Anxious Attachment Style: Overview, Examples & Solutions

anxious attachment

Do you have an anxious attachment style?

If you’re not yet sure, here is a quiz.

Otherwise, keep on reading.

This article will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the anxious attachment style, including real-life examples, and what you can do to overcome the anxious’ limitations.

anxious attachment partner in relationship

What Is Anxious Attachment

The anxious attachment style, sometimes also referred to as “anxious-ambivalent”, is one of four possible attachment styles people can have.

Attachment styles refer to patterns of interpersonal relationships, and they are most salient and most visible in romantic and intimate relationships.

An individual with an anxious attachment style craves and needs intimacy from the partner, but is fearful (anxious) that the partner does not feel the same.

Attachment Systems Gone Awry

People with an anxious attachment style have a highly sensitive and often active attachment system.

The attachment system is a natural, inborn mechanism to track the availability of our attachment figures (that would be: mothers for children and romantic partners for adults).

That means that any slight changes in the availability of the attachment figure -mother or boyfriend- make the anxious type feel threatened.
And she will not calm down until she gets close to his partner again or until the partner confirms his availability.

See a good example from the movie “La Dolce Vita”:

Anxious Attachment Protest Behavior

All the thoughts going through the anxious attachment type when the attachment system is activated take the name of activating strategies.

And the behavior that follows aimed at getting your partner’s attention and getting back in touch with them is called protest behavior.

Activating Strategies

Protest Behavior


  • Remembering only good qualities
  • Putting partner on a pedestal

Constant Contact

  • Calling and texting several times a day
  • Waiting with bated breath for his text
  • Moving around their house or workplace

Mental Cycles

  • Constantly thinking about him
  • Difficulty concentrating on other tasks

Attention Seeking

Low Self Esteem

  • Fear you’ll never meet someone new
  • “Maybe he will change… “


Anxiety & Pain

  • Feeling calm only in his presence
  • Discord causes major grief


  • Faking busy, not texting back, making him jealous
  • Keeping scores & waiting for the other to make up

It’s rarer, but sometimes the anxious attachment style pulls away instead of moving closer.
I give a few examples of pulling away in my article on the biggest mistakes women do in dating.

Anxious Attachment Styles by Gender

Studies seem to suggest there are more women with an anxious attachment style than men.

And there are more avoidant men, which means anxious women should be very watchful not to end up with avoidant men.

How Anxious Become Anxious

The current literature agrees that our attachment is part of genes, past life experiences, and part parental behavior.

In the case of the anxious attachment, it’s possible that we had a distant parent who didn’t soothe us enough.
That made us slightly “emotionally scarred”, and we seek constant reassurance that yes, our lovely (mother/partner) is still there.

Dr. Karyl McBride in Will I Ever Be Good Enough says that narcissistic mothers are especially distant and make their children particularly insecure when it comes to receiving love.
Narcissistic mothers are more likely to raise anxious children.

This scene from “Terms of Endearment” is a great example of behavior with which narcissistic mothers raise anxious children:

Drawbacks of Being Anxious

Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman (Seligman, 2002) says that anxious types:

  • Feel they have little control over their lives
  • Find others difficult to predict
  • Cling to others and always fear rejection
  • Flaunt their anger and distress

They also tend to have poorer communication skills and come across as lower-power and more submissive.
See the chart:

Based on Hanks, 2016

Anxious Attachment to Relationships

Shirley Glass in Not Just Friends says that, in her experience, anxious types tend to marry secure attachment types.

This is compatible with what Harvile Hendrix says in Getting The Love You Want, such as that people go after the feeling of “wholeness” and get what they miss.

However, says Glass, they tend to replicate the maternal avoidant pattern when (and if) they look for an affair partner.
The anxious type then is likely to develop an emotional bond while the avoidant keeps the distance.

Anxious Attachment With Avoidant Attachment

Amir Levine in Attached says that anxious attachment types often end up with avoidant attachment types.

In my experience, I have often seen anxious together with avoidants as Amir Levin says.
And the numbers that Levine uses to back his theory also make sense to me.

When the anxious type is removed from their affection, they activate their attachment system. The attachment system monitors the distance from the loved partner, and when he is not present, it starts going in alarm mode. That’s why anxious types get very emotional and fearful when their partner is far away.
They soothe themselves; the anxious will then seek to re-establish a connection with their partner.

