Anxious-Ambivalent attachment is a common type of insecure attachment were the individuals natural drive for connection is fueled by anxiety and fear. They feel fear that the object of their attachment is going to abandon them, and this causes anxiety. Individuals with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style are constantly striving for the attention of the object of their attachment as they are anxiously awaiting for the person to leave (this is their belief that separations=loss of love or abandonment).
Anxious-Ambivalent attachment, like all attachment, begins to take shape during those critical first 5 years of child’s life. It develops as a result of parents inconsistent interactions with their babies/toddlers. Remember the brain craves routine. Routines decrease anxiety because it helps anticipate what will come next (predictability). When a baby cries and the parent/caregiver comes to comfort the babies distress, repeatedly, the baby learns to depend on their parent/caregiver. They learn to rely on them and they can predict that in times of distress relief will come from their parent/caregiver. This is the foundation for secure attachment.
But what happens when the baby cries and the parent/caregiver only sometimes comes to comfort the baby? What if when the baby is signaling to their parent that they want attention (smiling, cooing, etc) and yet they get nothing in return or its in a short burst that is left unsatisfying? How about for the toddler who attempts to initiate engagement with the parent/caregiver and is ignored but then when the parent/caregiver wants to engage and the toddler doesn’t but is forced to any way?
The above examples are just some common examples of how anxious-ambivalent attachment is developed. It’s not just inconsistent parenting, but its misattunement as the parent/caregiver vacillates between being intrusive and ignoring. In the above scenarios the parent/caregiver is not meeting the child’s needs but is actually only attuning to their (parent/caregivers) own needs. They are interacting with heir baby/toddler on their own terms, while also ignoring their babies/toddlers attempts to have their attention (which is NORMAL). The result is a kind of push/pull interaction that leaves the child struggling to understand how to keep their parent/caregiver close at all costs not because they are seeking that connection but because they fear the loss of the connection. (One is positive and activates the reward mechanism making a person feel loved and cared for while the other causes distress, fear, and anxiety) The Stress Response System (the self protection mechanism) gets activated in these moments as the natural reward mechanism of attachment is unavailable and all that is left is a state of fight or flight. You can actually see this during interactions between parent/caregiver and child upon reunions after separations. The child may run away or hit their parent/caregiver when they reunite, while they also may cling to them in the next instant. They are essentially state of confusion as they don’t know what to expect from the parent/caregiver.
Anxious-Ambivalent Between Parent & Child
-Clinginess from child to parent
-Child constantly trying to get the parent/caregivers attention but they are ignored or dismissed/rejected
-Tantrums/difficulty being soothed
-Fear of their parents/caregivers when their parents do try to engage or interact with them
The Anxious-Ambivalent Adult
-Has a long history of difficulties with interpersonal relationships with romantic partners
-Low self esteem/self worth
-Higher levels of Anxiety
-Feeling unworthy of love
-Loose boundaries with others/difficulty with saying “no”
-Irrational fears and catastrophizing
-Constant feelings that you are not good enough
-Needing constant reassurance
What Anxious-Ambivalent Attached Relationship Between Adults Looks and Feels Like
-Constant fear of their partner leaving
-Constantly seeking reassurance from their partners or even friends that they won’t leave them
-Nothing their partner does seems to be enough
-A sense of panic when there are long separations from their partners (ie a partner going out of town for fun or work)
-Difficulties with self regulation and relying on their partner to regulate them (ie anger outbursts, self harming types of behaviors/threats, etc)
-Lack of boundaries-putting their own needs and desire aside always for fear of upsetting their partner (and therefore causing their partner to leave)
4 Tips for Healing From Your Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment So You Can Find Peace, Relief, and Joy in Your Relationships
#1 Focus on yourself and your inner child. We all have something we are struggling with. Some vulnerabilities or unhealed wounds from our childhoods. As adults we recreate our attachment relationships with intimate partners and close friends. Often in our times of “freaking out”our inner child is screaming for something that it needs. With Anxious attachment this need is to feel loved, cared for, nurtured, and like we matter, the whole of us. When you start your healing journey the adult you needs to provide what your inner child with the love and reassurance that you didn’t get from your parents/caregivers rather than relying on others for that message. Start off by creating a list of the positive things that make you who you are. The things you like about yourself. Create affirmations around these and say them daily, especially when triggered.
#2 Increase your ability to self regulate. Utilize grounding techniques and mindfulness techniques to manage your intense emotions. Slow yourself down and redirect that energy. This could be removing yourself physically from a situation by going for a walk, occupying your hands with a fidget toy, self massage of your arms or head, etc. Also remember that having emotions are ok. The emotions are not bad but it’s how you respond to your emotions and to others in those moments that often cause trouble.
#3 Identify your triggers. Get curious about what triggers you and create a list. You will know its a trigger when you feel a sudden urge or impulse to do or say something while at the same time feeling kind of panicked or even overwhelmed. When this happens stop yourself and do #2. Once you’re calm go back and think about what happened in that moment. What was said? What was done? Ask yourself what about that interaction made you suddenly feel defensive or afraid.
#4 Don’t react, respond. Fueled by your anxiety and fear the Stress Response System kicks in and no your fighting or fleeing. This pattern serves only to push your partner away rather than keep them close. You have to get a hold of yourself by using the steps above to curb this impulse. When you’re in a calmer state you can think about what it is that you’re really needing and if your partner is actually meeting your needs in a different way. Learn to be open and flexible. Your love language may be verbal while your partners is action based. Finally your need to be constantly reassured is exhausting and can make your partner feel like you don’t trust them, so you need to reassure yourself (see tip #1).
Conclusion: Anxious-Ambivalent attachment is a type of insecure attachment that affects many of us. We are driven here by need for love and connection while also fearing loss and abandonment. With our clingy and constant need to be reassured behaviors, our loved ones quickly become exasperated and end up doing what we fear they will do. Leave!. By using the above 4 tips you’re not only learning how to manage your own reactions but also how to take care of yourself and internalize positive messages about your self worth.