One day, your partner may be all rainbows and butterflies, reassuring you of the love and trust you share for each other. The next, they’re suddenly pacing around their room and calling you every 4 minutes because you went out with your friends on a Saturday night. Could you be in an insecure attachment relationship?
Sure, dismantling the insecure attachment style isn’t as simple as looking at the number of missed calls your partner gave you. When push comes to shove, the signs may actually be pretty elusive since nobody likes to admit that they love in such an anxious way.
Understanding why you find yourself in an insecure attachment relationship and what to do about them becomes almost a necessity when your partner starts mistrusting you because you commented on a few Instagram pictures. Here to help unravel the case is expert psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
What Is Insecure Attachment?
“Anyone with an insecure attachment style basically thinks they’re going to be marooned in all the relationships they form with people. They feel like they’re going to be left to fend for themselves. It all boils down to the fact that they didn’t receive the care they were owed during childhood,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
While a healthy bond makes the partners feel safe, an insecure attachment relationship often features fear over the strength of the relationship – often without any particular reason. Since the person experienced inconsistent or no love and attachment from their primary caregivers, constant anxiety about experiencing the same in their subsequent relationships takes hold.
As a result, someone with an insecure attachment style will be very unpredictable. They may become clingy in the relationship, since they believe that their partner is going to leave them. On the flip side, it may feature someone incapable of opening up, since they received an unfavorable reaction from primary caregivers for doing so.
Is your partner incapable of accepting kind gestures from you? Do they gag when you try to call them a cute nickname? Perhaps they get worried when you don’t text them back for half a day, and have convinced themselves that you’re done with the relationship. In other cases, they may just not have a clear idea of what a loving relationship is supposed to be like. All these behaviors point to insecure attachment relationships.
“We’re all owed a certain quantity and quality of care by our primary caregivers. They can be our parents, our extended family members, our teachers who are entrusted with our holistic upbringing and disperse academic knowledge to us.
“It’s almost like a diet. You’re required to eat certain nutrients to grow up as a healthy individual, aren’t you? When you have never been nourished with secure relationships in your life, you never really know what a good one feels like.
“Unsurprisingly, most humans face a deficit in this department. I don’t think anyone can say, “I have gotten care and attention from every quarter of life that was important to me.” If you got it from your parents, maybe you didn’t get it from your siblings or maybe you didn’t get it from a grandmother,” notes Dr. Bhonsle.
Related Reading: How To Deal With A Partner Who Makes You Feel Insecure
Types Of Insecure Attachment
Attachment styles in relationships come in four types, one of them being a secure attachment style. That’s when a person has experienced ample care and support from their family, so they’re capable of forming healthy bonds with people. Let’s take a look at the other three that typically define the types of insecure attachment relationships:
1. Anxious-Ambivalent insecure attachment
Typically defined as “clingy” and “needy”, people with an ambivalent insecure attachment tend to constantly fear that their partner will leave them soon, prompting them to constantly be overly jealous, mistrusting, possessive and difficult to deal with.
When a child’s primary caregiver hasn’t consistently provided the support and care needed, the child may become clingy and resentful. Over time, they may carry these traits in the relationships they experience in their lives.
2. Avoidant insecure attachment
“When people shun intimacy and are unable to open up to ask for help, it often signals an avoidant attachment style in adults,” notes Dr. Bhonsle. The parents may have dismissed the children’s feelings, not offered any help when needed or belittled them for showing affection. As a result, they learn to be self-reliant and not open up.
3. Disorganized insecure attachment
People with this attachment style in relationships have undergone a form of trauma from their primary caregivers. They may have experienced physical harm or emotional abuse that leaves them anxious and fearful while approaching their parents. As a result, they’re often disorganized while dealing with problems that may arise in future relationships.
Dr. Bhonsle explains how a person going with such an attachment style need not delve too deeply into the labels. “These classifications are largely meant for someone who is studying them as a subject. The client shouldn’t sit over and ponder the labels. In fact, I never encourage my clients to label themselves.
“Labels become addictive and comforting. People may hide behind, “I have this borderline avoidant insecure attachment, which is why I behave in this way.” In effect, what happens is that they seek comfort in these labels and then they don’t change. These labels can be used to identify the nature of the problem, they do not define your nature. The problem is bigger than your personality.”