But when the partner is an avoidant, their attachment system is constantly activated, and the anxious will experience huge emotional roller coasters.
Now the bad news is that many anxious types mistake the emotional roller coaster for love.

If you are an anxious type and learn one single thing from this article is this: an emotional roller coaster is not love.

Many people indeed when they say that “women love as*holes” often actually mistake bundling together in the as*holes term avoidant types.
But more than as*holes women fall for the avoidants who activate their attachment systems.

Anxious Attachment With Secure Attachment

The anxious type is best served in a relationship with a secure attachment.

Secure types are not afraid of intimacy, they play less games and are happier to soothe you.

Anxious Attachment

Secure Attachment

Needs intimacy and closeness Comfortable with intimacy
Overly sensitive to any possible sign of rejection Consistent with their messages, don’t push you away
Find it difficult to speak their mind and use protest behavior instead to communicate their needs Considerate of your well being and it’s possible you will learn a more direct and open style of communication with them
Need to be reassured Happy to provide reassurance, often even early on
Need to know where you are standing in the relationship Are happy to label the relationship, to commit, to make it official and to let you know where they stand

Overcoming The Anxious Attachment Style

Well, maybe “overcome” is not the right word.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being anxious.
But it definitely makes for sub-optimal relationships.

And since anxious types tend to be unhappy in relationships, it’s best if you can move past its limitation and become more secure.
The following steps will help you on the way:

#1. Become Aware

The very first step is awareness.

The more you know your limitations, the more you can fix them or work around them.
And if you’re not yet sure whether or not you have an anxious attachment style, take the quiz here.

2. Show Your True Self

Anxious tend to be more afraid their partner will not return their love.

And they tend to buy into the idea they need to feign disinterest and play games to get the love they want (as peddled by many dating books for women).
And while that can be helpful sometimes (but not always!), that’s a big mistake for anxious attachment types.
Remember this: to get what you want, you first need to be who you really are.

Read this more on:

3. Learn to use Direct Communication

Direct communication means asking for what you want and what you need.

Use direct communication early, so you can weed out bad partners and you can keep having your needs met in the relationship.

Every time you find yourself starting a fight to get an emotional connection, remember to state you would love -or you need- to be close.

4. Differentiate Love From Roller Coaster

Many anxiety attachment types equate love with the heightened feelings of their activated attachment systems.
And the push and pull of the anxious-avoidant relationship further hook them in.
But that’s not love. That’s a toxic relationship. Don’t fall for the allure of unavailable men.

5. Pick Partners Based on Intimacy

Pick your partner based on how much he can satisfy your intimacy levels. Notice if he responds to your appeal if he gets to the bottom of it, and if he tries to satisfy your needs.

6. Find a Secure Partner

Studies show that an anxious partner in a relationship with a secure partner becomes more secure.

So drop the crazy and addictive antics of the anxious-avoidant relationship then and settle down with a secure partner.
Secure partners communicate directly and openly, don’t play games, and don’t shy away from intimacy.

Read here how to recognize someone’s attachment style.

Anxious Attachment Arguments

Anxious relationships tend to fall a predictable pattern.

From the outside, they can seem neurotic, and wild and, often, resemble borderline personality disorder, with which sometimes they can overlap.

#1. Anxious Creates Arguments

Anxious attachment does not go for direct communication.

Instead, they prefer creating arguments as a cover-up for the intimacy they crave.
Needless to say, that does not work.

#2. Anxious Feels Guilty

After the argument, the anxious partner feels terrible and seeks to mend the relationship.

#3. Anxious Seeks Contact Again

The anxious partner does not get what they want with the fight, and their need for closeness, intimacy, and love only grows larger.

So they seek contact again.

But again direct communication rarely takes place, and the anxious rarely says “I’m sorry” and never articulates the real reasons for their bad behavior.

#4. Reconciliation

It takes courage and vulnerability to make the first step toward reconciliation, which might lead the fight to drag on longer than it’s needed.

From a power dynamics perspective, the anxious partner needs contact more than her partner does, which moves the balance of power on the partner’s side.

#5. Rinse, Repeat

When they finally make good again, it’s only a brief pause before the cycle begins again.

anxious avoidant attachment


Your anxious attachment style gives you the opportunity to experience a really close and intimate relationship. But it also means you have to find a partner with whom to enjoy that intimacy.

This article gives you a deeper understanding of what anxious attachment really means for you.
And it gives you the main information to find a happy relationship: and it’s NOT with avoidant and emotionally unavailable partners.

Further Reading:

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