Menu

Why You Feel Anxious In Relationships and How To Stop

“I was feeling insecure you might not love me anymore.” ~John Lennon

After doing years and years of self-esteem work, I thought I was fairly well adjusted and secure. I thought I was fairly confident, self-assured, and not at all needy. But all that changed when I got into my recent relationship.

My subtle thought pattern of fear, distrust, projection, and unhappiness started creeping in. Again? Seriously? I thought I was past all that.

As it turns out my attachment disorder runs much deeper than I thought it did. What about yours? I mentioned attachment theory in one of my previous posts, but to elaborate…

Are You Insecure?

Attachment theory was first developed by John Bowlby in the 1960’s. This is an evolutionary theory of attachment, which suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others (caregivers) because this allows them to survive, and the way in which you attach during childhood becomes the prototype for all future attachments.

Bowldy asserts that there are three fundamental types of attachments which include secure, avoidant, and anxious attachment.

If you are secure, you probably aren’t reading this. Someone who is securely attached had a parent who was fairly stable and secure in meeting their needs. Because of this, as they become adults they assume other adults will meet their needs, so they do not suffer from relationship anxiety.

Secure individuals tend to be happier and more content in their relationships because they are acting and reacting from a secure place, which allows each partner to move freely within the world. They're able to offer support to their partners and are more open and honest in their interactions

If you are avoidant, you may or not be reading this because often those who avoid intimacy often avoid introspection. If you are avoidant, you keep people at a distance and believe that you don’t really need others to exist in the world. Those who are avoidantly attached had a parent who was not really attentive to their needs, so the child learned to just avoid seeking reassurance.

Avoidant individuals tend to emotionally distance themselves from a partner. They believe they are better off alone (even if in a relationship) and live in an internal world where their needs are most important. Even avoidant individuals need connection, but when their partner looks to them for comfort they turn off their feelings and fail to react.

However, if you are at all anxious or insecurely attached, like I am, you are probably going to read this and say, “A Ha!” and a light bulb may even go off over your head. If you are anxiously attached, then you feel anxiety when your partner is separated from you or you do not feel emotionally reassured by them.

Anxious attachment derives from a parent who was emotionally and/or physically unavailable, non-responsive, and/or possibly intrusive.

People with anxious attachment are desperate to form a bond, but don’t actually trust their partner to meet their needs, so when their partner fails to assuage every emotion they have, they blame their partner or become jealous or critical. This often prompts their partner to distance themselves, thereby reinforcing their belief that they are not lovable.

Anxiously attached individuals continually seek external validation, as if still looking to that parent to soothe them and make them feel secure in the world. The problem with this is that it’s too much of burden for a romantic partner to carry and it isn’t their job.

Let’s Focus

I’m going to focus on anxious attachment and especially pre-occupied anxious attachment.

Let me ask this:

Are you pre-occupied with what you are or are not getting from your partner?

Are you self-critical?

Do you constantly seek approval and reassurance?

If your partner doesn’t react the way you think they should, do you blame or become upset?

Do you always anticipate your partner rejecting you, losing interesting, or abandoning you?

Do you continually worry and obsess and not really trust them? If so, this is you.

This is me.

I have known that I was anxious for a while now and I have known and read about attachment theory, but I never really understood the depths to which it had inhabited my life, my thoughts, and my behaviors. I can’t explain why, but suddenly it all became so clear.

I don’t recall my infant years, but I do recall that when I turned four or five my mom pretty much left me alone. I could walk and talk and feed myself. She had things to do. I started playing next door at the neighbor’s house. He had toys and games and a swing. He had a hopscotch and candy and wood-making tools. We played. He paid attention to me. He also molested me.

When I was eight or so, my mom went back to work and left my sister and me alone. A friend of the family started coming over while she was gone. He also molested me.

But what does the molestation have to do with the attachment, you ask? I never really got it until now. Being left alone and being ignored by someone who was supposed to care for me literally put me in physical and emotional danger.

So, every time I get into a romantic relationship and I start to feel ignored (whether imagined or real), I freak out. I start to get palpitations. My brain starts to flood with thoughts and emotions. I start seeking reassurance.

For years I learned to push the feelings down and to ignore them.

What I didn’t realize is that you can’t do that. There is a thing called “primal panic,” which sets in when you are anxiously attached and not getting your needs met. What I didn’t know or understand is that when I feel ignored, my brain goes into “fight or flight” mode in order to protect itself. My brain believes it’s going to be taken advantage again and my body starts reacting.

Although I can logically understand this is not true, my brain does not subconsciously know it to be true and reacts accordingly.

