Attachment and Anxiety: Relationship Problems

I mentioned in a previous post that I suffer from insecurity in relationships because I don’t know how the other person feels towards me. In terms of Attachment Theory this would be described as preoccupied or anxious-preoccupied attachment, characterized by worrying about what others think of you and a need for approval and validation.

In my case I am aware that I have a disposition towards clinginess: I can become dependent on the other person for validation of my self-esteem, sometimes to the point of obsession. Being aware of this does help to a degree because it means I can moderate my impulses. I don’t mean that I’d stalk somebody, following them around everywhere – nothing that scary – but I without that self-restraint I’d quite probably be getting to the point of harassing them with the frequency of contact. This is not good. Obviously it can destroy a relationship if one party is too clingy and constantly seeks reassurance of their worth – it can be very wearing for the other person involved.

The trouble is… even though I am aware of how I am, I still feel insecure; still feel a need for the approval of others. It’s such a good feeling when I receive attention from somebody I care about, and they appear, to me, to reciprocate the friendship. And then, after we go off our separate ways and carry on with our lives, my doubts start to creep in and the insecurity builds: am I reading too much into the relationship? Do they care or were they just being polite? Am I, in reality, just a pain in the ass to them? Are they secretly glad to get away from my clingy behavior? And so it goes on.

I catastrophize (thank you Musings) when I send a text and get no response. The reality is most likely that they are every bit as bad as me when it comes to checking for messages and then remembering to reply when I get the free time to do so, but in my mind I imagine that they are sick to death of being pestered by me, that I’ve offended them, or even that the relationship exists only in my mind. I worry that I am being too demanding for attention and driving them away.

All these negative fantasies are distressing, driving my anxiety and dominating my thoughts to the extent that I struggle to concentrate on anything else. Recently I have begun to work on handling this situation by focusing on the positive facts about the relationship: remembering occasions and incidents that provide evidence of reciprocation. I also regularly remind myself that this negative speculation is groundless, that I have no reason to harbor such doubts. And I also reflect on the fact that somebody as poor at reading others as I am can certainly not draw those worrying inferences with any confidence – I simply do not know for sure how the other person feels and so rather than assume the worst I try to keep a balanced view. It’s not cured my anxiety but it does help prevent the self-destructive downwards spiral.

Now, if I could just work on developing a healthier attachment style I’d be happy! Still, any progress is a help and at least I recognize that a problem exists which is the first step in fixing it.

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5 thoughts on “Attachment and Anxiety: Relationship Problems

  1. I can relate to this. When I was younger I did this a lot more. I was so worried about people not liking me or wanting nothing really to do with me. I thought I was such a "loser" or failure in so many different ways that I attached myself to whomsoever decided they wanted to be my friend, and sometimes those people were no friends at all, simply using me for whatever it was they wanted out of me, be it money, amusement or worse. I didn't know how to "make" friends and when someone paid attention to me it felt like my whole world lit up and I was somebody finally. But as I've gotten older I don't care so much about that. I have grown to love solitude (which I always have) and I have become someone who doesn't cling to people at all. I think perhaps I seem aloof, maybe cold to people. I think that has to do with getting older. I'm in my mid 40's and the older I get, the less I care about how well I fit in with others, whether they like me or not, or if they are truly my friend or not. I count many people as acquaintances and very few as friends. I suppose it's because I've been hurt so many times that I have had to make this adjustment. I have gone from that sort of needing attachment and worrying about what I have said (though sometimes I still do worry about things I say when I realize that it may have not been the best thing to utter in a particular situation)or did that may have been something that breaks down that relationship with the other person. Though I'm not 100% changed in this area of my life, I think I have improved. Maybe I have gone too far the opposite way and have become detached instead of attached in a healthy manner to people around me. I'm not sure. I do love to get attention (in small doses) because it does feel good. I think that is very human. All humans need some sort of attention, preferably positive.I love my husband and my son so much and I would not be able to get through life without them, I do know that. I get most of the attention I need through them and I hope I give them an equal amount as well. Those are the two relationships in my life that I wish to be the most careful with. Though, I have to admit that right now, I am worried about how much I've written here and if I've gone over the proper quota for a comment on a blog or if I've written things that may be misconstrued or sound cold. Well, Ben, I guess I still do have a bit of an issue with the worry part of it all. I hope you can find the balance you seek for this aspect of your life. It can be incredibly rough feeling that anxiety and self doubt. Best wishes for you on this particular journey.

  2. Thank you Bird. I have no problem with long comments; on the contrary I appreciate the time and thought that has gone into a detailed response. And no, it doesn't sound cold to me, but then coming from the same place I can identify with what you've written.Finding a balance is the key to my efforts on this front as I actively work on reducing my anxiety by concentrating on the known positive aspects of my relationships and attempting to downplay or dismiss entirely the groundless, irrational fears borne of my insecurity. It's no use worrying about something that quite probably isn't even true.One thing I do need to apply more effort to is to give my wife more attention in forms that matter to her which are not the same forms that I have a need for. It's that last key point that I struggle with – there might be a future blog post on the subject once I've figured it out enough to reach understanding.

  3. Yes, that's true. My husband and I do sometimes struggle with figuring out the type of attention each other needs because our needs can be quite different. We even struggle with gift giving for one another and we've known each other for six years. What has worked pretty well for us is telling each other what he or I need in a certain situation (if possible) and so on, though sometimes there is this silent hope that there will be instant understanding without having to say anything, especially when speech is difficult. That can get us in trouble at times. We both have been guilty of it. We have really had to work on this over the years.

  4. My wife and I have been together over ten years and that instant understanding can happen… but it has taken a lot of work and experience to reach that point, even occasionally. We still have some communication issues, mostly when I get withdrawn, or when she becomes highly emotional. The latter still overloads me with its intensity, but unfortunately that is precisely when she is less attuned to my state of mind.Another area where our communication has needed learning effort on both sides is that she tends towards figurative description and hyperbole while I am resolutely literal. One of the keys for me has been to summarize what I believe she meant, and ask for any clarification I might require.

  5. Pingback: That Was The Year That Was | Married, With Aspergers

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