How To Overcome Anxious Preoccupied Attachment: 7 Proven Steps

Author: Kyrsta Anderson & Renée Shen.

Wondering how to overcome anxious preoccupied attachment? 

The first step is to know that with the right motivation and mindset, it is very possible. And in some circumstances, I would say even inevitable.

Why?

Because overcoming anxious attachment is something you become motivated to do because of someone important to you.

You become sick of burdening them with your anxiousness.

If you truly care about keeping those valuable relationships in your life, then you’ll do whatever it takes. 

These people who are important to you might be the very thing that makes you do the work to overcome your anxious attachment.

Because we all know how messy relationships can get, and when you realise that you could be the cause of the mess,  it’s only natural and honourable to want to ‘fix’ it.

This is not to say that you are to blame for a relationship mess, because you’re never solely to blame. 

But there’s no doubt that having an anxious attachment style can lead you to creating negative interactions.

Not to mention that adult romantic relationships magnify our emotions.

Jealousy, cheating, clinginess - relationships really can bring out our worst traits - but there’s a reason.  

It turns out that romantic relationships in our adult lives are directly impacted by the quality of the relationships we had with our parents.

This along with the parent-child dynamics that we experienced, can make us relaxed and well adjusted in adult romantic relationships, or fear and anxiety-ridden. 

This idea comes from a theory known as attachment theory. 

Depending on what our childhood looked like, we can develop different attachment styles.

In this article we are going to focus on one specific attachment style: the anxious preoccupied attachment. 

Let’s find out what this attachment style is, and how to overcome anxious preoccupied attachment. 

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Attachment is a strong emotional bond between two people in which each feels more safe and secure when with the other person. 

Attachment theory is the idea that humans are born with a need for close emotional bonds with their caregivers, usually the parents, and states that the relationship between child and parent carries into the child’s adult life and affects how they act in their adult relationships. 

So basically, our childhood relationship experiences have an impact on our adult relationships - makes sense. 

There are our different types of attachment styles:

  • Secure 
  • Anxious-Preoccupied 
  • Fearful-Avoidant; and 
  • Disorganised.

What Is Anxious Preoccupied Attachment? 

Anxious preoccupied attachment is a form of insecure attachment, which occurs when a child’s caregiver is generally unreliable and inconsistent.

The parents of anxiously attached children are often unattuned to the child’s emotional needs.

This is how anxious preoccupied attachment manifests in a relationship: 

  • Dependency in relationships or difficulty being independent.
  • Needing frequent reassurance.
  • Highly emotional. 
  • Lack of impulse control. 
  • Abandonment and trust issues, an overall fear of rejection. 
  • Jealousy and clinginess.  
  • Hypersensitivity to your partner’s actions and moods.
  • Negative self-worth. 

Those with an anxious preoccupied attachment style may find that their relationships are generally more stressful, negative, and unstable. 

Now let’s talk about how to overcome anxious preoccupied attachment.

How to Overcome Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

#1: Become Aware Of Your Attachment Style.

Overcoming anxious preoccupied attachment starts with the awareness of it first. Look closely at how you behave in relationships. 

Do you need frequent reassurance? 

Do you struggle with extreme jealousy and trust issues, even when your partner has given you no reason to doubt them? 

Tune into your body and emotions when you're interacting with your partner, and see if you’re always ‘on edge’, or perhaps secretly fearing abandonment.

I recommend you check these 15 Signs you Have Abandonment Issues & How to Test for Them.

#2: Look To Your Past.

Since attachment theory stems from the idea that how you were raised affects your adult relationships, think back to what your childhood was like. 

If your parent or caregiver was.. 

  • Nurturing one moment, then cold and critical the next. 
  • Slow or inconsistent in responding to your distress.  
  • Insensitive to discomfort.

This means that your caregiver had inconsistent parenting behaviors and it is a definitive sign that you may have an anxious preoccupied attachment style.

It’s also important to note how your own behaviour may have moulded in response to this parenting style. 

Specifically, a child’s response to this type of parenting usually involves exaggeration of discomfort or clinginess in order to feel recognized by their parents and have their needs met. 

