Relationship Anxiety, Insecurity, and Attachment | Psychology Today

Well-described dynamic.


Source: Relationship Anxiety, Insecurity, and Attachment | Psychology Today


Butterflies at the start of a new relationship are normal. Hoping the attraction is mutual can be both exciting and distressing.

Yet after the initial courtship phase, if a person continues to feel anxious with a partner, it may be a sign of something different. Unfortunately, many people blame themselves for their anxiety, attributing it to personal insecurities or an insecure attachment style. But this isn’t always the case.

Insecurities are human, and a person’s awareness of his or her insecurities is usually healthy. An individual who realizes and accepts his or her flaws is typically self-aware and insightful. For example, Mia is ashamed of her financial issues. She informs her new partner that she feels inept regarding money management and, recently, scheduled a meeting with a financial advisor. Her new partner understands and supports her decision to try and improve.

On the other hand, a partner who uses insecurities to excuse wrongdoing in a relationship may be problematic. For example, Rachel says to Taylor, “I have trust issues. My last partner cheated on me, so I had a friend follow you to the club to watch you. It’s only because I care.” Utilizing a past hardship to excuse current mistreatment of a partner is a red flag. Playing the victim to evade accountability in a relationship is completely different than owning a deficiency and taking responsibility.

A person may also wonder if his or her attachment style is at the root of anxiety regarding a new relationship. A person who has difficulties trusting a trustworthy partner and who often reacts ultra-defensively, may have an insecure attachment style. Discerning attachment tendencies may be confusing but if a person reflects on several of his or her interpersonal relationships and regularly experiences complicated and uncomfortable emotions such as remorse, conscientiousness, empathy, insight, vulnerability, and self-awareness, he or she may be emotionally astute. Readily admitting fault, experiencing authentic remorse, and taking serious strides to repair a rift in a relationship may further indicate a person operates from a sturdy emotional base. This emotional fortitude usually stems from a secure attachment style.

Thus, if a person is aware of insecurities, and has a secure attachment style, the anxiety may be a result of his or her involvement with an emotionally unavailable partner. An emotionally unavailable partner frequently lacks conscientiousness. Insensitive acts often occur during the dating process and although these instances may seem like small occurrences, they often impact a person emotionally.

In addition, if a partner excuses his or her insensitive gestures, turns the scenario around on the person, and blames him or her for being “too sensitive” or “insecure,” the person may experience intense anxiety. Feeling shame for an intense reaction to a partner’s selfish offense tempts a person to immediately excuse the partner and take on the blame.

For example, Lisa texts her partner, Mike, on Saturday morning, yet Mike does not respond. After a few hours, Lisa begins to feel intense anxiety. She berates herself for feeling anxious. Perhaps Mike had a family emergency or had to go to work, Lisa thinks. She reaches out to a few friends hoping to round up a crew for lunch. Nobody responds. Lisa’s anxiety skyrockets. She worries that Mike stopped caring for her and experiences shame for feeling insecure.

After several hours, Lisa decides to take her mind off the situation by going for a run. As she runs through the downtown area, she sees Mike’s car in front of a brewery. Her stomach drops and she feels intense distress.

When Lisa arrives home, she receives a text from Mike. He indicates he went to brunch and stayed to watch the game. He also tells a funny story about Lisa’s friends teasing the server at the restaurant. Lisa feels nauseous. Her heart races and her hands get clammy. She asks Mike, “Why didn’t you invite me?” Mike casually says, “because you don’t like football. Don’t be upset. Don’t be like that. You are way too sensitive. I have to go. I have dinner plans with Robby.”

Stunned, Lisa tries to maintain perspective. Lisa attempts to see the situation from Mike’s viewpoint. “He isn’t required to invite me to everything,” she tells herself. “Maybe he is trying to get to know my friends because he really likes me,” she thinks. Trying to play it cool, she refrains from mentioning the incident to Mike again. Yet she continues to experience anxiety about Mike and then admonishes herself for feeling insecure and anxious.

The anxiety Lisa experiences in her relationship with Mike is not caused by Lisa’s personal insecurities or an attachment style. It is a result of Mike’s inability to be conscientious in the relationship. Mike only thinks about himself on the day of the game. He lacks empathy for Lisa and fails to consider how much it hurts to be excluded. In addition, Mike refuses to recognize his actions as selfish. He denies accountability, avoids feeling remorse, and turns the scenario back onto Lisa, unfairly accusing her of being “too sensitive.”

Because Mike lacks conscientiousness, self-awareness, empathy, and accountability, the probability that he will hurt Lisa again is strong. Thus, Lisa, fearful of being wounded again, feels anxious. She also doubts herself because she is “too sensitive,” as Mike says. Lastly, Lisa senses Mike’s disapproval and worries about losing his affection.

In Lisa’s situation, it is essential for her to evaluate her capacity for self-awareness, accountability, and empathy in relationships. If she maintains these abilities in other relationships, she is probably not the problem. Her anxiety may be data that her current partner is emotionally unavailable. Remaining with an emotionally unavailable partner not only causes anxiety, but it also dampens a person’s sense of self. The combination may take a toll over time. Confronting the partner and assessing the partner’s motivation to address his or her issues is also critical. A highly motivated partner may be able to improve, but a person should never sacrifice his or her own peace of mind, mental health, and sense of self. If the tendencies continue, it may be necessary to end the relationship.