The Causes of Anxious Attachment Style and How to Heal it After Divorce

If you’ve been around for a minute, you will have heard me say that I believe attachment theory is one of the biggest contributing factors to divorce.

Understanding and knowing your attachment style massively improves your chances of having a sustainable marriage that is rewarding, fulfilling, and feels good.

So, let’s dig into what an anxious attachment style looks like and how and why it came to be.

What is Anxious Attachment Style?

In their early years, humans are one of the most vulnerable species. For instance, hours after they’re born, horses can get up and run away. Humans, on the other hand, cannot. We are massively dependent on our caretakers – from being able to feed ourselves to being able to elude our prey. It’s not until we’re seven or eight years old that parts of our brain come online.

Example of an Anxious Attachment Style

Think about how much a caregiver has to provide for an infant. You understand why a baby would start to feel a sense of insecurity because of how dependent it is.

Take a moment and think about how it feels for you to be dependent on people.

I had a 20-minute conversation with producer Joy this week about which person I should ask to pick my kid up from school because I didn’t want to feel like a burden.

a mother in knit jacket is holding a baby in a towel, The Causes of Anxious Attachment Style and How to Heal it After Divorce

There are a lot of factors that affect a caregiver’s ability to provide consistent care early on. One of them happens to be feelings of overwhelm. Think about how many parents are juggling jobs, as well as parenthood, and think about how many parents are juggling multiple children, plus jobs, plus parenthood.

It is hard to be consistent and appropriate when a dependent child needs something.

What do I mean by that?

Many times, the baby cries, and you feel exhausted. You feel frustrated. You feel angry. You feel angry at your husband. And therefore, you go pick up your baby, and you’re angry when you pick up the crying baby. And maybe it has nothing to do with the baby, but you’re angry. This is not an appropriate response.

A caregiver’s ability to be attuned to their baby is what gives the baby a sense of security. When we think about parents like myself, who were traumatized or who had things going on, it affects the way we connect and bond with our babies. You may still be in the process of treating your own complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

mother with brown long hair, white shirt and beige pants laying on bed with her baby, The Causes of Anxious Attachment Style and How to Heal it After Divorce

attachment styles

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How an Anxious Attachment Style Develops

There is an approach to parenting when we’re taught to let babies cry it out and learn how to self-soothe. It’s a hugely polarizing topic right, but for the most part, I would say that when you put that over the lens of attachment theory, that’s largely not a great idea.

Over time, we women want to help our children learn how to self-soothe and regulate. But it’s an unrealistic expectation for babies to be able to do that.

You think about the course of human development; we’ve slept in rooms together as families for a very, very long time, and the amount of disconnect we experience in modern living is too much.

We function so much better in a community. We are wired for love and belonging. We do well when we are in proximity to a community.

Even my dogs don’t like to sleep alone.

As mammals, we want to be close. We want to be sure of each other.

So, when a baby has experienced inconsistent responsiveness from a caregiver, these particular conditions create an anxious attachment style.

The baby develops an adaptive way of relating to their caregiver, which is, “I am going to be more needy to make sure I get my needs met more consistently.” And so that anxious style would be developed not just with the primary caregivers, but also with teachers, nannies, or siblings.

That anxiousness looks like clinginess or neediness.

a woman sitting on her desk holding her white kitten up with both hands

How to Fix an Anxious Attachment Style

Scan in your mind and body and notice, is there a part of you that wants to be close? This is me.

I want best friends where I can just pop over to their house and climb in their bed with them. That’s classic anxious attachment-style language.

I want this amount of closeness that, in many instances, might not be completely appropriate. This is where the emotional support animal has come from. Anxious attachers who long to be close to someone function well with emotional support animals because someone is always there.

Understanding Your Brain Map

If you’ve ever had a thought that you want to be closer to people and you’re aware that that makes them uncomfortable, or if you’ve ever been accused of being needy or you’ve ever become aware that you feel a bit needy, these are all classic attachment style issues – especially in your life after divorce.

Our brains are mapped and are very neuroplastic, meaning they can be shifted and changed, especially from ages zero to seven.

In your brain, there is a map that says, “Loved ones are not always consistent, and I must overcome that by being ever present and needy.”

But a brain map can be shifted because we women understand that it comes from a set of beliefs and expectations from early childhood that was before you had language for any of this. It’s all energy.

As a baby, you don’t know the words the caregivers are saying. You’re noticing their facial expressions. You’re learning to notice their tone of voice. You’re noticing their body language. All of that is experienced by the infant on an energetic level. They’re not putting language to, “My caregiver doesn’t want me” or “I’m not a good enough baby.” The baby either feels at ease and safe or tense or wound up, in response to their environment.

woman with pink sweater is holding up her hands, practicing EFT tapping

Tools to Heal an Anxious Attachment Style

The divorce healing tools we use to heal anxious attachment styles will help us find a healthier way of attaching to people.

These tools create a greater sense of security inside of oneself, tools to shift the beliefs and expectations that have been internalized on a subconscious level.

For this, we talk about journaling, EFT tapping, and EMDR.