What Happened

What this meant was that every infraction from my partner, every sense of injustice, every wrong step or every interpretation of a wrongdoing, no matter how slight, I met with a intolerability that I had no idea I was even imposing on my partner.

I would be so preoccupied with feeling better and getting them to make me feel better that I’d spend all my time and energy obsessing about how to get my needs met. And if they weren’t met properly, I would blame them and start to label them “untrustworthy.”

Think about it. If you haven’t heard from your partner in a day or so, do you automatically start thinking, “He/she doesn’t love me,” or “I knew he/she would do this,” or “I knew this would happen again”? Do you constantly think about what your partner isn’t giving you and what you aren’t getting?

Do you become calm and happy when your partner reassures you only to become anxious and insecure the minute you feel something is off or you feel you are being ignored or disrespected?

All of these things were (okay, sometimes still are) me in a nutshell.

The problem with all these feelings and behaviors is that they keep you from realizing true intimacy because you are living in fear and anxiety, and you may not even consciously realize it. You are living as if you are still that child who's going to get hurt. But, guess what? You aren’t.

How to Fix It

Once I realized how this pattern was affecting my life, I knew I had to change it but I wasn’t sure how. I started doing some research. I read a few books including Insecure in Love.

One day I woke up and it had been two days since I had heard from my boyfriend. My body started going into panic mode. Where was he? Doesn’t he care? How can he do this? Maybe I should just leave him. My body and mind were going into panic mode. Anxiety set in. What should I do?

I tried some meditation but I couldn’t stop thinking and my heart wouldn’t stop racing. I decided to sit with the anxiety and think about why I was feeling anxious. What did I really feel? Why was I so anxious? Where was this coming from?

As I sat there and began to go deeper into the true meaning of my anxiety, I realized that I was literally feeling scared that someone would come hurt me. I was scared of being physically and emotionally alone and having no one there to rescue me. I realized that his ignoring me had triggered this subconscious belief that I’ve been holding onto that I never knew was there.

Then, I cried. I cried because I was scared. I was actually really petrified. Then, I told myself, “You’re okay. You will be okay. You are not there anymore. You are safe.” I cried and I reassured myself, and when I stopped and it was over the anxiety had lifted.

I had faced my fears. I had felt my pain and I had released it. I don’t think it will be gone forever, but it is gone for today and that is a good start.

Keep Trying

I thought I had dealt with all of this anxiety and insecurity stuff. I thought it was gone and buried. I thought I had made inroads into my new relationship and that because I had attracted a seemingly secure individual, it meant I was all better. Surprise! Insecurity was still running my life.

But, once I realized this to be true I made a vow that I would do whatever it takes to beat this insecurity over the head and run it out of my life.

I realized that if I kept going the way I was I would eventually push every boyfriend out of my life, and that I would never find a partner I was happy and content with. The truth can hurt.

I also realized that I’m not a bad person. I’m not mean or insincere or ruthless. I’m scared. I have a biological response to a real experience. I learned this coping mechanism to help me survive and it did its job, but its time has come and it needs to retire.

If you are insecurely attached and seek constant external validation and approval to feel good about yourself, how long do you think your partner will put up with it? It isn’t their job to make you feel better about yourself. Yes, they can and should support you and be encouraging, but you have to learn to support and encourage yourself.

If you want to find true love you have to learn to love yourself, as cheesy as that sounds, and if you are anxiously attached you also have to learn to calm yourself, reassure yourself, and comfort yourself. The past is over and you cannot change it, but the future has not yet occurred.

Do you want to be your own worst enemy or your own best friend? You decide. I know my answer.

About Carrie L. Burns

Carrie L. Burns is a blogger on a mission of self-discovery. As a sexual abuse survivor that struggled for years with depression anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of self-love, and relationship issues, she found her purpose through writing and sharing her story with others. Check out her other writing at www.acinglife.com.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • DB Hoster

    Wow, Carrie. I thank you a million billion times for sharing this. Of all the self-help work I have done and read, I had not come across much about anxious attachment. However, your story sounds uncannily similar mine (abandoning mother who had 3 other babies in quick succession after me and was pregnant – and unavailable – my entire toddlerhood – an absent father – and a molesting step-brother.) Your story helps me piece together the puzzle I’ve been working on for decades re: why none of my relationships, one being a marriage to a soulmate, did not work out, even though I loved deeply. I absolutely did Not want to end the relationships however, I have always known I pushed them away when my fear came to an apex in the relationship. I am reading John Bradshaw and have begun my inner child work this year and I will also be looking at the book you recommended in the article. Again, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this article. Sending you healing vibes and positive thoughts today.

