Anxious – Preoccupied Attachment Style: What Is It & Do You Have It?

An estimated 20 percent of the population freaks out at the thought or reality of being alone. They overly rely on people seeking to soothe underlying anxiety that started zapping their nervous system as a child. That over-reliance often causes them to come off as clingy, needy, and insecure, which can cause relationship issues and inner emotional suffering.

Learn more about Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style in this article.

In This Article

What is Attachment Theory?
What is An Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style?
How Anxious Attachment Develops
Signs of Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style As An Adult
The World Of Relationships With An Anxious Attachment Style
Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Triggers
How To Heal Anxious Attachments
Witness The Subconscious Story

Anxious – Preoccupied Attachment Style: What Is It & Do You Have It?

“OMG, here I am AGAIN in a miserable relationship!”

Heard that from anyone lately? How about you?  Find yourself with a new partner that might have a new face, but has the same unwanted characteristics as your last partner?

It’s common and there’s good reason for it.

Learning about “attachment styles” can help you learn why you (and others) struggle so much in relationships.

They can also help you learn more about yourself.

What is Attachment Theory?

It was John Bowlby’s work on attachment theory back in the 50’s that brought attachment styles into the light.  Essentially, he proposed that there are four attachment styles that are learned in childhood and carried on over into adulthood.

  1. Anxious-Preoccupied (characterized by insecurity in relationships)
  2. Fearful-Avoidant (also known as Disorganized)
  3. Dismissive-Avoidant (characterized by emotional unavailability)
  4. Secure

The first three styles are based on INSECURE attachments.

In the 70’s Mary Ainsworth concluded that there were three main attachment styles:

  1. Insecure Ambivalent/Resistant
  2. Insecure Avoidant
  3. Secure

Essentially, you either formed a secure or insecure attachment to your primary caregiver as an infant/child, and that type has influenced you and your relationships throughout life.

 

shadow work journal

Each style is characterized by three underlying dimensions:

  1. Closeness – How comfortable you feel becoming emotionally close to others.
  2. Dependence – How comfortable you are depending on others to have needs met or how comfortable you are having them depend on you.
  3. Anxiety – Your level of anxiety wondering if others will reject or abandon you.

DING, DING, DING! I can relate to struggling with each of those dimensions!

In this article, let’s explore the Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style.

What Is Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style?

Hey Mom, Hey Dad, it matters how you interact with your baby/toddler.

A child that develops an anxious-preoccupied attachment style usually have a caregiver who isn’t that dependable or consistent in meeting the child’s needs.

  • The parent that ignores the baby’s crying for long periods of time.
  • The parent that plays on their phone (watches TV, plays video games) most of the time rather than engage with the infant.
  • The parent that yells (flips out, rages, emotionally abuses) their baby/toddler or is obviously upset at having to care for them.
  • The inconsistent parent

Basically, a parent who just isn’t emotionally available (or physically) to meet the child’s basic needs consistently.

Granted, it’s impossible for any parent to meet ALL of an infant/child’s emotional needs, but they CAN be consistent, loving, kind, attentive, compassionate, and PRESENT.

Studies show that anxious attachments can pass from one generation to the next.  This means that if your mom or dad weren’t attuned to your needs and you grew up feeling insecure, chances are you’ll pass those same dynamics onto your children. (Unless you work on doing your inner healing work, of course)

Anxious-Preoccupied attachment can manifest by:

  • Feelings of insecurity in relationships.
  • Feelings of low self-worth
  • Jealousy
  • High anxiety
  • Needing constant reassurance
  • Act out (sometimes in overly dramatic ways) to try to soothe their abandonment anxiety
  • Blaming others for not validating their feelings, but don’t feel safe enough to actually share their honest feelings.

Anxious-Preoccupied adults may think:

  • I am afraid my partner will leave me. That they don’t really love me. That they are using me.
  • I am not worthy of true love. 

How Anxious Attachment Develops

A baby or child needs to feel safe and secure. They are completely dependent on their caregivers.

