My Partners Anxiety Is Driving Me Crazy (Anxious Attachment Style example)
In this video I’m going to talk about what it can be like to be in a relationship with someone who has an anxious attachment style.
Now for many of you guys watching, you may have an attachment style and you can gain some clarity and insight into how your behavior is affecting your partner.
I got an email from Adam who says he and his girlfriend keep fighting because she has a high level of anxiety.
Hello Craig, I was hoping you could help me with my girlfriend. I’ve been dating my girlfriend for just under a year now and I’m not sure we are going to last much longer. I’m a pretty patient guy, but I’m really getting exhausted by my girlfriend’s behavior. She is anxious all the time. I had no idea until I watch your video The Real Reason Relationships Fail. That video was incredible. Can you please help me understand her better? I know that her mother was an alcoholic and would often go out drinking, leaving her with her older brother. She was sexually abused by a neighbor numerous times when she was young. She often times can’t remember all the details, but it was pretty bad.
Well, trauma and anxiety affect your memory and it often makes you feel like you’re in a fog. Often times people repress abuse. They can’t handle it so they force it into their unconscious. In extreme cases they dissociate. This is how people have multiple personalities. Their brain can’t handle the pain of the trauma so it splits. The more trauma there is, the more personalities there usually are. Because each personality takes on a small part of the trauma.
Adam: Her behavior is so erratic, I’m overwhelmed and confused. We argue over small things every day (female friends texting me, me wanting to go out with my guy friends, even me wanting to go to see my parents for a few hours). It’s like every little thing causes her to get angry.
Craig: So first and foremost you have to understand she is terrified. She wasn’t taken care of by her parents. The people who were supposed to keep her safe, didn’t. If a trauma is bad enough, we can’t separate it from the past.
She is absolutely scared to death that you are going to abandon her. She doesn’t feel safe. When her anxiety is triggered she feels scared and alone and she doesn’t know how to soothe herself.
She hasn’t felt loved. She hasn’t felt understood. She’s been repeatedly hurt and had her needs neglected and overlooked. She was traumatized by having to attach to others.
One of the great things about understanding attachment styles is how helpful it is to understanding others. It’s like having a crystal ball. I can already tell a lot of the behaviors someone will have.
Here are some of the behaviors you can expect from someone who has an anxious attachment disorder.
Inability to listen to you. They are in their own world, because they are focused on trying to sooth their anxiety (which they probably don’t know how to do).
Loud fast paced voice. Nonstop talking (a struggle to have a give and take conversation). They just keep talking and talking and talking.
Hyper vigilant to you leaving them and feeling disconnected. Preoccupied fear of abandonment. Any small sense of disconnection and it triggers their anxiety. If they reach out to you and you don’t respond, they often times have a melt down right away.
Controlling behavior- Trying to control you (leaving the house, talking to friends, going places without them).
Lashing out and getting angry quickly. Becoming irate quickly. Cursing and yelling when they don’t get their way. Emotional melt downs. Arguments can escalate very quickly.
Attaching to someone new relatively quickly (like moving in with someone after only a month).
We are only as needy as our unmet needs. So when someone projects all these powerful intense feelings onto someone they barely know it tells me they have had a lot of unmet needs. There is a good chance they have an attachment injury.
You have to understand that for them, they didn’t feel loved. Didn’t feel listen to. Didn’t feel important. Over time, attaching to others didn’t make them feel good. It hurt. It was traumatic, painful and scary.
If you want to know how traumatic or intense the hurt was to them, look at their behavior. Look at how intense and upset they get in the present, then try to imagine them feeling that pain in their childhood.
The level of intensity of the present behavior and emotions are going to mirror their childhood pain.
You have to have empathy for them. Put yourself in their shoes, which can be incredibly difficult. But look at how they can’t calm themselves down. They can’t sooth themselves.
Now imagine them as a child being upset and no one soothing them. Feeling scared, alone, terrified, unloved.
It’s not easy to get over. It takes time. Even for me as hard as I’ve worked on myself. I still have a difficult time grasping how much pain and trauma I faced when I was growing up.
As an adult I look back and say, how could it have been so ignored. But I know that it was. My memory of my childhood is very foggy. I think I repressed things and kind of hid in my room and played with my toys to survive.
I never wanted to eat. I was very very controlling about what I would eat. It’s because I felt like I had very little control over my life. But I could control what I ate (even if they would yell at me or try to force me I would out wait them until they gave up).
I remember crying to my mom and saying to my step father you’re mean to me. All the time. I was 28 at the time… Just kidding. I was little.
One of my best friends really helped see how bad it was for me when he shared stories. He said he remembered one day my step father had me and him diving for rocks in the pool. He said he would give us a quarter for each one we picked up.
When we were done and added them all up he said my step father had given him the money, but not me. He felt so bad he left the money when he went home and asked his mom. Why is Don so mean to Craig? It was so powerful that my friend remembers that from 30 years ago.
So in a way, I give to you guys the kindness I wished I had gotten.
I wished I had been listened to. That’s part of why I became a therapist. To give you guys what I wished I had gotten.
Here’s a powerful example. I had a pet rabbit, and I had a cage in the room. My mom and step father told me they were going to put his cage outside that day to give him fresh air. Maybe it stunk, I don’t remember. But I begged them not to do it. I was crying and screaming and balling. Don’t put him outside, he’s going to die. He’s going to get too hot out there. They said, it will be fine. We will put water out there and leave her in the shade. This went on for a long time before they brought me to school.
I worried about her all day. All I could think about was she okay. As soon as I got home I ran to check on her. She had died.
I can still feel that moment. I can still feel that pain, that hurt. They didn’t listen to me. That is how I felt all the time. And do you know what happens when someone doesn’t feel heard by someone for a long time.
They get angry. How are you supposed to relate with someone who doesn’t hear you.
Now, as an adult and a psychotherapist I can understand that my mother’s high level of anxiety made it hard to hear anything past her own anxiety. She was in her own survival mode. So I have to consider that and look at things more objectively as an adult.
But just to help give you guys insight. What type of women do you think I’m unconsciously attracted to? Women who don’t hear me. Women who don’t validate me. Women who I am overly sensitive to their needs while ignore my own. I have to consciously focus on what I want in order to attract it.