  • Carrie Burns

    You are so welcome. The amazing thing is that you recognize the pattern and are willing to change…sounds like you are on the right path. Sending positive thoughts back to you!

  • Pooja Raghav

    Much needed …. Love from india

  • Carrie Burns

    Thanks Pooja!

  • Megan Jugthaw

    Dear Carrie.
    You are a God-send.
    Your story is so relatable, I feel like we are the same person. You just described every feeling I thought nobody else had and explained why I have them at the same time. My heart goes out to you, thank you for speaking up about this.
    I truly believe that one of your sole purposes in this earth is to encourage and strengthen more people who may be weaker than you.
    I pray that God blesses you abundantly and you can seek refuge in our great Comforter.
    Big hugs and sincere thanks for your help today.

  • Mitzi Junie Gorman

    Brilliant that is/was me! My partner is very understanding and reliable and I’m learning to self date at the moment

  • Melayahm

    Wow. This is me, though also the avoidant version, keeping a distance to be ready for the hurt, the being left. There are nights when I catastrophise and it’s like being in an out of control hamster wheel. Keep waiting for my partner of 22 years to get fed up with it and the passive aggressiveness and leave.

  • Sage

    Wow. I am freaking out. This is me. 42 painful years of me, wondering what the hell is wrong with me. Why do I make such a big deal about everything? Why does everything he does hurt me? Why am I always dissatisfied? Why did I meet the love of my life and I’m still so anxious and unhappy? We moved in together a year ago and it has been even worse, and that made zero sense to me. I see now he is Avoidant. This article comes just as I’ve pushed him away far enough that I don’t know if it is salvageable and I am anxious all the time trying to fix it. I just sent him this link. Moo, my love, I am sorry. It isn’t your job to make me feel better about myself. I have some work to do – but I can do it. Blame my volatile, abusive mother! Just kidding haha (kind of

  • Pip

    I am in a relationship with someone who reacts much like you did in your story. I would like to know what I can do to help my friend feel secure without exhausting me. I care deeply for this person and want to stay in the relationship. How do I keep my needs met and help this person trust me at the same time?

  • Carrie Burns

    Hi Pip-Good question. I think you need to be supportive, but also state your boundaries. In part they are going to have to recognize for themselves that they are insecure and constantly seeking external validation. For you-tell them you are there for them and you aren’t leaving, but that you can’t be their sole source of support.

  • Carrie Burns

    You are so welcome Sage. Really, the only way to stop it is to learn to parent yourself (not an easy task) and begin to focus on meeting your own needs first – in a healthy fashion. Pushing someone away is fear based (i get it-I have done this over the years myself). Find a way to become grounded in yourself. Therapy. Books…or the pattern will keep repeating unfortunately.

  • Carrie Burns

    I get you. I vascillate between insecurity and avoidance. It is a TERRIBLE place to live. Your partner stays because they have their own issues…no one person is every to blame as it takes two. But, you can only work on your side of the street. Good luck 🙂

  • Carrie Burns

    Just keep going! This life is a journey-not a race (although sometimes it seems like a meat grinder)….Keep it up!

  • Pip

    Thank you, I did that a few days ago, sadly it was not well received. It pains me to see so many people hate themselves like this. The tears and fear from this sort of insecurity is amazingly sad. I will continue to support this person as long as I can. People deserve to feel good about who they are, whether in a relationship or not.
    thanks again

  • Carrie Burns

    I’m sorry to hear that…but you also should not sacrifice yourself to be in the relationship. When we attract a partner there is a reason…they are a mirror to ourselves and our issues so the question is why you have chosen someone who is insecure…

  • Julie

    This gave me chills, tears and hope… as his is me! The fear you described is very familiar to me, thanks for the reminder that I’m safe in those moments.

  • Helen

    This is so me it’s scary. It’s so hard to describe the body’s blind panic in that situation but this describes it absolutely. I ALWAYS rush to the ‘OMG I’ve done something wrong!’ place as the answer to why my friend appears to have disappeared or is not as warm right now etc. I KNOW it’s a very young place in me that get’s activated then but how to stop it appearing real right now? Very difficult and effects my every moment until things seem ‘fine’ again or there was a rational ‘explanation’.

  • Carrie Burns

    It can be really frightening I know!

