If you have difficulty connecting with your partner in your relationship, you may suffer from a type of insecure attachment style known as anxious attachment.
Attachment theory is the scientific map of how you bond with others to increase your chances of survival and is based on how you were raised and taught to love by your parents. This teaching affects you even as an adult in a romantic relationship.
Having anxious attachments may mean that you struggle in relationships — but in case you're worried about your attachment style, you should know that they can be healed with time and effort.
Scientific studies have continued to underscore that the quality of your connection with others is the number one factor predictive of quality of life, and longevity, and is even a huge factor in financial stability.
Scientists divide the styles that people adopt to bond into roughly four categories: About 25 percent of the population had a development such that they bond in an “anxious style.”
Anxious attachment style signs
An anxious attachment style describes a person who finds it very difficult to rest in feelings of safety and security. Wondering if this is you?
Here are 9 anxious attachment style signs, and what to do for more secure relationships:
Feel heightened, uncomfortable anxiety when separating from your partner?
Find being alone to be highly uncomfortable for you.
Wonder constantly about what your partner is thinking or feeling.
Routinely find it hard to trust that your partner’s feelings remain steady?
Constantly check your phone for messages; notice that your anxiety rises and falls contingent on not getting or getting messages.
Need constant reassurance and affection to feel OK?
Feel heightened or irrational levels of jealousy?
Worry about being “clingy” or “needy?”
Feel that your needs can never be met or satisfied?
The more of these that describe you, the more anxious your attachment style is.
What Anxious Attachment Style Relationships Look Like
There are wide-ranging implications of any attachment style. The anxious attachment style has some very unique challenges — and, luckily, some very unique solutions that do work.
Anxiously attached people tend to like getting into relationships quickly.
Because there is a great deal of discomfort and pressure around being alone, the impulse to jump into a relationship is quite strong!
Often this impulse overrides the ability to see clearly what you are jumping into! Consequently, you might attach to someone who you later find out is either not right for you or who isn’t or wasn’t in the relationship for the right reasons.
This can be a vicious cycle because you need someone who is quite consistent, present, and devoted to bringing you into your best self.
When an anxiously attached individual finds themselves attached to the wrong person, a painful battle ensues that tends to be fraught with confusion, self-doubt, and pendulum swings in and out of a relationship or in and out of bad feeling states.
I’m guessing some professional help goes a long way here. Why? Because you developed an anxious attachment style for a reason.
What causes an anxious attachment style?
That reason is some gap in emotional acceptance, understanding, and unmet needs. Often neglect, abuse, or loss are part of your history.
These childhood experiences do not give you the tools to express your needs healthily. Unfortunately, you probably learned to hide or disguise your needs.
You likely feel guilty, ashamed, or pathetic for even having needs, to begin with. Ironically, you may also feel entitled to having your needs met immediately at times!
The bottom line is that you will continue to feel anxious about having your needs met until you learn to identify and communicate your needs clearly and fairly. If you developed an anxious attachment style, this by nature means that you need to work on this skill.
How do you change your anxious attachment style?
It is the repeated experience of expressing a need to your partner and having it reasonably met that will ultimately ease your attachment anxiety. This process is most profound and rewarding. It is worth the work it will take.
And… it will take work. Getting to a place where you can express your needs requires risk and often delving into painful memories of the times your needs were not met. I highly recommend that you get professional help with this process!
Nonetheless, your ability and need to have a secure relationship can and should be met.
To get there, here are your basic rules of the road to combat an anxious attachment style:
1. Get help learning to tolerate reasonable amounts of aloneness
If you are constantly running from what you fear, it seems even scarier. Stop and face it. Write it out. Tell someone. Get a therapist to help you learn how to tolerate aloneness!
There is a reason you developed this style of attachment, and with professional care, you can learn to stop running from what was so scary as a kid but not so bad as an adult.
2. Learn to go slowly
Don't jump before you get to know. Don’t expect the relationship to rush headlong into the deep end. Ask questions, observe, and share who you are.
This period of getting to know is essential to avoiding the pitfall of looking for someone to provide security who simply can’t or won’t. Anxious people feel such a desire to be loved that they often leap before they look.
3. Attach to someone only when they have proven that they are consistent, congruent, and reliable.
Ideally, a more securely-oriented person can bring you into a securely functioning relationship style. These types of people tend to be straightforward, honest, and consistent. This behavior will provide an environment in which you can learn to express your needs, have them reasonably met, and develop real trust.
It takes time to observe whether a person truly behaves this way. It’s one thing to be upfront and on time one or two times. It’s another thing to be consistent even when life is challenging and throws curve balls.
Do not open your heart to someone until they have proven, over time, that they are coherent, consistent, honest, and emotionally available.
4. Learn to ask specifically for what you need to hear or see to feel secure and safe
For each of us, some signals convey love and safety. Usually, it’s the little things: a smile, a touch, a word, a habit.
Ask yourself, what are the signals to you that mean that your partner cares?
Nobody is a mind reader. If you are anxious, it may feel counterintuitive to be explicit about your needs.
Push the envelope here: “Hey, after you’ve been gone on a work trip, it helps me reconnect when you take a few minutes to ask how my time was and listen to what’s been going on for me.”
... Or “That kiss goodbye in the morning makes my day and reminds me all day that you’re there for me.”
5. When you get what you asked for, thank your partner
Let them know it worked! They want to make you happy, this is their reward. This positive feedback loop when reassurance, safety, and trust are built creates a meaningful momentum that works for both people.
Resist the potential urge to disguise your need by denying that something made you happy! This is one of the pitfalls of anxiously attached individuals!
6. Learn to let go a bit
When your partner has earned your trust or met your needs in important ways, practice letting go.
Trust. What does that mean for you? Not checking your phone obsessively? Not questioning them in a passive quest for reassurance?
Let go of the habits of an anxious mind; it will propel positive experiences in your relationship!
7. Rinse and repeat, steps 4-6, over and over!
Finding security and trust in a relationship takes time and deepens through the repetition of a positive cycle. The rewards are worth the effort, so keep at it!
These guidelines are designed to help you overcome the inevitable obstacles and common pitfalls anxious people run into while dating.
Prepare to go more slowly than your instincts will suggest if you have an anxious attachment style. Going slowly will allow you to be sure when you have selected someone consistent and reliable enough to help you into a securely functioning relationship, which is your ultimate healing salve.
Once you’ve found someone with whom you do feel safe enough to commit, the real work and the real payoffs begin!
Most importantly, you must be able to express your needs healthily. (Hint, no game playing, no pouting, no passive-aggressive comments when you don't get it).
Perrin Elisha is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author, and teacher who helps clients get to the root of and heal their relational difficulties.
This article originally appeared on YourTango