What is attachment anxiety? (2023)

Anxious attachment is one of the four possibleattachment styleor the way people connect and communicate with others. A person with an anxious and preoccupied attachment style may be considered "needy" or "clingy" and not healthy enough.Self-Esteem.

Attachment styles develop in childhood and continue into adulthood. Anxious attachment, also known as anxious attachment in adults and ambivalent attachment in children— usually occurs when there was an inconsistent relationship with a parent or caregiver during childhood.

Thanks to therapy, it is possible to change attachment styles and maintain healthy relationships.

This article explains the characteristics of attachment anxiety, including how to recognize symptoms in yourself or others. It also offers coping strategies if you are diagnosed with anxiety and preoccupation or believe you have anxious and preoccupied attachment.

What is attachment anxiety? (1)

Characteristics of the anxious-busy attachment

As the name suggests, anxious attachment is characterized by an unhealthy preoccupation with the relationships they causeworry. It is not a disorder per se, but it can be a trait or propertyAnxiety disorders.

Attachment style and attachment disorders

Attachment styles should not be confusedattachment disorderAs stated inDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For comparison:

  • Attachment disordersare those to which people have difficulty forming an emotional or appropriate attachment.
  • Stilovi PrivitkaIt's simply how people feel and behave in relationships that can positively or negatively impact a person's life.

Adults with anxious attachment often need constant reassurance in relationships that may feel "needy," "clingy," or "crying."

Research has shown that anxious attachment can affect trust in a relationship. People who experience stressful professional attachments are more likely to become jealous, sniff around their partner's affairs, and even resort to psychological violence when they feel distrusted.

You may have an anxious attachment style if:

  • You worry excessively that your partner will reject or leave you
  • You often try to please your partner and gain approval
  • They fear infidelity and abandonment
  • I wantintimacy in a relationshipbut worry if you can trust your partner
  • Focus too much on the relationship to the point that it eats up too much of your time
  • He constantly needs the attention and affirmation of others
  • They have difficulty setting and respecting boundaries
  • You feel threatened, panicked, angry or worried that your partner no longer wants you when you spend time apart or don't hear from them in a reasonable amount of time
  • Manipulate your partner to stay close to you
  • Link your self-esteem to relationships
  • Overreact to things you perceive as a threat to the relationship

Dealing with attachment anxiety usually applies to romantic relationships, but it can also apply to friendships and other types of relationships.

What are the causes of attachment anxiety?

Feelings of anxious attachment can arise when a person is away from their partner or feels (or fears) that their partner may no longer love them.

Does my partner have a stressful and strained relationship?

Your partner may be experiencing attachment anxiety in your relationship if you notice that:

  • They regularly seek your attention, approval, and reassurance
  • I want to be close to you and have as much contact with you as possible
  • You are worried that you will betray them or leave them
  • I control you too much
  • They overreact if they feel something is threatening the relationship


Remember that you cannot diagnose someone's attachment style. Only a trained therapist can do this. After all, you can't know for sure what someone else is thinking or feeling.

Why does an anxious attachment style develop?

It is believed that a stressful work relationship begins when a child experiences inconsistent care where their needs are met in unpredictable ways.

For example, a parent or guardian may sometimes respond to the child immediately, but sometimes not. Inconsistent behavior can sometimes be linked to psychological factors such as substance use,depression,stress, stress and fatigue. Children in temporary care (e.g. in foster care) are also at risk of inconsistent care.

Children raised without consequences may find attention valuable, but not dependable. As a result, they may develop anxiety and engage in attention-grabbing behaviors, both positive (such as petting) and negative (such as distraction).

Why am I anxious?

Comparison of anxious attachment with other styles

A person's attachment style affects how they feel and behave in a relationship. Attachment styles can be secure (the person is confident in relationships) or insecure (the person is fearful and insecure in relationships).

Here is a comparison of anxious attachment with other important attachment styles:

Restless, busyClearlyAvoid avoidanceUnorganized
He looks restless, stickyHe can set appropriate boundariesHe avoids intimacy and relationshipsTerrifying
Displayed as uncertain/needing confirmationHe has self-confidence and feels safe in close relationshipsHe seeks independenceThey feel unworthy of love
He craves relationships, but worries that others don't enjoy being with themHe is successful in relationshipsHe does not want to rely on others and vice versa

One study found that people with an anxious attachment style reported less positive attitudes and more difficulties in their friendships than people with a secure attachment style.

What is reactive attachment?

Dealing with an anxious, preoccupied attachment

While anxious attachment can be challenging, a healthy relationship is possible regardless of attachment style if you use the right coping strategies.