Think back to your childhood and what it felt like.

If you felt like you had to make a fuss to get attention, you could have been subject to inconsistent parenting. 


#3: Recognize Your Triggers

Now that you’ve recognized your own behaviors and your child-caregiver dynamic, it’s time to recognize what triggers these anxious attachment responses. 

Common triggers for people with an anxious preoccupied attachment style are: 

  • Your partner behaving inconsistently. 
  • Your partner seeming distant. 
  • If your partner takes a long time to respond to a text or call. 
  • Your partner wanting to do something without you, or doing things out of the ordinary. 
  • Your partner coming home late. 

What’s important to recognize is that all of these triggers have to do with inconsistency and not being in control.

Also important to note is that if you have anxious attachment, you’re likely always ‘on alert’ of something bad happening, even when it’s not likely to happen.

“When you’re anxiously attached, possible triggers could be almost everything.”

Recommended: 12 Anxious Attachment Triggers: How To Recognise & Heal Them.

#4: Communicate To Your Partner

Once you’ve become aware of your attachment style, have dug a little deeper into where it comes from, and recognized the relationship triggers - it’s time to talk to your partner. 

It’s important that your partner knows that your anxiety is not necessarily their fault, but rather, it’s a part of deeper issues caused by inadequate nurturing whilst you were young.

You can start by telling them what your attachment style is and where it comes from. 

Then, get into the specific relationship triggers that come up often for you. Here are a few recommendations for communicating with your partner about your attachment style:

  • Always start by making sure they know that your attachment style is an issue formed long ago, and that your anxiety is not their fault.
  • Be clear and direct
  • Advocate for yourself and let them know exactly what you need (or do not need) in order to feel safe. 
  • Also let them know that you are working on how to overcome anxious preoccupied attachment. Awareness of the issue is important for both of you.  

Here’s what communicating this to your partner will accomplish: 

  • It will help them empathize with your reactions
  • Enable them to better respond to your anxiety; and 
  • Be aware of behaviors that may trigger you. 

Essentially this will allow your partner to know you more deeply and trust that you are taking responsibility for your own relationship patterns.

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#5: Manage The Anxiety

The 5th step in knowing how to overcome anxious preoccupied attachment to manage your anxiety.

While it is not your fault that early childhood events have given you anxious attachment, unfortunately it is now up to you to change the dysfunctional emotions and thoughts and how you respond to them. 

There are many different ways to manage anxiety, including:

Meditation: 

Any mindfulness technique will help with your anxious attachment, especially meditation. 

Meditation can be defined as a technique that encourages a state of heightened awareness and focus by turning inward and focusing on your breathing.  

It allows you to get in tune with your body and emotions, and better understand not only where your triggers come from, but how to react to them in a different way and change negative thought patterns. 

Slowly, with a lot of practice, meditation can help you see your partner’s behaviors in a different way and realize that not everything is cause for panic. 

For those looking to get into meditation, I highly recommend the Headspace App. They have a huge variety of meditation courses, even one specifically for relationship anxiety. 

Journaling: 

Journaling is another great mindfulness technique. 

Writing down whatever is on your mind - which I like to call a “mind dump” - can keep negative thoughts and emotions from running on repeat in your head, as it gives you a space for those thoughts to be released. 

Writing positive affirmations is another great form of journaling. 

Affirmations are positive statements that aim to reach your subconscious mind in order to change negative thinking patterns. 

Some examples of affirmations are:  

  • “I have confidence in myself” 
  • “I accept myself for who I am”; and 
  • “I am worthy of love”.

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Therapy:

Digging into your past and discovering your triggers can not only be difficult, but also really scary. 

That’s why seeking help and guidance from a professional can not only be extremely helpful, but sometimes necessary. 

There are numerous different types of therapy, but one of the most recommended forms for anxious preoccupied attachment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT focuses on altering those negative thought patterns that have been automatically ingrained at a subconscious level. 

With CBT, you’re able to learn new ways of thinking and feel more secure in relationships. 

Other great therapy options include: 

#6: Become At Peace With Yourself First

A lot of times, people think that meeting “the one” will be the end to their attachment issues. 

