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11 Anxious Attachment Triggers and How to Manage Them


Reading time:

8 min


Published on:

Thu Aug 24 2023


Last updated:

Fri Mar 08 2024


Written by:

The Personal Development School

People with an anxious attachment style are very easily triggered. Whether it’s a lack of approval, a sudden change in a partner’s pattern or an incongruency between words and actions, it’s normal for anxiously attached people to be triggered regularly—and for their partner to have no idea what’s going on.

These triggers are due to an underlying fear of abandonment that stem from past traumatic experiences. As a result, people with an anxious attachment style are always looking to be soothed, comforted, and put first by their partners.

Signs of An Anxiously Attached Person

An anxious preoccupied individual (also known as an anxious attachment style) is one of the four types of attachment styles. It is an insecure attachment style that is recognized by the following signs:

-- Constantly needing reassurance from a partner.

-- Codependent behavior. 

-- Being clingy, possessive, and jealous. 

-- Worrying when the partner is being distant or moving away.

-- Intense fears of abandonment. 

-- Struggles to set and maintain healthy boundaries in their relationships. 

-- Having low self-esteem or a sense of self-worth.

-- Consistently craving communication.

-- A "people-pleaser" who worries about the partner's needs over their own.

-- Fear being alone or ending up alone. 

Defining Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Style Triggers

Let's start with a definition first:

Triggers occur when a person, place, feeling, or moment creates an intense emotional response. 

It could be anything from someone acting strangely to any sensory stimulus that allows painful, repressed, or intense memories or feelings to surface. People can feel anything from sadness to anxiety. 

The thing is, triggers vary from person to person because they’re based on our individual experiences; therefore, anything could be a trigger. 

However, depending on attachment styles, we can see what 'causes' -- to some degree -- the emotional triggers.

For anxiously preoccupied people, these triggers come from their fear of abandonment and an insecurity of being undervalued. 

This stems from growing up with an unpredictable parent or caregiver who were inconsistent with their affection and emotions. They would swing from being present to not being there. The child, therefore, doesn't get their basic needs of love, attention, and security.

The result is that APs' triggers all come back to their fear of abandonment and not being valued.

Here are the 11 most common triggers for people with an anxious attachment style—and what to do to support them.

11 Anxious Attachment Triggers

1. A sudden change in communication pattern

People with an anxious attachment style are hypervigilant when it comes to paying attention to details of their relationship and their partner’s actions. So if they notice a pattern change—for example, maybe their partner stops texting them all day long and instead just sends a text at the beginning of the day or the end of the day—this can be triggering.

2. Your partner not being able to read your mind

Thinking your partner should always know when you’re upset is one of the more destructive tendencies in a relationship, but a partner not picking up on a bad mood or a need can be a major trigger for someone with an anxious attachment style.

3. Not receiving a certain answer or firmed up plan from your partner

People with anxious attachment styles always want to feel like they know what to expect from their partner. So if you ask your partner if you’ll be seeing them that weekend and they say something like, “I don’t know if I’m available yet,” this can be extremely triggering.

4. Physical or emotional distance

Whether it’s going away on a trip somewhere or moving away or literal physical distance, like your partner sitting far away from you on the couch or not hugging you when they say you, people with an anxious attachment style are triggered by any kind of distance from their partner.

5. A potential threat to your bond

Maybe your partner has a really good friend, and you’re worried they’re attracted to them, or they’re suddenly really busy at work with a big project and have less time to spend with you. This can be very triggering to someone with an anxious preoccupied attachment style.

6. Feeling dismissed

Feeling dismissed is the opposite of feeling heard and reassured, which is extremely triggering and brings up core wounds for someone with an anxious attachment style.

7. Not feeling wanted or desired

A lack of feeling wanted and desired can feel threatening to someone with an anxious attachment style. But sometimes, the relationship is just evolving, like going from the power struggle phase to the stability phase, for example, and you may confuse stability with a lack of intensity and desire on your partner’s end.

8. Not being soothed by your partner when you need them

People with an anxious attachment style often struggle to self-soothe and self-connect, so they often expect their partner to always be there to soothe them in times of need. When they aren’t there, that can be very triggering for an anxiously attached person.

9. Not feeling like you’re your partner’s highest priority

Should you be one of your partner’s highest priorities? Absolutely. But people with an anxious attachment style often expect to be their partner’s highest priority 100% of the time, and when this isn’t the case, they’re triggered.