Healing an Anxious Attachment Style with Homeopathy

The most profound thing I have seen to help shift attachment style is homeopathy because homeopathy is energy medicine.

It cuts through what we think of as memory and what we think of as language, and it goes to our energetic core.

I know that it can truly change the course of how we’re experiencing relationships in the world after divorce.

Recognizing Codependency

Codependency is the perception that you can’t function outside of a relationship.

“If this relationship feels threatened to me right now, I feel threatened right now.”

It’s almost like an anxious attacher never develops the awareness that you can do things and you no longer rely on attachment figures to provide all of your needs.

Giving Friends Space

Let’s think about how an anxious attacher would behave in friendships. You would be the friend that needs them to respond to your text messages. Even if you don’t ask for the response, you’re thinking, “ Oh, did I do something wrong? Oh god. She’s mad at me.”

Stopping Being a Helicopter Mom

The anxious attacher as a parent is more of a helicopter parent.

Anxious attachers have a harder time letting their kids go to have adventures and try new things, make their own mistakes, and become independent.

woman with curly brown hair sitting on a bed with white bed sheets, holding her hands in front of her eyes, her partner is laying in bed, looking to the side

What is the Anxious Avoidant Attachment Style?

Ironically, anxious attachers have a strong likelihood of attracting either an avoidant detacher or a disorganized detacher because they will most similarly mirror what they experienced as an infant – someone who was not consistently available.

It’s called the anxious-avoidant paradox. The idea is that the anxious person attracts the very thing that perpetuates their anxiety. It’s massively important to know this when we women consider how we live, love, parent, and relate to the people who are closest to us in our lives – especially in how we start dating and attracting future partners.

Book “The Attachment Effect” by Peter Lavenheim

The Attachment Effectby Peter Lavenheim is a beautifully written book where Peter walks through his journey of understanding his attachment style.

In the book, when Peter is sitting with a mental health professional who is assessing Peter’s attachment style, the evaluator says, “I sense that you have an ‘earned secure’ attachment style.”

book “The Attachment Effect” by Peter Lavenheim

What is an Earned Secure Attachment Style?

I never heard that phrase before. It knocked my socks off. An earned secure attachment style honors and acknowledges that you did not grow up with a secure attachment style. This was not a brain map that was available to you based on early childhood experiences. However, through a series of events of therapy and examination of your expectations, beliefs, and relationships and an intention of overcoming those early childhood experiences, you can develop an earned secure attachment style.

That gives us so much hope about our ability to heal our relationships after divorce, but also optimism for ourselves as people. And it’s not easy to do. It’s vulnerable work.

Vulnerability is one of the most massive components that’s needed to help shift your attachment style.

What are the Benefits of an Anxious Attachment Style?

Let’s talk for a minute about the benefits of an anxious attachment style because pretty much everything that exists has some evolutionary purpose. What is the evolutionary purpose of having an anxious attachment style? We know that anxious attachment styles have a strong radar for threats, danger, or something that feels off.

You’re the baby in the crib and you’re trying to perceive, “Will I get my needs met? I don’t know. Let me read the room. Let me read the vibe of this caregiver.”

So anxious attachers are really good sentinels in our society. They’re good at calling our attention to threats and dangers that are happening in the world around us.

And so frequently, because anxious attachers are anxious, they get a bad rap for being neurotic.

But the reality is that they are good at pointing out the flaws in the fabric of our society that are concerning and need to be shifted.

When anxious attachers say, “Something’s off here,” there’s a good chance that something is off because they’re good at reading energy.

Whether or not we call this a highly sensitive person or someone intuitive or empathic, there’s a strong correlation between anxious attachers and being highly sensitive.

woman with long brown hair and white sweater, biting her nails and looking fearful, representing Anxious Attachment Orientation. The Causes of Anxious Attachment Style and How to Heal it After Divorce

Now, the downside is that you may not always have the healing tools to regulate your nervous system because when you’re anxious, you don’t always have a clear strategy for resolving a problem. A lot of times, the anxious attacher’s automatic solution is fight, flight, freeze, or fawn – not necessarily a grounded strategy for resolving conflict or creating safety or security.

Someone who had an anxious attachment orientation would have a great read on a situation but, as an earned secure person, would have a healthier approach to resolving conflict and creating a sense of security for themselves and the people around them.

You can overcome anxious attachment styles. Use the divorce healing tools. Be vulnerable. You’ve got this.

Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins

...helps people crack open. Challenging the status quo, she integrates multiple modalities from EMDR to EFT tapping, journaling, homeopathy, and movement, embracing remedies that heal both the mind and body. Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins is on a mission to deliver life-changing therapy in an accessible, scalable, affordable way and make waves in the world of mental health with the same enlightenment that happens in her office. Part science, part essential oils, pure magic.

attachment styles

Answer the Questions Popping Up...

Has all this talk of attachment styles left a few, ermmm, questions? Get the guide that walks you through the exact questions I’d ask you to help nudge your next step… especially if you’re worrying about an attachment issue in your life.

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