OK. I'm just gonna say right now that if you're someone who typically reads these articles while you're at work or doing something that requires a lot of your mental energy, you might wanna wait until later. Even though I write on relationships, in some capacity, all of the time, as I revisited this particular topic, even I had to take a couple of breaks—just to process and recoup. Because y'all, if there is one thing that can prevent a lot of us from experiencing heartache, drama or even simple old-fashioned "WTF was that?!" in our relationships with others, it's learning more about what relational anxious attachment style is all about.
So yeah, if you're someone who prefers to not wait until the turn of a new year in order to get your life together (check out "Why Fall Is The Perfect Time To Prep For The New Year" when you get a chance) and if one area where you want to get more stable and secure is when it comes to matters of the heart, put on some comfy clothes, pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on some non-depressing R&B music and get into this read. I'm hoping that it will cause more than a couple of light bulb moments to happen—and that they all will be for the good of you and the health of your current or future romantic relationship. In some ways, your platonic and professional ones as well.
Basically, There Are Three Main Attachment Styles...
When you really stop and think about it, everything has a style. When it comes to how we interact with others, style would be in the context of "a particular type", "a manner of acting" and/or "a mode of living". Well, according to a lot of mental health experts, as it relates to our relationships specifically, there are basically three main attachment styles that exist—secure, anxious and avoidant.
Something that I say, almost on a daily basis, either to myself or to someone else is, "adulthood is about surviving childhood". That's why I've written articles on this platform like, "What If It's Your Parents Who Happen To Be The Narcissists?", "How To Recover If You Had To 'Raise Your Parents' As A Child" and "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members". Whether a lot of people realize it or not, they're in some of the destructive situations that they are in with folks because they haven't mastered how to set firm boundaries (which are limits) with relatives who actually played a significant role in how and why they are so dysfunctional with others to this day. That's why knowing what each relational attachment style is about is so important.
Secure means that something or someone is firm and safe. Not just that they feel safe, but they are a safe place for others (a great read on all of that is Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't). Well, when someone falls into the category of a secure relational style, a part of what comes with that is, since their childhood was mostly healthy, they tend to thrive in their romantic relationships. They don't settle for what isn't firm or safe. A big part of that is because, they are firm within themselves which makes them so much safer to be around.
And what does this kind of "security" look like? These types of people are more patient and tolerant with their partner. Because they've got a healthy sense of self, they don't see the need to manipulate or play a lot of games in their relationship. They forgive well. They see their partner as a part of their life but not ALL of their life. They are too at peace in their relationship to be jealous or envious. They don't nag. They aren't control freaks. They don't create problems that don't exist, just in order to have drama constantly going on, because that is what they are familiar with. And honestly, at the end of the day, because their parents did such a good job at giving them a healthy sense of self, they aren't needy for a relationship either; this means that they tend to get into the kind that is healthy—or not one at all. And yes, this automatically makes their relationships safer.
In many ways, my late fiancé (who's been gone 25 years this election day) fell into this category. In my experience, these dynamics are a semi-rare find (love on your babies, parents. To a large extent, you set the tone for how they view relationships). Oh, but they do indeed exist.
Since this article is mostly about relational anxious attachment style, let's go with avoidant next. Man. There is a man, who I really loved once upon a time, who defines this relational attachment style to a "t". A lot of times, if someone wasn't raised by both of their parents or a parent left (perhaps via a divorce) or died when they were young, they can end up falling into this category. These are the individuals who could easily be classified as commitment-phobes (because sometimes people aren't simply "jerks"; sometimes, they're severely broken and their childhood played a huge role in that).
The guy I'm referring to, in many ways, is a great person. Funny. Smart. Generous. Talented. Oh, but when it comes to relationships? He sucks. He's literally the type of individual who will get right to the door of being in one and then, jet. Over and over and over again. With multiple women. From what I've researched about avoidants, they are so afraid of someone leaving them that they'd prefer to either beat the person to the punch or never get into a relationship in the first place. What all of this basically boils down to is, they believe that they can handle the pain of loneliness more than the pain of being left behind—again. Oftentimes, the only thing that can help an avoidant is therapy. First, therapy so that they can recognize this pattern within themselves and then therapy to work through it all.
And then there's what I really want to get into today—relational anxious attachment style, or RAAS. What exactly does that look and live like?
Almost every time I see the word "anxious" or I hear someone say it, a Scripture comes to mind. Philippians 4:6(NKJV) starts off by saying, "Be anxious for nothing…" Now before we get deeper into this, I'm not referring to individuals who have clinical anxiety issues. That is a bona fide diagnosis that requires a different type of focus and attention. No, what I'm speaking of are people who are constantly "full of mental distress or uneasiness", are "greatly worried" or too damn "eager" and actually, to a great extent, they have the capacity to choose not to be; especially as it relates to matters of the heart.