Short-term strategies include:

  • Tests: Learn about attachment styles and find out which one applies to you.
  • I keep a diary: Writing about your thoughts and feelings can help you recognize patterns in the way you think and act. You can take your journal to therapy to share with your mental health professional.
  • Practice mindfulness: Regular practicemindfulness exercisessuch as meditation and deep breathing can help you learn to "sit" and manage your emotions and stress.
  • Pay attention to your partner's attachment style: The chances of a successful relationship are greater if you are paired with someone with a secure attachment style.

Long-term strategies include:

  • group therapy: A professional group organization can give you perspective and help you feel less alone in your experiences.
  • Therapy par: Going to therapy gives you the opportunity to talk about your relationship with your partner in a safe space and with a qualified facilitator. You will both have a chance to process your thoughts and feelings and learn to communicate with each other outside of sessions.
  • Individual therapy: You don't have to be in a relationship to meet attachment style challenges. At any time, you can start working on recognizing your patterns, exploring your emotions and learning a healthy approach to relationships with other people.

Attachment style therapy

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This basic form of therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thinking patterns.
  • Terapia interpersonalna (IPT): This is to improve your interpersonal relationships and social interactions. A 2017 study found that IPT is especially beneficial for adolescents with anxious attachment.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy: This involves an in-depth exploration of unconscious emotional responses and how they manifest in relationships.

Do we need couples counseling?

Supporting loved ones with attachment anxiety

Whether you're the parent or partner of someone whose attachment is fearful, you can help develop a healthier relationship by following a few basic rules.

Helping children with anxious attachment

If you have a child with anxious attachment, therapists often recommend:

  • Setting hard boundaries: Setting reasonable, consistently enforced limits can help children feel safer. Let them know what is expected of them and what they can expect (and count on) from you.
  • Staying calm: Always take action for unacceptable behavior, but do so calmly. This teaches the child to control their emotions.
  • Reconnect after failure: If you have disciplined your child, always reconnect later. It's important for your child to know that your empathy will be consistent no matter what.
  • Admitting mistakes: If you have made a mistake or are disappointed in your child, admit it immediately and correct yourself. This shows the child that it doesn't have to be perfect.
  • Being predictable: Try to stick to regular activities, even during holidays. Thanks to this, the child can feel close and safe.

Setting healthy boundaries with your children

Partner support

If your partner is experiencing attachment anxiety, you can support him in the following ways:

  • Setting clear boundaries and expectations and enforcing them
  • Fulfillment of promises and commitments
  • Encourage them to go to therapy or go together
  • Show your partner that you appreciate him without provocation

A 2019 study found that observing gratitude from a romantic partner reduces anxiety in adults with an anxious attachment style.


The preoccupation with attachment anxiety develops in childhood and continues into adulthood. Anxious attachment is thought to develop when a child receives inconsistent care because his needs are met only part of the time.

An adult with an anxious attachment style may be preoccupied with their relationship to the point of appearing "clingy" or "needy". They often worry that their partner will leave them or stop loving them. People with anxious attachments can also become manipulative when they feel the relationship is threatened.

People with anxious attachment can learn coping skills and often do well in relationships with a partner who has a more secure attachment style.

8 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read oureditorial processto learn more about how we verify and maintain the accuracy, reliability and credibility of our content.

  1. Simpson I,Attachment to adults, fears and romantic relationships.Curr Opin Psychol.2017; 13:19-24. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006

  2. Jonkman CS, Oosterman M, Schuengel C, Bolle EA, Boer F, Lindauer RJ.Attachment disorders: inhibitory and inhibiting symptoms in foster children.Child and adolescent mental health psychiatry. 2014; 8 (1): 21. doi:10:1186/1753-2000-8-21

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

  4. Sheinbaum T, Kwapil TR, Ballespi S i in.Attachment style predicts affect, cognitive appraisal, and social functioning in everyday life.Front Psycho.2015; 6:296. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00296

  5. Rodriguez LM, DiBello AM, Overup CS in.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

  6. Gunlicks-Stoessel Μ, Westervelt Α, Reigstad Κ in in.The role of attachment style in interpersonal psychotherapy of young people with depression.Psychoter Res. 2019; 29 (1): 78-85. doi:10.1080/10503307.2017.1315465

  7. Greater Good Journal from the University of California, Berkeley.How to prevent an insecure attachment from ruining your love life.

  8. Marmarosh CL, Tasca GA.Attachment anxiety in adults: Using group therapy to promote change.J Clin Psychol. 2013; 69 (11): 1172-1182. doi:10.1002/jclp.22044

What is attachment anxiety? (2)

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