This article is the second in a four-part series about attachment styles. These four styles are a component of attachment theory, a psychological model that attempts to articulate how people connect with and relate to one another. Our individual attachment style is determined shortly after birth, based on the child-parent relationship. The pattern continues to shape and influence our social relationships with our family, friends, and romantic partners. Read our article on secure attachment, and stay posted for articles on dismissive-avoidant attachment and fearful-avoidant attachment to come.

As opposed to secure attachment, which we explored in the first part of this series, anxious-preoccupied attachment is a form of insecure attachment. It corresponds with the anxious-ambivalent attachment style demonstrated in children. Adults with anxious-preoccupied attachment style tend to exhibit contradictory behaviour. They seek high levels of intimacy and a sense of security from their parent, but they adopt clingy or possessive behaviours which drive the romantic partner away.


Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment Style in Childhood

This style, also known as anxious-resistant insecure attachment, is most often seen in children who endured abusive experiences. The parent is often unpredictably responsive, unreliable, and does not represent a secure base. The child is highly distressed when the parent or primary caregiver departs, and she/he is ambivalent when the parent returns. The child struggles to explore on his or her own, and is wary of strangers. The child both seeks the comfort and support of the parent, but also shows resistance and anger because of the unreliability of the parent.


Characteristics of Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment Style

People with this attachment style tend to be more anxious, as the term implies, and have a lower self-perception than securely attached people. Their level of anxiousness decreases as their partner is in closer contact, and increases when their partner is at a distance. They are preoccupied with finding a secure bond, to the point that they become overly dependent on their partners. They are self-doubtful and demonstrate high levels of impulsiveness.


Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment in Adults

People with anxious-preoccupied attachment seek what is known as a “fantasy bond.” They seek an imitation of real love, trust, respect, and honesty. They do not view themselves as equal to their partner, but instead want the partner to rescue them, solve their problems, or fill in their emotional gaps.

Anxious-preoccupied attachment style is associated with many contradictory behaviours that combine to erode the stability of the relationship. As a result, they often demonstrate destructive behaviours that push the partner away. They may be demanding, clingy, and possessive. They may be insecure, desperate, and needy. They crave a sense of security and safety, yet feel entirely doubtful that they are worthy or doubt their partner’s commitment. They try to forestall rejection by validating their own fears about their partner’s lack of interest in or commitment toward them.

Speak with your Ottawa therapist if you would like to learn more about this or any other attachment type.