Causes Of Insecure Attachment
As you may have caught up on by now, the causes of insecure attachment relationships are rooted in a lack of attention and care by a person’s primary caregivers. Dr. Bhonsle explains the probable causes of such issues. “Childhood trauma, inconsistency of love and attention from primary caregivers, broken families, domestic abuse are typical causes of people developing insecure attachment styles.
“In most cases, people don’t even know what they went through was a traumatic childhood experience. Inability to identify what you went through as traumatic, abusive, manipulative or hurtful can lead to insecure attachment relationships. They then become indicative of the poor health of a person’s relationships. These patterns can also develop in adolescence, but in most cases, they are formed during childhood.
“Sometimes, it is also learned and modeled after a role model such as a mother or a father. If you see a mother being very clingy to the father, saying things like, “Why do you spend so much time at the office?” “Why do you have to go on so many business trips?” “Why don’t you take me with you on your business trips?”, you will eventually pick up on it.
“They may get indoctrinated and start behaving this way with a partner who actually gives them adequate love and affection. They’re just mimicking what they’ve seen mummy say to daddy. As a result, the partner starts getting a bit nauseated and suffocated, which makes the pattern of the insecure attachment style even stronger.
“If you see the history of such people, they’ve typically been left to fend for themselves at a very tender and vulnerable age. They may have been bullied or have experienced a lot of heat at home.
“If the parents are too busy fighting with each other, they don’t find the time to be parents. The child, in turn, is left thinking things like, “Who’s going to help me with my homework?” “Who’s going to pay for my school field trip?” “Who’s going to sign my mark sheets so I can take them back to class?”
Studies claim that the family dynamics a child experiences can have a direct impact on their interpersonal relationships and their own mental and physical well-being in the future. Let’s take a look at how insecure attachment relationships differ from healthy ones.
How Does An Insecure Attachment Style Affect Relationships?
While relationships tend to thrive on personal space, a dynamic that includes someone with an ambivalent attachment won’t really have too much of it to offer. Likewise, someone with an avoidant attachment style, may want too much space in a relationship and be incapable of offering emotional support and warmth to their partner.
Let’s take a look at how else these dynamics may differ from secure ones, so you know if your partner’s inability to open up or tendency to nervously ask you, “You love me, right?” every twenty minutes actually indicates a larger problem:
1. Insecure attachment styles lead to ridiculous expectations
If your partner displays symptoms of an ambivalent insecure attachment, they may expect grandiose gestures of affection to be able to feel a little secure. When you fail to live up to their inordinate expectations, it will lead to a lot of accusations along the lines of, “Do you even care about me?”
2. Issues with intimacy
The avoidant attachment style in adults often does not allow them to open up to their partners, and they may not be able to cater to the emotional needs of the other. Since childhood, they’ve learned to distance themselves from any display of affection or even asking for help, since they may have been ridiculed for it in the past. It may take an exorbitant amount of effort for such people to build emotional intimacy.
3. Trust issues and relationship anxiety
“There are going to be a lot of arguments, a lot of sleepless nights. Partners will stare blankly at their WhatsApp to see if the person has replied or not, or what the nature of the message is, how short the message is, or how descriptive it is.
“There’s going to be a lot of anxiety based on assumptions made. A lot of arbitrary deadlines get created in their mind. “She didn’t reply to me in ten minutes, that means she doesn’t love me.”
“These arbitrary deadlines, having ridiculously childish expectations, like basing the health of your relationship on the speed of a reply on WhatsApp, are very common insecure attachment relationships. You’ll see people carry on with these patterns even in their 40s and 50s, it has nothing to do with age,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
An insecure attachment style can trigger overwhelming amounts of relationship anxiety, leaving nothing but jealousy and trust issues in its wake. Sometimes, love isn’t all it takes.
How To Overcome An Insecure Attachment Style
“If you have these insecurities and you’re harboring a lot of angst, let it be an indicator of what needs to be done. You need to focus on moving in the opposite directions. If you are clingy, you need to try to be as un-clingy as possible.
“If you are extremely insecure in your relationships, you must try to turn off notifications on your phone so that the uncertainty doesn’t eat away at you. If you are very anxious, you try to find a way to stabilize and calm yourself by finding an activity that centers you like working out or meditation,“ says Dr. Bhonsle.