  • Carrie Burns

    You are and you will be Julie 🙂

  • David Krachenfels

    I seem to be the “Anxious” one and the love of my life seems to be somewhere between Secure and Avoidant!
    I think that opposite is what has kept us apart all these years but now that I realize it, I can work at it. 🙂

  • lv2terp

    Great post!!! That has been something I have been working on and had characterized as codependency, but you described me to a “t” and it being anxious attachment…thank you for helping guide me to the right path with this so I can continue my healing/improvement! 🙂

  • Carrie Burns

    Thank you so much Megan! I believe you are right! I’m so happy my post spoke to you….Much love

  • Carrie Burns

    You can David! Check out the book I recommended…has a lot of insight. Good luck!

  • Carrie Burns

    Anytime! As long as you are on the right path you can’t do much more 🙂

  • Susan Reed

    Very insightful! Though I have not suffered physical abuse, neglect permeated my life. Indeed, you have to love yourself before you really know what love is. Then you can love others.

  • LaVonne Madrigal

    AH HA! This article was like reading about my childhood, all of it and I had an AH HA moment as to why and then HOW I need to change this pattern. Thank you for posting/sharing/giving me this gift! I know it will take time to heal and grow but I also know I want it, am worth it and will do whatever it takes to break this cycle.

  • Hey, Carrie!
    After hanging out with a friend today, I reflected on how I acted. I’m the type of person who avoids a situation where I’m in a position to be vulnerable, which is why I don’t prefer one on one interactions. I’m much more comfortable in a group because when it’s time to be all “soft” and talk about feelings, it’s easier to move the attention to someone else.
    The content on your article resonates with me heavily because growing up, I had absentee parents.
    They were gone most of the time so they could work on their business. We were very poor back then, and I very much appreciate their hard work and am grateful for it, but I had no idea that the consequences of absentee parents would carry on this far into adulthood.
    My parents and I have the occasional small talk. I’m not entirely quiet around them, but I was just so used to them being gone (now they’re more present after their business started doing well), I don’t allow them to know me at a deeper level.
    Same with my friends, too.
    The only ones I allow to break my walls are romantic partners. So, it’s really limited.
    I have someone romantically in my life now and I laughed when you said that whenever they’re gone for some time, you suddenly look inwards and your insecurity gets worse.
    I couldn’t agree more!
    I didn’t know it was coming from my anxious attachment.
    Although I’m doing my best to combat that now, you’re right, it won’t disappear forever, but we should do what we can to make it weaker whenever it comes. 🙂

  • elarue

    Hi, Carrie. I can relate a lot to you, this is very insightful and it helps me a lot. However, quite often I have found out things like this about myself, and even though I became aware of them, I have found it really difficult to avoid the undesirable anxiety/panic attacks when something triggers them. Do you have any advice on that?

  • Vincent

    Thank you. I’m anxiously attached and this was very much me. Even with friends. I worry and I panic, and then I try to wall myself off even if I don’t want to because that way I won’t feel anxious or worry, but this ends up with me feeling worse because it’s much more difficult to try and get back in touch with people again even though I want to more than anything.

    Can anyone else relate to this?

  • Carrie Burns

    I only become this way in romantic relationships, but the anxiety is real. Maybe try to sit with the feelings one day and let them wash over you…..be with them. Try not to like them or deny them..

  • Carrie Burns

    Hi there. I tend to either have anxiety or feel nothing. Both suck. I’m learning that the root cause of all of these problems (for me) is pushing down my true feelings. Maybe don’t avoid it? For me even breathing and trying to talk myself out of it doesn’t work either. Ask yourself why you are feeling the way you feel…keep asking…but more than that you have to feel it in your body. That is where the truth is. Good luck!

  • Carrie Burns

    All you can do is your best. I have learned to be totally self reliant so letting someone in is the scariest thing on the planet….but the truth is the truth and we can only work on our side of the street and hope our partner can accept us and if they can’t they aren’t the right partner.

  • Carrie Burns

    You are worth it! I’m at the point where I am doing the same. I”m going to be starting RTT (rapid transformational therapy) on Monday and plan to write a weekly blog post about the affects and if it works. Keep posted!

  • Carrie Burns

    Thank you Susan!

  • Jaidpreto

    Funny how things can show up right on time. I’m in the best relationship of my life and just last night, I confronted my partner with “the recurring talk” – what’s wrong, you seem less interested, I think I’m boring you, you do ___ less than before, why, etc. This came out after a few days of anxiety, berating myself for being just not enough and trying to emotionally distance myself to prepare for the blow of my partner inevitably leaving me. It’s exhausting and annoying. After more reassurances that feelings haven’t changed (they are aware of my anxiety), I apologized for being broken and although I’m trying not to injure us with the sharp edges. I didn’t unstand how I was broken but this article hit the nail on the head! Thank you. Hopefully awareness will be a start to end the sad cycle.

