes, people with anxious attachment styles prefer to stay in constant contact with their romantic partners. Whenever they are separated from their partner, they may feel a strong need to check in with them and make sure they are okay. This may include frequent phone calls, texting throughout the day, or always being nearby. It is natural for them to want to help their partner solve a difficult problem when they are upset or facing some difficult situation.

It can be useful to do this sometimes, but it can also make the other person feel smothered or incapable of handling with their own problems. It may be difficult for people with an anxious attachment style to cope with the ebb and flow of relationships. When couples inevitably disagree, they may worry they will lose their romantic partner.

Those who are anxiously attached worry constantly that any small misunderstanding will lead to the end of their relationship. Consequently, they may be completely dependent on their significant others for emotional support.

On the contrary, traits of this attachment style also include hypersensitivity to relationships with others. Anxiously attached adults developed high empathy abilities and emotional intelligence. They will do anything they can to help you recognize and meet your emotional needs. You will gain a lot if you are patient enough to address their need for reassurance.

11 Common Signs of anxious preoccupied attachment

  • Feeling a strong need to be in contact with your partner, even if nothing has happened.

  • Becoming jealous or possessive when your partner spends time with friends or family members.

  • Responding to the natural ups and downs of a relationship with excessive and overwhelming emotions.

  • Having difficulty trusting others.

  • Having feelings of insecurity about yourself or your relationship when you don't speak to your partner for a long time.

  • Wanting to "fix" your partner's emotions or actions, even if nothing big happened.

  • Over-investing in a relationship to the point of neglecting your own needs.

  • Idealizing an unsuitable partner or a dysfunctional relationship.

  • Being emotionally attached to a potential partner before any meaningful interactions have taken place.

  • Low self-esteem and feeling unworthy of love.

  • Hard time getting over an ex-partner

From insecure attachment to secure attachment; Breaking the cycle of anxious-preoccupied attachment style

Overcoming an adult ambivalent attachment style can be difficult, but it is possible with effort and patience. This type of attachment style is characterized by anxiety and preoccupation with one's partner, which can lead to a feeling of insecurity. This can be a vicious cycle, as relationship anxiety can lead to greater insecurity and codependency in interpersonal relationships, which in turn can make the partner feel even more suffocated.

However, it is possible to break this cycle in a healthy way by working on increasing your own self-confidence and interdependency.

It takes time and effort, but breaking the cycle of an anxious preoccupied attachment style is possible.

Beyond therapy (which we highly recommend), there are a number of ways to break the cycle and establish healthy relationships and connections as early as today:

1) Communicating your needs effectively

If you're someone with an anxious preoccupied attachment style, it's crucial that you be aware of your own needs and communicate them effectively to your partner or to a potential one.

As anxiously attached adults, we could neglect our emotional needs and focus solely on our partner's needs.

It's important to be honest about your needs with your partner and to find ways to communicate them in an effective way. This may mean being direct about what you need from the relationship, and being open to discussing your fears and concerns.

If you're able to effectively communicate your needs, you'll likely find that your relationships improve significantly. Your partner will also appreciate your honesty and openness, and will likely be more understanding and supportive as a result.

If it is not the case, your partner may have an avoidant attachment style - adults with this attachment style frequently perceive intimacy as a threat.

2) Self-soothing activities

As anxiously attached individuals, we seek emotional soothing in others. That is why it is so important for us to build and develop our ability to self-soothe ourselves.

There are many activities that can help us do so, and it often depends on the individual as to what works best. Some common self-soothing activities include reading, listening to calming music, spending time in nature, practicing yoga or meditation, and writing in a journal. It is important to find what works best for you and to make time for these activities when stressful and overwhelming emotions surface during the day. After constant practice, you will be amazed at how your emotional state improves.

3) Avoid the avoidants, embrace the secure

Just like the preoccupied attachment style, avoidant attachment style is not a bad thing.

Avoidantly attached individuals, due to their childhood experiences, could withdraw when intimacy arises. Although avoidants deep down want a relationship as well, their attachment style is in their way.

If we are anxiously attached, our need for closeness and reassurance will always be in clash with the avoidant's need of space and misunderstood independency. That is the "anxious avoidant trap" according to the attachment theory.

It could be a vicious cycle of codependency in a relationship. While the preoccupied individuals would want their needs met by getting closer to their romantic partner, the avoidantly attached partners would perceive the intimacy as a threat and distance themselves.

For the anxiously attached adults, who seek an intimate relationship with other people, it would be the best to get involved with someone who has a secure attachment style. Individuals who are securely attached do not fear intimacy, and they could help someone with a preoccupied attachment style to become more secure.

4) Date and talk with a number of potential partners

Individuals with a preoccupied anxious attachment tend to idealize a potential romantic partner too early in the relationship.

Focusing our proximity needs on multiple potential partners instead of one, could calm our adult attachment system.

When you seek a romantic relationship, try to talk and date several individuals. Approach relationships with an open mind and try to avoid focusing too much on one potential partner. You could also try giving dating apps a shot, and see if it works for you.

In dating several potential partners, with sincere intentions, you would feel less anxious and hyper-focused on one particular individual. As a result your potential partners would feel even more comfortable within your relationship.

Final thoughts

Our relationships with others are a way for us to find emotional fulfillment and reassurance as anxious preoccupied attached adults. Our goal in a relationship is to avoid abandonment and rejection, and we want it to be secure and supportive.

The traits of an anxious preoccupied attachment style include a high sensitivity to interpersonal relationships. A person who is anxiously attached develops a high level of empathy and emotional intelligence. If you are patient enough to address their need for reassurance, they will do everything in their power to help you meet your emotional needs.

With effort and patience, it is possible to overcome an adult's ambivalent attachment style. Working on increasing your sense of self and interdependence is a healthy way to break the cycle, allowing you to become closer to secure attachment.

Keep in mind that your attachment style is a natural trait, and practice the tips in this article. Let us know what works for you.

You got this!

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