If this is you…I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s no knight in shining armour coming along to “fix” you. 

Even if your partner is supportive, the responsibility still largely falls on you.

Once you’ve recognized your attachment, past, and triggers - and have started working with mindfulness and therapy- the goal is to reach a point of security in yourself, also called felt security.  

Felt security is an inner stability, a “‘self-sovereignty’” that you bring to relationships. 

In feeling secure about yourself, you can have increased clarity around the negative thoughts and feelings that come with anxious preoccupied attachment. 

This leads to higher confidence and the ability to navigate relationships more easily.

#7: Recognise Your Triggers & Change Your Habits

This is the step where you’ve been doing the work and are feeling more secure in yourself, now you just need to react differently in the moment you’re being triggered by your partner. 

The key is to catch yourself when you are triggered, and then learn to self soothe your anxious attachment.

This part is easier said than done, and it can take a lot of practice to be present in the moment when your emotions are running high. 

The key here is to not be too hard on yourself. 

Become aware of your triggers, acknowledge that they’re there and pause. Take a moment to breathe before you start running the pattern of anxiety.

Remember: 

These defense mechanisms you’ve developed have been there since childhood… it can take more than a few tries to redirect your emotions and thought patterns. 

The goal isn’t to be perfect. Remember that self help and mental health are constant works in progress. 

How to Help An Anxious Attachment Partner?

If you’re with someone who has anxious attachment or if you are the one with anxious attachment and want to ‘help’ your partner help you, then listen up.

It may be hard to even know what to ask from your partner if you have anxious preoccupied attachment. 

Here’s what I recommend you ask from your partner: 

  • Follow through on promises and commitments. 
  • Give the reassurance you’re asking for. 
  • Help you notice trigger-based reactions in the moment. 
  • Be encouraging of your mental health journey. 
  • Be consistent in the attention and love they give to you.

It may be a lot to ask of some people, since some people have their own attachment issues too.

However, the key is to start slowly and see what assistance they’re realistically able to give. Also, don’t demand so much that they can no longer take care of themselves.

An Important Distinction For Women With Anxious Preoccupied Attachment

Here’s something crucial for you to know if you are a woman:

As a woman, you naturally have what is called a “feminine bias” for early attachment, as Renée Wade and D.Shen show in their research.

This means that when you meet a guy and start dating him, you will usually become attached early, and often earlier than a man will.

This is not because you are “broken”, but rather, because you are a woman and you have an innate biological and emotional desire for attachment, since it benefits you and your future offspring.

This feminine bias for early attachment is different to anxious preoccupied attachment.

But it can also bring a sense of preoccupation with the relationship, especially in the beginning few months whilst it is still being established.

Whilst this feminine bias is less serious than an anxious preoccupied attachment style, it still causes problems for women, because they find themselves prone to becoming needy.

The key here is to use your feminine bias for early attachment to “inspire” deeper emotional commitment from a man.

Most women use it terribly, because they feel the anxiety and act in ways that push a guy away.

The key is to not ‘rid’ yourself of this feminine bias, because it is completely normal. Instead, you need to learn to use it to your advantage.

And the secret is that it is actually meant to bring a man closer to you and inspire more commitment from him (if used correctly). 

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A Note On Overcoming Anxious Preoccupied Attachment 

There’s no quick fix on how to overcome anxious preoccupied attachment, but it is possible. 

Following these steps, which are really just steps to focus on yourself and your mental health, is crucial. 

This is a deep rooted problem that won’t just go away on its own, but if you put in the work you’ll find yourself showing up better in your relationships. 

You may also find that you begin to experience some peace of mind from the negative thought spirals that come with this attachment style. 


Kyrsta Anderson

Kyrsta Anderson

Kyrsta is a graduate from Chapman University, where she majored in Business Marketing. She resides in Los Angeles with her boyfriend. In addition to blog writing, she is currently working as an agency signed model and a nanny. Her passions are fashion, health and fitness (especially yoga) writing, reading, and spending time in nature.

Renée Shen

Author and Editor For National Council for Research on Women. Founder of The popular women's dating and relationship website, The Feminine Woman.


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