  • john smith

    This is me…strangely I havent always been the anxious one in relationships….but only feel it in my current one. The stress and anxiety I feel in the middle of my chest is so bad….and the occasional panic attack. How do I really beat it? I guess try to relax when a trigger comes along. yes I feel ignored at times especially when trying to get her to agree to what we will do the weekend and I get little response….I need so much physical affection …its so difficult. She is a secure/avoidant I think, but certainly a secure personality or at least acts this way…I read the book….no clear method to get over this or manage it…..what do I actually do?

  • Jill Lim

    I just lost the love of my life after 13mths of testing his patience with countless flip flops between being obsessive and avoidant. I have drained him mentally and emotionally. I’ve pushed him away countless times but he would always find his way back to me but not this time. Saw him yesterday after 1wk of no contact and he said he got used to life without me, one that’s less turbulent and able to focus on work and family. My heart broke and I know this time he has finally stopped trying to come back. He has managed to quit the vicious cycle. But how could he move on, adjust within a week when we had a roller coaster 13mths together?! When it was high, we knew our love was once in a lifetime type. How could he now look into my eyes without a tinge of attachment?

    Every other day I would be attacked by anxiety/insecurity/constant validation/fear of being abandoned/dwell on the negative/ feeling the extreme and switched into avoidant mode at the slightest trigger.

    What shall I do now to get him back??? I’m feeling so awful. Isn’t this what I wanted when I always tell him enough is enough, let’s end and cut off all contact! He obliged this time and I am crying my heart out, in state of disbelief…

  • Jill Lim

    If you are insecurely attached and seek constant external validation and approval to feel good about yourself, how long do you think your partner will put up with it? ….. 13 months and he’s not coming back this time

  • Jill Lim

    The inevitable has finally happened to me and I’m so heart broken… why didn’t I cherish him when he had been there to withstand the shit I had given to him when I was under anxiety attack

  • sallybe

    Yes please!

  • Sukhada Bhagat

    When I was in 9th I met my true love or I thought it was.I was crushing on him for at least 6 months.I started to forget him at that time he proposed me and my feelings blossomed up.It when good but I had a feeling he was cheating and didn’t really care and just using me. After a year I don’t even really know why the breakup happend. He just message me that we are breaking up . After that I never really tried getting to a new relationship. But recently a guy told me about his feelings for me and was not interested in him so I told him no and that’s when my anxiety symptoms showed up. I don’t know what to do and how to deal with this. I even don’t know which type of anxiety is this. Please reply if you know anything about this. Please

  • Abhishree

    Hi carrie, Thanks for this post. Can you elaborate how you have almost overcome it. I would be grateful if you share the mechanism you discovered that worked for you i.e., self-talk, meditation or how like how did you come over this behaviour. I am on a verge of spoiling a very beautiful relationship and cant get around to tame the insecurity.

  • Tom Vanormelingen

    So Jill, how are things going now?

  • Jill Lim

    No good… 3 mths of lame NC, still miserable

  • Debbie

    Yes, very much so. I am terrified of being hurt again but figure I’m better off alone (even if just mentally) than being vulnerable to the pain of rejection. It’s all making sense now. Understanding it helps a great deal.

  • Billy Dailey

    Carrie, what attachment style is your partner. Your situation growing up was exactly mine unfortunately.

  • Kevin Jones

    Thanks, Carrie. You’re wonderful.

  • Kayla

    I’m currently in this predicament. I feel so bad that my internal issues ruined our relationship. Has anything changed for you in terms of feeling better yet?

  • Marisa Holguin

    I guess this is me…I’m currently in a online relationship with my crush and I want to trust, love, and feel wonderful to be with him. But ever since what happened to me 10 years back with a friend of mine back in high school and I was broken by him, leaving me depressed for 4 years…and being single and being left again by other boys who said they loved me, but left me because of reasons they can’t explain, but they say: it’s not you, it’s me… this online mostly are the relationships I was in after the real one with my friend, which I was never wanting but, it happened….and I’m kinda noticing my relationship anxiety is hitting me pretty badly..and I tend to want to hide from my crush or be distant… which I know I can’t do for that long. I notice my anxiety or thoughts go to; am I even worthy for him”. ” I think he be better off with someone else” ect. I think if I were to press on, I’m afraid he will leave me..
    I want to get out of my relationship anxiety and be able to love someone again…I need help.