Attachment Theory and Self-Compassion for Your Relationship Anxiety

viva mental health blog photo of couple on steps  - attachment theory

Attachment theory and styles have been having their moment online. As many psychology terms enter the mainstream space and lead to therapy speak, there’s much more to understand about them. Today, I’d like to talk a bit about anxious attachment.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory came from a series of trials/experiments in the middle of the 20th century. In these experiments, researchers found that children tend to respond in a few key ways to their caregivers after a brief separation. This lead us to the primary attachment types: secure, avoidant, anxious and disorganized. The theory suggests that relationships during your childhood to your primary caregivers set you up with a relational script that shows up in how you navigate relationships throughout your life. In essence, how you respond in early life dictates how you relate to other contacts later in life. Think of it as your relationship factory settings, for lack of a better term.

However, there is considerable criticism about attachment style theory and its applicability to adult relationships. But, that’s beyond the scope of the exploration today.

Dirty Pop (Psychology) & Attachment

In recent years as psychology dominates the mainstream, it’s very clear that “secure” is the only acceptable attachment style. Thus, many people tout that as their primary way of attachment whether that’s actually objectively true or not. With that, we pathologize any discomfort or anxiety about relationships. We see that as evidence of a broken person with a broken attachment style. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Relationships are risky and require a high level of vulnerability to cultivate. Anxiety is a normal response to deep intimacy.

It’s OK to Seek Reassurance from a Partner

As a therapist who often spends time talking with people about relationships, I have yet to come across a person who doesn’t appreciate reassurance from their partner. Even the most secure of people will experience moments of doubt and insecurity. This is perfectly normal. We all need reassurance of a partner’s care, love or admiration from time to time. It is healing to hear the words, “I love you and I’m so glad you’re a part of my life.”

Don’t be afraid of offering, or soliciting this kind of support. It can be powerful in sustaining a relationship. Actions of love are helpful, as is explicit verbal sharing of your feelings of warmth, closeness and affection.

But, your work is your own too

That having been said, if you’re consistently struggling with feeling unloved and insecure it’s likely a sign you have your own work to do too. While it’s normal to seek reassurance from your partner, a highly anxious partner can unintentionally create distance and frustration in the relationship. The many regular bids for reassurance can be disruptive.

If you find yourself preoccupied by your anxiety it may mean trust between you has been severely broken by some behavior, and/or your anxiety about being deeply connected so closely is unintentionally disrupting a healthy relationship dynamic. Working with a therapist can help tremendously in identifying your personal triggers, reassurance seeking behaviors, and potential alternatives to cope and manage a healthier relationship dynamic. Couples therapy can help partners rebuild trust again as well.

The moral of the story is, if you’re struggling with relationship anxiety you’re certainly not alone. Create reasonable ways to get reassurance from your partner AND continue to work through your own anxiety and healing. Both will give you the best chance of having the healthy, sustainable relationship you’re looking for.

NEED EXTRA SUPPORT MAINTAINING YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTING WITH OTHERS? REACH OUT TODAY TO GET STARTED WITH THERAPY.

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