How To Overcome An Anxious Attachment Style When You're Dating
Experts explain the best ways to heal.
After an incredible date with someone new, do you find yourself fixating on that person, your potential future, and when you can see them again? Do you feel worried when they don’t text or call you within a certain amount of time and fear that they aren’t interested in you anymore? Do you find yourself questioning their attraction to you when they don’t directly express it? If any of these dating patterns resonate, you might have an anxious attachment style.
With over 500 million views on the hashtag #attachmentsyles, the theory is certainly popular on TikTok, with creators sharing everything from helpful tips to relatable pop culture references. It may seem cliché to chalk everything up to your childhood, but according to this theory, that’s where the origin of biological behaviors lies when it comes to romantic partnerships. In 1968, British psychologist John Bowlby wrote the book Attachment And Loss, based on his theory of “attachment,” which relates to a child’s relationship with their primary caregiver(s). The four different attachment styles — secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized — describe the effects that certain parenting behaviors had on infants and young children.
Licensed clinical social worker Briana Driver sees attachment issues pop up in dating, especially with younger clients in her practice. “Our attachment style largely dictates how we gain a sense of security from potential partners and intimate connections,” she tells Bustle. “It offers a framework — think love languages but significantly more in-depth — to what we need from partner(s) in order to feel seen, heard, and emotionally safe, quite similar to the needs we might have had as a child from our caregivers.”
An anxious attachment style, in particular, can form when a child’s needs are not met inconsistently by their parents, licensed marriage and family therapist Chelsea Davis says. “One day they may be emotionally available and the next, distant, cold, or unsupportive,” Davis says. “Children will learn to adapt to these changes and as a result, will develop a fear of abandonment, constant need for reassurance and validation, clinginess, and [an inability to regulate their own emotions.]”
Below, experts share insight about the signs of an anxious attachment style in dating and their recommendations for how to overcome it.
The Signs Of An Anxious Attachment Style
While getting butterflies after a date and being excited to see a potential partner again are pretty standard when you’re first seeing someone, they become amplified when you have an anxious attachment style. “All of the feelings and worries that come up — ‘Should I double text? Does this come off as too clingy? What if they don't really like me?’ — are often a tell-tale sign that there is some anxious attachment,” Driver says.
Some other general signs of an anxious attachment style are low self-esteem, an inability to trust others, and people-pleasing tendencies, Davis says. Once these worries start to affect your day-to-day and often shift your focus at work, it’s best to check in with yourself about where they’re coming from.
How An Anxious Attachment Style Can Affect Your Dating Life
While the effects of dating with an anxious attachment style differ greatly from person to person, there are some pretty universal ways it can change your relationships. “An overwhelming fear of being rejected coupled with an intense dependency on our romantic partner, can result in behaviors that appear jealous, controlling, and possessive,” Davis says.
Examples of these behaviors include not allowing your partner to spend time with certain friends, going through their phone, or demanding more time and attention than is reasonable. As a result of these actions, a partner without anxious attachment style could become resentful or pull away.
How To Overcome An Anxious Attachment Style While Dating
If you notice yourself falling into these patterns over time, it may be time to reevaluate how you’re operating in that relationship. Does your partner do something that makes you feel insecure or are you jumping to conclusions out of fear and anxiety? Are there other people or things threatening your relationship, or are you lashing out because you are preemptively worried? “By having an awareness of our attachment style, we can not only identify when the actions of a potential partner are triggering us, we can also have the words to express our needs to our partner so that they can help us feel more secure,” Driver says.
Although it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea that your anxious attachment has an effect on your connections with others, it doesn’t mean that your relationship (or future relationship) is doomed. In fact, having an in-depth perspective on how your attachment style informs the way you relate to others can potentially enhance those connections.
With some introspection, you might find ways to communicate to your partner what you need to feel more secure in the relationship, Driver says. “You might relay this to a potential romantic partner by saying, ‘Hey, I really appreciate that you respond to my texts quickly,’ or ‘Sometimes I feel really let down when plans change unexpectedly, so it really means a lot to me that you always do your best to keep our plans.’” This approach could prevent your partner from receiving the feedback as criticism versus gratitude.
As for general actions you can take when you’re dating with an anxious attachment style, Davis recommends a focus on healing. Talking to a mental health professional can help you “uncover childhood (emotional) wounds or past traumas to heal mistrust and self-esteem issues,” she says. She also recommends finding coping mechanisms to target your anxiety, like meditation, mindfulness, or grounding exercises (like deep breathing) that help to calm your nervous system.
No matter how you choose to heal, self-awareness can go a long way. “Having an anxious attachment style does not mean you’re broken or undeserving of loving relationships,” Davis says. “It means that you were taught to receive and give love in a way that may not make you feel good about yourself.” Learning to self-soothe, communicate your needs, and trust yourself and others can go a long way in setting you up for success, and a fun and healthy dating life.
Chelsea Davis, licensed marriage and family therapist
Briana Driver, licensed clinical social worker