10. Not feeling a sense of approval around your actions or behaviors

Core wounds can be triggered by a lack of approval (or perceived lack of approval) in anxiously attached people. They may associate approval with security, so when they don’t receive it, they feel anxious.

11. Your partner not meeting all your needs

Anxiously attached people often expect that they should meet 100% of their partner’s needs and their partner should meet 100% of theirs So when this isn’t the case, it can be triggering.

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How to Manage Anxious Attachment Triggers

Gently ask them to explain why they might be answering texts less often

First, try to figure out if it’s actually a pattern. Are they just having a busy few days at work? If it really does seem to be a pattern, you can try to bring it up to your partner in a non-accusatory way, like asking if they’ve been busier than usual at work. If they provide a valid explanation for why they’ve been in touch less, it’s up to you to let it go and turn to tools for self-validation, such as practicing questioning your stories.

Let your partner know what you need

Remind yourself that your partner will never be able to read your mind and that the very best thing you can do is communicate exactly what you need instead of leaving them guessing. And remind yourself that there’s always a lot going on with people—maybe your partner had a hard day and is in their own head processing something and doesn’t have the space to pick up on a subtle mood shift going on with you. Instead of stomping around the house waiting for them to notice that you’re upset, try saying something direct like “I have something going on that I need you to know about.”

Try to distinguish between a total lack of certainty and an occasional lack of certainty

It’s impossible for your partner to always give you certainty, so it’s important to take a step back and examine whether they’re never giving you any kind of certainty or if it’s an occasional event. If it’s happening occasionally, remember that you’re assigning meaning to it—deciding that they’re abandoning you when that’s not the case at all—and work to ground yourself by questioning your story and reframing the narrative.

Share how and why a sense of distance may be bothering you

Feel free to communicate and try to find a middle ground. Let them know that you’d like to kiss and hug when you see each other for the first time all day and all week, and ask how they feel about that. Hearing their side of the story on why distance may be occurring can help you manage your expectations and avoid crafting false narratives.

Ask for more details on a person (or other force) that’s making you feel threatened

Communicate—in a non-accusatory way. Let them know it’s been hard for you that your partner has been working so much, and ask if there’s a way you two can carve out some special time together on weekends. If you’re threatened by another person, let them know, instead of leaving them guessing and trying to figure it out (remember, they can’t read your mind!).

Work to reprogram core wounds around dismissal

If you’re feeling dismissed in your relationship, remember that you can reprogram some of those core wounds and work toward a more secure attachment style through a variety of tactics. If you don’t know where to start, consider taking Personal Development School’s course on Anxious Preoccupied Attachment.

Remind yourself of the importance of progress

Remember that a relationship can’t progress if you stay stuck in one phase forever and that the “want” your partner has for you may simply be evolving, not fading away.

Let your partner know how you want to be soothed and look for a middleground

Communicate the need to be soothed by your partner so the two of you can keep up with a realistic compromise. You can say to your partner “I really want to be able to rely on you in emotional distress.” Your partner can respond to that with, “I hear that, but there will be times when I’m in the middle of work and my phone’s not on me, or I’m going through it myself.”

By understanding that your partner will try their best but will not always be there, you can work toward developing better self-soothing skills.

Try replacing anxious thoughts with more realistic ones

Remember that while a romantic relationship should be a high priority, life happens and it’s impossible for it to always be the highest priority. Instead of deciding that your partner is abandoning you when they cancel a date because they have to work late, try questioning your story and replacing negative, fearful thoughts with more realistic ones.

Question your story about a lack of approval

Question your story. Does your partner really disapprove of you or something you said or did, or are you imagining it? If they really do disapprove, ask yourself how much it truly matters if they approve of 100% of your actions.

Remind yourself that your partner will never meet all your needs

Remind yourself that this isn’t realistic. Your partner will never be able to meet 100% of your needs, so try to work toward interdependency, which is the opposite of codependency. A securely attached person can enjoy their own company and meet their own needs, but when people are available, they’re excited to spend time with them. Learning to understand and meet your own needs can help you develop healthy strategies so you can enjoy your time alone. If you’re looking for guidance on how to do this, Personal Development School has a course on ending codependency.

Overcoming Your Attachment Style

If you’re anxiously attached and easily triggered, know that this is not your fault. Core wounds are formed in childhood, and they can take a long time to undo. By taking courses with The Personal Development School, you can heal old wounds and see big results in 90 days.

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