If that caregiver is not consistently available to meet their needs (physical, emotional, etc.), that baby will become anxious. If the parent is mean or insensitive in response to their needs, they become anxious too.

This anxiety that pulsates in their nervous system, they don’t know how to cope with it. They aren’t able to adequately process that kind of energy at that age. So, brilliant as the brain is, it creates a coping skill that keeps the baby/child safe.

You see, when the baby needs fed or is scared and crying, but no one is there to reassure them, they go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. It’s a survival skill, just like if a tiger were chasing them.

They are ready to fight that tiger, run away (flight), or they freeze.

Well, if this infant/child goes into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode without reassurance consistently, they’re going to begin clinging to the parent when that parent is around. It’s not a secure affinity for Mom or Dad.

It’s an insecure clinging.

They can also form this type of anxious attachment when the caregiver relies on the child for their emotional security.

“Come give Mama a hug. I feel horrible. Come love on me so I feel better.”

That child will learn to be hypersensitive to that parent’s emotions, doing what they are expected to do (be a good boy or girl).

A child that has formed an anxious ambivalent attachment with their parent may grow up and form a preoccupied attachment to their partner.

They tend to be insecure, seeking reassurance from partner. They also have a tough time trusting partner. Even when they say all the right things.

Signs of Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style As An Adult

  • Ask for reassurance often due to insecurity
  • Desire partner to rescue them
  • Think partner can complete them
  • Feel desperate
  • Possessiveness
  • Jealous
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of rejection
  • Distrusting
  • Want deep intimacy, but fear it
  • Low self-esteem, self-worth

Thoughts that may run through the mind:

  • “They don’t really love me.”
  • “They are going to leave me.”
  • “I do so much for them. Why can’t they appreciate that?”
  • “I knew I couldn’t trust them.”
  • “I will do so much for them, they won’t want anyone else.”

The World Of Dating And Relationships With An Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style

Due to the anxiousness formed in childhood, those with anxious- preoccupied attachment style typically long for a deep connection with others. However, they’re insecure. They have a tough time trusting. You may have heard them labeled as struggling with codependency.

Others may feel they are clingy or emotionally needy. This can actually push people away. They want that deep bond, but rather than communicate this in a healthy way, they may “act out”.  They may create some sort of drama unconsciously in an attempt to get their anxiety soothed.

Ideally, someone who identifies as having an anxious attachment style should try to pair up with someone who has a Secure Attachment, while continuing to work on healing the underlying insecurity.

Many times, an Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment style attracts Avoidant styles (emotionally unavailable). This begins an unhealthy relationship dance where the “push and retreat” dynamic begins.

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Triggers

What should you look out for if you identify as Anxious Attachment?

  1. Unresponsiveness From Others

A partner not texting or calling back can be a trigger. You leave a message with your boss to call you about taking vacation time and hear nothing. You start to get anxious, thinking the worst.

  1. Hearing Partner Talk About Issues

In a healthy relationship between two Securely Attached people, a conversation can occur about issues without each partner freaking out with fear of abandonment.

Not for someone who identifies with Anxious-Preoccupied attachment.  When their partner comes to them wanting to talk about relationship issues, they hear it from an “insecurity lens”. They are triggered, thinking that the partner is going to abandon them. They catastrophize, assuming the relationship is over.

  1. Partner Makes New Friends

When their partner makes new friends or starts a new hobby, this can be a trigger too. They might feel like their partner will detach completely and go off and find someone else. They have a tough time trusting their partner, but it’s largely based on their own insecurity.

  1. Emotional Unavailability

An anxious preoccupied person craves someone who is emotionally available consistently. They want to know that their partner will be there if they need. If a partner pulls away for some reason (even a legit reason like work stress or some sort of personal problem), the partner will become triggered. They’ll think that their partner is getting ready to leave them.

How To Heal Anxious Attachment Style

Healing any attachment style means that you work on moving toward a more secure style of relating to others.  Doing some inner healing work can help.

