Anxious attachment can be painful–fear of rejection and loss, constant worry about your partner’s emotions, and low self-esteem. However, while attachment is about our relationships, it is absolutely possible to learn how to self-soothe anxious attachment. Read on for tips from a therapist.
What is anxious attachment?
Anxious attachment is one of four attachment styles first identified by psychologist Mary Ainsworth. Our understanding of attachment styles comes from what psychologists call attachment theory. Here are the key points of attachment theory you need to know to understand how to self soothe anxious attachment:
- Humans are biologically hardwired to connect with our caregivers, because doing so is necessary for us to survive infancy.
- These early relationships to our caregivers act like a roadmap for how we interact with people we love later in life, including our romantic partners.
- The kind of care we receive from our grown-ups as young children informs our understanding of the world: either as a fundamentally safe and secure place where you can trust people to care for you, or as an unsafe place where you need to work hard to get your needs met. This is where we get the idea of the secure attachment style vs. insecure attachment styles (anxious, avoidant, or fearful-avoidant).
- Our attachment style is formed throughout childhood as we learn which behaviors and types of communication are most effective at getting the attention of our caregivers so that we can access the things we need, like connection, food, water, and more.
- Even if your early experiences produced an insecure attachment style (anxious, avoidant, fearful-avoidant), it is possible to learn how to experience secure attachment and enjoy healthier, happier relationships.
To learn more about attachment theory and find out your attachment style, click here.
How to self-soothe anxious attachment
Experiencing anxious attachment can be painful, but there are many ways to help yourself build a more secure attachment style. When I work with clients on their anxious attachment, we’re often thinking together about how we can help them feel more calm, happy, and secure in their partnerships.
Therefore, this first and most important step in learning to self soothe anxious attachment is to build the skills we need to ride out the most painful moments when our anxious attachment flairs up–like when you’re in conflict with your partner, wondering if the person you’re dating will text back, or wondering if your partner is angry with you. This is our in-the-moment work of “distress tolerance.”
Another thing, part of learning to self-soothe anxious attachment is to re-train our nervous system to learn that distance from our partners or uncertainty in our relationships won’t actually kill us (even if it feels like that sometimes.) That means that we have to allow these painful feelings to be with us, while we practice calming our nervous system without seeking reassurance from our partner. Over time, it becomes easier to trust that these feelings won’t stay forever, and that we can trust ourselves.
Ideas to heal anxious attachment
When we are overwhelmed by an anxious attachment flair up it can be difficult to know what will help us feel better. That’s why I recommend clients create a list of options to help re-regulate their nervous systems ahead of time! Be sure that your list involves a few different kinds of options, including tools to…
- Calm your nervous system
- Distract yourself from the situation at hand
- Process your feelings and challenge unhelpful thoughts
- Ideas to help you calm down:
- Practice a progressive muscle relaxation exercise
- Take a walk
- Do jumping jacks for 30 seconds
- Take 10 slow, deep breaths
- Give yourself a butterfly hug
- Hug a pet
- Ideas to distract you from the situation at hand:
- Watch a favorite tv show
- Do a chore
- Play a video game
- Run an errand
- Go to your favorite coffee shop or bakery
- Take a walk
- Ideas to help you process your thoughts and feelings:
- Use the feelings wheel to give what you are experiencing a name
- Call a friend
- Talk yourself through the situation out loud
- If you’re imagining worst case scenarios, challenge yourself to imagine medium-case scenarios as well as the best case scenarios
- Write in your journal
- Talk with a therapist
Still feeling unsure where to start with your self soothing? Read more about how to build a self care playbook.
Learn to ride the waves
Navigating anxious attachment can be painful, but it also doesn’t have to last forever. With the right support in place, everyone can access more peace inside themselves and in their relationships. If you’re struggling with anxious attachment and want someone on your team to guide you through this work, reach out to one of our therapists today.