So, how do all of these definitions of anxious present themselves when someone has a relational anxious attachment style?
Honestly, the first thing I think about is they are absolutely exhausting to be around—if not immediately, eventually. Because they've pre-determined that either their relationship should "make" them or "complete" them (a healthy relationship complements you; you and God need to do the "completing"), they tend to be either very controlling or extremely clingy (if not both). They are almost obsessed with wondering if they are doing too much or too little for their partner.
Oftentimes love addicts have this type of relational style because they're more caught up in the potential of what a relationship could be vs. what it actually is. Another sign of someone who struggles with this attachment style is savior syndrome is not unfamiliar to them in the least. In fact, they expect that the true love of their life will swoop in and "rescue" or "save" them.
The interesting thing about many of the individuals who happen to have a relational anxious attachment style is they could either have profound childhood abandonment issues (which probably seems pretty obvious) or they could come from parents who coddled them so much that they don't know how to emotionally stand on their own. They always need to be in a relationship and are always overcompensating in them because there was way too much helicopter parenting going on when they were growing up. And when a child has parents who hover over them too much, it emotionally stunts their development. They tend to be very demanding (almost unrealistically so), super possessive and, they act in a way that is basically desperate should their partner want to leave—or even take a few steps back.
In short, people who are caught up in relational anxious attachment style are anxious most, if not all of the time, when they are with someone. And, you know what they say: Anything that is held onto too tight is oftentimes they very thing that slips away.
If You Fall into the “RAAS” Category, What Should You Do?
If you happen to see yourself in any of what I just shared, let me just say that there is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Unless you decide to call up everyone you know or post this on your social media with a message that says this is you, this is something that you can process alone. That said, though, it's definitely not something that you should "Kanye shrug" over while saying, "Welp. That's just how I am. 'He' is just gonna have to deal with it." If that is your take, I can guarantee that it's gonna be hard to find or maintain the kind of relationship that you actually deserve. So, how do you start taking the appropriate steps towards breaking from this particular style so that you can enter into a more secure one?
Revisit your childhood.
Oh, believe you me, if your childhood wasn't exactly stellar, one of the hardest things to do is to go back and revisit certain times and memories. Yet being able to pinpoint what has caused you to become so controlling or clingy back then can help you to resolve how you're handling your relationships right now. For instance, if you realize that your parents were so coddling that they didn't give you the same to let you make real decisions for yourself, it could be that now you don't know how to act when your partner is a lot more independent than you are. You might start to think that they don't care about you, simply because they don't have to be underneath you 24/7 or if they've got a lot of other things to do than just hang out with you. Again, adulthood is surviving childhood. Acknowledging where your parents (or caregivers) dropped the ball and then tending to that inner child who needs some extra and specific nurturing (and perhaps even discipline as well) can help you to emotionally mature leaps and bounds.
Learn the difference between standards and anxiety.
Not only is it OK to know what you want, need and deserve in a relationship, it's encouraged. Still, when someone suffers from relational anxious attachment style, they're oftentimes so freakin' eager, that they don't realize that what they are demanding from their partner isn't really helpful to them or the relationship. It's like they've created a movie in their mind of how a relationship should go and become so worried that it won't go that way, that they put unnecessary (and oftentimes unrealistic) pressure and expectations on the person they're with—so much to the point that the person starts to lose interest.
Example—wanting a man to speak your love language is a standard. Demanding that a man be everything that you've seen in your favorite chick flick and then penalizing him when he's not? That's anxiety at work. To not be anxious is to be at peace. Standards help you to be at peace with your relationship. Anxiety helps to ruin your relationship.
Finally, talk it out.
If you're currently single and you see that you show clear signs of relational anxious attachment style, I'm thrilled for you because you can use this time alone to work through this with a therapist, counselor, life coach or trusted mentor. On the other hand, if you are currently in a relationship and still see that you fall into the relational anxious attachment style category, if you and yours are past the three date stage (because when something is super new, breaking all of this down could be a bit…much), bring up the three different styles and see what your partner's take is on them, all while also inquiring more about their own childhood. Doing this can help you to feel more comfortable about sharing some of your own thoughts, feelings and vulnerabilities when it comes to being a relational anxious attachment style kind of person.
I know this was a lot. It's a book, to be honest. For now, I just hope that if there is a pattern in your relationships that you haven't been able to quite put your finger on, or you've always wondered why you can't just CHILL in your relationships, again, this can shed some light. Not just so you can someday have a secure romantic relationship but again, secure platonic and professional connections too. Because you deserve to be in anxiety-free relationships. The people who are in them with you? They deserve them too.
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