The first thing is to become aware of what attachment style you have developed. You can learn a lot about your current relationship patterns based on what attachment style you have.

Becoming conscious of why you’re behaving in certain ways can help you begin breaking the patterns and learning new ones.

Secondly, do some inner exploration into your childhood to see what your family dynamics were.  You can do this on your own through Shadow Work or Inner Child Healing, or you can work with a qualified therapist.  As you go back and revisit your childhood, you’ll have the opportunity to do some healing of old wounds that have been tripping you up.

Witness The Subconscious Story

Let’s say your partner tells you he’s exhausted. He says he’s headed home after work and just needs the evening to himself at his apartment.

This is a legitimate need and he’s voiced it respectfully.

If you identify as having an anxious attachment style, your brain may be triggered based on old wounds from your past.  You may start to feel some anxiety rise. You may feel angry, hurt, or afraid.

You see, your brain has been triggered. It’s back in survival mode (based on unhealed childhood wounds/dynamics) and it needs to have its needs met.

The problem is that it’s not based in reality or rationality.

Someone with a secure attachment style may be like, “Ok, cool hun. Rest up and we’ll chat tomorrow.”

But for the anxious preoccupied attachment, your mind creates a narrative that increases your anxiety.

“He’s not tired. He’s going to meet some other woman. I just know it!”

“Oh, he didn’t mean he wants to be alone all night. Maybe I’ll just pop in and bring him some dinner.”

Do you see what the subconscious mind is doing?

It’s got a program running in there that’s wired for anxiety. That’s been wired since childhood to think the worst, fear abandonment, not trust, etc.

It’s got a trauma response going on, and unless you begin learning how to better self-soothe and reprogram, you’ll get lost in the recreating of that trauma from childhood.

What can you do?

You work your tail off at healing what needs healed and doing some “brain rewiring” to create more feelings of security and independence.

Whether you’re single or in a relationship, you learn how to be less “preoccupied” with relationships, and more confident and empowered in your “self”.

You take steps toward witnessing your thoughts, regulating emotions, and questioning stories running in the subconscious.

Become the master of witnessing your thoughts.

The moment you feel anxiety begin to rise (or fear, anger, etc.), pause.

Just pause and go within. Become conscious of what thoughts are running in your mind.

Then, question them.

Are they based on reality? Are they rational?

Or is your mind creating some story that isn’t true?

A story that may have you acting immaturely or spiraling once again?

When you can separate yourself from that train of thoughts (stay conscious), you allow yourself to start reprogramming the script right then and there.

You begin rewiring the neural pathways that have been causing your life anxiety mayhem.

You learn how to overcome those instinctual patterns and respond and relate in healthy, mature ways.

You show up for yourself (no more abandoning YOU). You figure out how to meet your needs ask others in balance.

You create and respect boundaries. You practice better self-care.

You heal your style of relating, learning how to relate in healthier ways.

You better learn how to have INTERDEPENDENT relationships, where both of you are more conscious, empowered individuals. You each have a sense of self – a more healed and whole self.

And that, feels really good.

Want to learn more about Attachment Styles? Check out the book:

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find–and Keep Love 

 

 

Dominica Applegate
Written by: Dominica Applegate

Dominica Applegate is an author, writer, and transpersonal spiritual teacher. Her teachings have helped millions of people experience emotional healing, relationship repair, and spiritual awakening. Earning her BA in Psychology and MA in Counseling, she worked 12 years in the mental health field before diving full-time into writing.

She runs Rediscovering Sacredness, an online portal that offers inspiration, essays, resources, and tools to help heal inner pain and experience more peace and joy.

Her books include:

Into The Wild Shadow Work Journal
Healing After a Breakup: A 50 Day Devotional & Guided Inner Work Journal
Goodbye Codependency: A 40-Day Devotional to Boost Self-Care
The Pain, It Shapes Her World {Poetry}