Safe Haven Counselling
Nervous young woman is lying on bed and thinking seriously. Her husband is sleeping on background

Healing Your Anxious Attachment Style: 10 Tools for Growth

Can an anxious attachment style be healed? This is the main question I hear from clients who are struggling to shift repeated patterns in their relationships.

They are tired of feeling constantly on edge, scared of abandonment and doubtful of their partner’s love for them. It doesn’t feel safe for them to fully trust, although they desperately want to.

Anxious attachment is one of the four attachment styles identified in attachment theory. People with this attachment style often seek high levels of closeness and approval from their partners, fear abandonment, and may have a heightened sensitivity to any signs of rejection.

Living with this attachment style can be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining. The constant vigilance in the relationship can take a toll on your mental well-being and strain your relationships. It can feel like you are always on an emotional roller coaster, never quite sure where you stand.

Here’s the good news: attachment styles exist on a continuum. This means there’s a lot we can do to move the needle towards a more secure attachment style.

Towards Secure Attachment

Although our attachment styles are largely determined by our early childhood experiences, they are not fixed. Research has shown that with awareness and effort, people can shift towards a more secure attachment style. This means that even if you’ve struggled with anxious attachment for years, change is possible. Consistent and positive experiences, such as supportive relationships or therapeutic interventions, can help lessen attachment anxiety over time.

Moreover, the brain is remarkably adaptable. When we engage in new behaviours and thinking patterns, we can literally rewire our brains. This neuroplasticity means that by repeatedly practicing healthy relationship habits, we can create new, more secure attachment patterns. In essence, our relationships and experiences can help reshape our attachment styles, leading to more fulfilling and stable connections.

Steps to Heal Anxious Attachment

1. Self-Awareness

The first step towards healing is understanding your attachment style. Reflect on your past relationships and identify patterns. Do you often feel anxious or insecure? Do you fear abandonment? Recognizing these patterns is crucial. Keeping a journal can be incredibly helpful. Write down your thoughts and feelings about your relationships, looking at times when your fears have been triggered. This process of self-reflection helps you understand the root causes of your anxiety and how it manifests in your interactions with others.

2. Therapy

Working with a therapist, especially one trained in attachment theory, can be incredibly beneficial. Therapy provides a safe space to explore your fears and insecurities and to develop healthier patterns of relating. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective, as it helps you identify and challenge negative thought patterns. Additionally, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can help you and your partner understand each other’s attachment needs and develop a more secure bond. Inner child work is also extremely effective in creating security within the self.

3. Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

Practicing mindfulness can help you stay grounded and present, reducing the anxiety that often accompanies an anxious attachment style. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and grounding exercises can help regulate your emotions. For example, the 4-7-8 breathing technique—where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds—can quickly reduce anxiety. Regular mindfulness practices can also increase your awareness of your emotional triggers and help you respond to them more calmly.

4. Communicate Your Needs

Open, honest communication is key in any relationship. Express your needs and fears to your partner. This can help build trust and reduce misunderstandings. Start by using “I” statements, such as “I feel anxious when…” instead of “You make me feel…” This approach helps your partner understand your perspective without feeling blamed. Also, practice active listening when your partner shares their feelings, ensuring they feel heard and understood.

5. Build a Supportive Network

Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who can provide reassurance and perspective. A strong support network can buffer against the anxiety that fuels an anxious attachment style. Reach out to friends and loved ones when you feel insecure or anxious. They can offer comfort and validation, reminding you of your worth and helping you maintain perspective. Consider joining support groups where you can share experiences and learn from others facing similar challenges.

6. Work on Self-Esteem

Anxious attachment often stems from low self-esteem. Engage in activities that boost your confidence and self-worth. Celebrate your achievements and strengths. This could include pursuing hobbies that you are passionate about, setting and achieving personal goals, and engaging in self-care practices that make you feel good about yourself. Positive affirmations and self-compassion exercises can also help you build a stronger sense of self-worth.

7. Gradual Exposure

Gradually exposing yourself to situations that trigger your anxiety can help desensitize you over time. For example, practice giving your partner space and notice that the world doesn’t end when you’re not constantly in touch. Start with small steps, like not texting for a few hours, and gradually increase the time. This process, known as exposure therapy, can help you build confidence in your ability to cope with anxiety-inducing situations.

8. Healthy Boundaries

Learn to set and respect healthy boundaries. This not only protects your well-being but also fosters respect and trust in relationships. Boundaries help you maintain your sense of self while being close to others. Clearly communicate your limits and respect your partner’s boundaries as well. This mutual respect can strengthen your relationship and reduce feelings of anxiety.

9. Educate Yourself

Educate yourself about attachment theory and relationship dynamics. Books, articles, and workshops can provide valuable insights and tools. Understanding the principles of attachment theory can help you recognize and change unhealthy patterns in your relationships. Some recommended readings include “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, and “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson.

10. Be Patient

Healing takes time. Be patient with yourself and recognize that setbacks are a part of the journey. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small. It’s important to acknowledge that change is a gradual process and that every step forward is a victory. Surround yourself with positive reinforcement and keep focusing on your long-term goal of developing a secure attachment style.

Healing an anxious attachment style is a journey of self-discovery and growth. By understanding your attachment patterns, seeking support, and practicing new behaviors, you can move towards a more secure and fulfilling way of relating. Remember, the path to healing is a marathon, not a sprint. Be kind to yourself along the way.

If you have any questions or would like to share your experiences, feel free to leave a comment below. Together, we can support each other on this journey to healthier, more secure relationships.