While it may sound easy on paper, it takes a lot of effort and time. To make sure you go about it in the right way, take a look at the following tips Dr. Bhonsle lists out:
1. When dealing with insecure attachment relationships, therapy is a must
Having an insecure attachment style can damage all the relationships you have in your life. Perhaps you’ve pushed someone away because you fought for their attention a bit too much, or they never felt comfortable with you because you never opened up. The best way to go about breaking the cycle is by opting for therapy.
Dr. Bhonsle explains the importance and effectiveness of therapy while dealing with insecure attachment relationships. “No one in your family or circle of friends may be able to help you through this. Just like you have a detox ritual designed for people who are addicted to screens, you’ve got to create a detox ritual for people who display an insecure attachment style.
“These problems run pretty deep and it’s not like going to a dentist where you’ll feel fine after one session. Since the roots are in a person’s childhood, they need to open up and talk about things they may not have thought about in a while.
“They need to let the anger and sadness and rejection out of their systems. They must make peace with their past, forget those who have not delivered and those who have hurt them. Sometimes, that forgiveness takes a very long time. Seeking the help of a therapist can tell you what you need to do to deal with your past. You’ve got to remember that your most important relationship is with yourself.
“Some people don’t even want to forgive and let go of the things that bothered them in the past. Misery is as addictive as cocaine. You get comfortable in that melancholy because it gives you the right to act erratically and to be given a lot of leeway in the way you act around others.
“When left unchecked, they may not even realize how much they need to address the past issues and how the avoidant attachment style in adults can affect almost all aspects of their life.”
As we mentioned before, some may not even realize the trauma they might have gone through in their childhoods. Hence, they may not even know what to address. With the help of Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors, including Dr. Aman Bhonsle, you’ll be propelling yourself closer toward the famed secure attachment style.
Related Reading: How Can I Overcome Feeling Insecure In Relationships?
2. Let go of the past
We know, we know, it’s easier said than done. Facing a traumatic event in the formative years of your life invariably affects the rest of it. Thus, trying to let go of it yourself may not always be possible.
Dr. Bhonsle talks about the importance of therapy while trying to deal with one’s past. “If someone has lost a parent or has seen a major divorce battle in the house, they use that excuse to treat their friends badly. They may say something like, “You should understand me after all I’ve been through.” “If I shouted at you in front of all our friends, you shouldn’t hold it against me. You know what I’ve been through at home.”
“Some people weaponize past trauma and sadness to accommodate emotional laziness. They may hide behind something like, “My father cheated on my mother, that’s why I don’t trust men in general. You should put up with my insecure attachment style because I have had a bad experience with men.”
“Because of their past, their present relationships now suffer as a result. And letting go of it isn’t too easy, since each person’s past is unique and multi-faceted. It’s never just “this happened, and then that happened”. There are hundreds of factors and patterns behind it. It’s like a big ball of cobweb that needs to be untangled, and that’s why the profession of psychotherapy exists.”
3. Confidence is the antidote you need
“A person’s interactions with the outside world are governed by how they interact with themselves. If they hate themselves and aren’t too confident, the resulting interpersonal relationships will feature a degree of mistrust and anxiety,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
“It will definitely help, but they have to be taught how to be confident. Our schools and families and social media have constantly beaten down on us for not meeting certain expectations. Once you get the appropriate help, a confidence boost will come naturally,” he concludes.
When you think about it, all relationship anxiety stems from insecurity. When a person doesn’t like the way they are, they’re going to assume the rest of the world doesn’t as well. By tackling these issues within you, you’ll be able to improve the strength of all your bonds.
Now that you know all there is to know about an insecure attachment style and how to overcome them, hopefully, you won’t feel stuck in a loop of failed 3-month stints with potential lovers. So instead of basing the health of your relationships on the speed of WhatsApp replies, move a step closer toward a harmonious dynamic with the help of the points we listed out for you today.
Loving someone with an insecure attachment style requires reassurance – lots of it. Your partner will constantly be thinking of the worst-case scenario, and they’ll always assume your relationship is in jeopardy.
Therefore, you must reassure them of how you feel, the strength of your relationship and that you’re in it for the long haul. However, in the long run, what’s more important is that they try to move toward a secure attachment style.
While statistics and facts for something so personal and unique to each person are hard to come by, such attachment styles are a lot more common than you’d think. Since they essentially stem from not feeling cared for in your childhood, it’s unsurprising that most people have developed some sort of relationship anxiety.
The most common trigger for anxious attachment is a flawed relationship between a child and their primary caregiver. They may have been inconsistent with their love and affection, or they may have been mentally or physically abusive.