This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Attached" by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Do you think that you or somebody you know is an anxious attacher? How should you react if your partner is an anxious attacher? Who should anxious attachers avoid?
People who fall under the anxious attachment style are often preoccupied with making their relationship solid and seeking reassurance from their partners. Depending on who they date, these qualities can either be fantastic or detrimental.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the anxious attachment style.
Your Life as an Anxious Attacher
In the next three chapters, we’ll look at how each attachment style plays out in a relationship, starting with the anxious attachment style and then moving on to avoidant and secure.
Anxious attachers seem to have been born with extra-sensory relationship perception. Their attachment systems are too highly tuned, making them overly attentive to other people’s emotional states. They’re perpetually on guard, so they zero in on even the slightest perceived threats. They believe their very survival depends on the success of their partnership.
How Anxious Attachers React to Their Partners
The anxious attachment style comes with high stakes. If you’re an anxious attacher, your relationship is so important to your sense of well-being, you’ll do almost anything to bring your partner closer, both physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, that means you may create some unproductive drama.
If you’re an anxious attacher, you experience the following fairly often:
- Difficulty focusing on anything besides your current relationship.
- Idealizing your romantic partner—overestimating their good qualities and underestimating your own.
- Feeling anxious whenever you’re not in contact with your beloved.
- Believing this relationship is probably your only chance to get it right, as in “I’ll never find anyone else as great as him/her.”
- Believing that even if your relationship isn’t fulfilling, you should still stay. After all, every couple has problems, right?
Anxious attachers devote their time and energy to one main goal: establishing and maintaining closeness with a chosen partner. If that partner is consistently available and receptive, anxious attachers tend to have happy relationships. If the partner wavers in their availability—even innocently or unwittingly—it can be disastrous for both parties.
When Anxious Attachment Goes Awry
Anxious attachers want frequent contact with their partners. If they’re not getting it, they may employ “activating strategies,” like calling or texting excessively until they get a response. When they don’t believe their emotional needs are being met, they may engage in psychological games, known as “protest behaviors,” designed to get their partner to pay attention. Examples might be ignoring or manipulating their partner, threatening to leave the relationship, or keeping score on who called last or how much time it took for so-and-so to return a voicemail. They may even engage in acts to make their partner jealous.
Obviously, this behavior doesn’t usually help the anxious attacher’s cause. And if the anxious attacher’s partner leaves the relationship because of it, the masochistic behavior may continue. Once an anxious attachment system is activated, it’s hard to turn it off.
When an Anxious Attacher Meets a Secure Attacher
If you are an anxious attacher, your best chance of finding a stable, fulfilling, long-lasting relationship is to fall in love with a partner who has a secure attachment style. He or she won’t feel threatened by your anxious nature; in fact, they’ll pacify it. A secure partner will have little trouble responding to your emotional needs. You’ll feel calm and secure most of the time.
Oddly, when an anxious attacher meets Ms. (or Mr.) Secure, it’s not typically love at first sight. Anxious attachers often find that a loving, stable, emotionally available partner is rather dull. They’re accustomed to love being served up with a side order of drama—a storm-tossed journey of ecstatic highs and miserable lows. They assume Ms. Secure must not be “the one” because they don’t feel their attachment system going haywire in her presence.
When an Anxious Attacher Meets an Avoidant Attacher
In contrast, the worst partnership for anxious attachers is someone who has an avoidant attachment style. In an effort to keep emotional distance in the relationship, the avoidant will push all the anxious attacher’s buttons. If you’re the anxious attacher, your efforts to decipher the signals your partner gives out will drive you crazy. Your brain’s desire for attachment will go into overdrive. You’ll end up feeling inadequate, unhappy, and perpetually worried.
Unfortunately, anxious attachers often cross paths with avoidant attachers. Avoidants tend to have short-term relationships, so there are a lot of avoidant fish in the dating sea. On the other hand, that same dating sea has fewer secure attachers because they tend to commit to another person earlier in life and stay committed.
Additionally, avoidants tend not to date each other because neither party has the emotional glue to make the relationship work. Do the math and you wind up with a large number of avoidants meeting up with anxious attachers.
Why Conventional Dating Advice Misleads Anxious Attachers
Relationship books tell us that in order to score a good partner, we shouldn’t make ourselves “too available.” It’s best if we keep some distance, act like we’re strong and independent, maybe even create an aura of mystery for our new partner to decipher.
These behaviors may make an anxious attacher look less dependent (and hence more intriguing), but they also tend to attract avoidants. After all, a strong and independent partner is exactly what avoidants are looking for; i.e. someone who doesn’t demand to have their needs met (and lets the avoidant control the amount of closeness).
An anxious attacher who pretends to be someone they’re not is setting themselves up to get stuck in a relationship with someone who doesn’t understand or value their needs.
How Anxious Attachers Can Help Themselves
If you’re an anxious attacher who wants to change your beliefs and attitudes toward intimacy and relationships, take these steps:
- Acknowledge and embrace your emotional needs. Don’t pretend you’re anything other than who you are. Instead of feeling ashamed of your “neediness,” look for a partner who can fulfill your needs. Assess potential partners from the first date: Is this the kind of person who can offer me reliable, consistent emotional support and love?
- Don’t get involved with avoidants. You can’t change an avoidant’s behavior or your own anxious attachment tendencies, so learn to recognize and bypass avoidants as quickly as possible. All the signs are visible if you look. If you’re answering yes to any of the questions below, don’t let this mismatched relationship get off the ground:
- Is this potential partner sending you mixed messages about their feelings?
- Are they talking about how much they long for the “perfect” relationship, but you get the sense they aren’t talking about you?
- When you communicate your needs or desires, do they change the subject or ignore the topic?
- Have they ever said that you seem too sensitive or needy?
- Be an honest, direct communicator. To find a partner who can meet your emotional needs, express them clearly. If you’re concerned with “playing it cool” when you start a new relationship—not speaking up about your emotions—you won’t be your authentic self and could wind up with a partner who isn’t capable of meeting your needs.
- Slow down and be objective; don’t let your knee-jerk attachment system run the show. Anxious attachers tend to get attached too fast, and once your attachment system is activated, you’re hooked.
- Desensitize your attachment system by remembering the world is full of superb potential partners. Even after you eliminate the many avoidant attachers from the dating pool, there are still plenty of awesome applicants left. (Few of us believe that, but it’s true.)
- Stop telling yourself that this one has to be “the one.” Choose a philosophy of abundance over scarcity, and you’ll be able to better evaluate potential partners.
- Put the abundance theory into action: Date more than one person at a time. Try signing up for an online dating service, or find another way to expose yourself to many different “fish in the sea.” By dating a few different people, you won’t be able to get too anxious about making any one relationship work.
- Don’t reject secure people because they seem less than exciting. People with secure attachment behaviors won’t take you on a wild emotional rollercoaster ride. At first, you might miss all those crazy ups, downs, and loop-de-loops. But give the person a chance. They’re more likely to bring you long-term happiness.
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- Why your partner behaves the way they do
- How your attachment style affects your relationship
- How to distance yourself from unhealthy relationships