There are four relationship attachment styles: Anxious, Avoidant, Fearful, and Secure.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to discuss the four different attachment styles, starting with Anxious attachment, and discuss how each attachment style manifests, specifically within the context of friendship.
Anxious Attachment in Friendship:
Have you ever been told that you are “needy”, “suffocating”, “clingy” or “controlling” as a friend?
Anxious friends feel a stronger need for emotional intimacy in their friendships. If you have an anxious attachment style, you may require regular reassurance from friends that they care about you, aren’t mad at you, and won’t close the door on you. You may also find yourself feeling jealous or threatened by a friend developing a new interest, or starting another friendship or relationship.
This type of friendship attachment style can create internal and interpersonal problems, as behaviors stemming from your insecurities about relationships can be interpreted by others as controlling or overly demanding.
How Does an Anxious Attachment Develop?
The concept of attachment styles comes from Attachment Theory, a psychological theory originated by psychoanalyst John Bowlby that examines the relationship between a child and their parent or primary caregiver, and explains how a child’s attachment to their parent or caregiver impacts the child’s behavior in other relationships in life, such as partnership or friendship.
A person may develop an anxious attachment relationship style if their caregiver or parent struggled to maintain healthy boundaries within the parent-child relationship.
A parent may have been overly-enmeshed with their child, not giving them enough room to develop their own identities apart from the parent. We sometimes see this in the form of helicopter parenting, a parent attempting to live vicariously through their child, or depending too much emotionally on a child for their own comfort and self-regulation.
As a result, the child comes to associate relationships later on in life with high amounts of enmeshment, finding that they need copious amounts of reassurance and communication. They may even feel panicked or despair when they perceive rejection from a friend or other relationship partner.
If this sounds familiar, and you are ready to work on changing your anxious attachment style, here are some suggestions for next steps:
- Make an honest list of your needs in a friendship. Try to accept and not judge yourself for having these needs.
- Reflect on whether existing and/or new friends can realistically meet your needs. If not, acknowledge that this may simply by a matter of friendship incompatibility, and not a reflection on you or your self-worth.
- Speaking of self-worth, people with anxious attachment styles may have a tendency to experience feelings of insecurity, or engage in a lot of self-criticism and/or self-blame. Use mindfulness to recognize when your critical inner voice is speaking to you, and complete thought records to challenge these automatic negative thoughts.
- Create a self-soothing practice. As alluded to above, anxious attachment styles in relationships can stem from a parent not having the skills and tools to cope with their own separation anxiety. If this is a pattern that has been passed down, you can be the one to break the chain by learning skills to soothe, calm and comfort yourself. A great place to start is with mindfulness mediation.
- Give “calm” friendships a chance. The lack of drama and/or high emotions might feel boring to you at first, but stay the course and give yourself time to learn about the advantages of secure, consistent friendships.
- Check out my article 4 tools for healing anxious attachment
Do you have personal experience with an anxious attachment style in friendships or other relationships? Please feel free to share in the comments.
Next week, I will discuss the avoidant attachment style and how it manifests in friendships.
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Source: Levine, A. & Heller, R. Attached (2010). New York, NY: Penguin.
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.