Relationships Anxious Ambivalent Attachment: An Overview By Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons. Learn about our editorial process Updated on March 27, 2023 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by David Susman, PhD Medically reviewed by David Susman, PhD David Susman, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist with experience providing treatment to individuals with mental illness and substance use concerns. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Maria Korneeva / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Anxious Ambivalent Attachment and Attachment Theory Causes Characteristics How to Overcome Anxious Ambivalent Attachment Helping Your Partner Anxious ambivalent attachment is characterized by a distrust of a person with whom you are in aclose relationship with, and is associated with mental health challenges, such as depression and low self-esteem. This attachment style is associated with early childhood experiences where your caregiver showed inconsistent emotional availability and responsiveness toward you. What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Unavailable? Anxious Ambivalent Attachment and Attachment Theory Anxious ambivalent attachment derives from attachment theory, a framework first put forth by psychiatrist John Bowlby. The idea behind attachment theory is that children are born with a deep need to become securely attached to their caregivers. Psychologist Mary Ainsworth expanded on this theory, coming up with three attachment styles; researchers Main and Solomon added a fourth attachment style to the list. These four attachment styles include: Secure attachmentAmbivalent attachmentAvoidant attachmentDisordered attachment Attachment theory hypothesizes that any attachment besides secure attachment can cause lifelong impacts. Children who experience insecure attachment, including anxious ambivalent attachment, may develop psychological issues and have trouble forming secure and healthy relationships later in life. The Different Types of Attachment Styles Causes of Anxious Ambivalent Attachment Experiences in early childhood with your parents or caretakers cause anxious ambivalent attachment. Anxious attachment results when your caregivers are not consistent in their responsiveness and availability with you, leading to feelings of confusion, distrust, anxiety, and ambivalence. People raised this way may desire closeness to their caretakers and distance themselves from them. Other characteristics of early childhood relationships characterized by anxious ambivalent attachment include: Caregivers who didn’t respond to your needsCaregivers who were not emotionally availableFeeling like you always had to “earn” love from your caregiversCaregivers who didn’t respond to you consistently or were “hot and cold” What It Means if You Don't Trust People Characteristics of Anxious Ambivalent Attachment People who experienced anxious ambivalent attachment growing up often end up having trouble forming intimate relationships, and may also experience mental health challenges related to their insecure attachments. Let’s take a deeper look at how these characteristics manifest. How Does Anxious Ambivalent Attachment Affect Relationships? In a nutshell, being raised this way can make you feel like others can’t be trusted, and you may have a hard time committing to a relationship. Research has found that people who grew up with fairly secure attachments are more likely to be in gratifying and committed relationships while dating and during marriage. Their relationships are less likely to be rife with conflict as well. Additionally, their relationships are more likely to last and are less likely to result in divorce. Some studies have also found links between anxious ambivalent attachment and emotional dysregulation and psychological aggression in relationships. Other studies have noted that people who are anxiously attached are more likely to experience relationship dissatisfaction. A 2015 study found that people who experience anxious attachment more commonly experience jealousy when they feel distrust towards their significant other. They are also more likely to snoop through their significant others’ things, and have an increased propensity to exhibit abusive behavior. How Anxious Ambivalent Attachment Affects Mental Health People who experience anxious ambivalent attachment have an increased risk of experiencing mental health difficulties like depression, low self-esteem, and emotional dysregulation. On the other hand, research has found that securely attached people are less likely to experience signs of depression, are more likely to experience confidence, and are better able to handle stressful events that come up in life. A 2014 study found a link between attachment insecurity and an increased likelihood of developing a negative body image and symptoms of an eating disorder. Other research has found links between attachment insecurities and various mental health conditions such as: DepressionClinical anxiety Obsessive-compulsive disorder Post-traumatic stress disorderPersonality disorders (histrionic and borderline)SchizophreniaSuicidal ideation If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. What Is Suicidal Ideation? How to Overcome Anxious Ambivalent Attachment If you were raised by a caregiver who did not provide secure and reliable attachment and was inconsistent regarding emotional support, you are not alone. But you should also know that the mental health effects of being raised this way are manageable. The first step in overcoming anxious ambivalent attachment is to recognize the problem. Simply reading about the phenomenon and seeking help is wonderful and can be therapeutic in and of itself. After this, making a point to surround yourself with supportive individuals, emotionally available, and good sources of secure attachment can work wonders for your healing. Talk therapy has been studied as a way of working through anxious ambivalent attachment. In particular, certain types of therapy are effective in managing insecure attachment. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) In cognitive behavioral therapy, you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and how they affect your mental well-being. Studies have found that short-term. CBT is a positive way to address insecure attachment and may be particularly helpful in people who experience insecure attachment along with panic disorder. Interpersonal Therapy Interpersonal therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on your close relationships and how they impact your mental health. This type of therapy shows promise in treating anxious ambivalent attachment disorders. A 2017 study found that depressed teenagers who experienced attachment anxiety and avoidance saw their symptoms significantly decrease after being treated with interpersonal therapy for 16 weeks. Group Therapy Group therapy is a type of therapy facilitated by a mental health professional, where participants share their feelings and struggle with other group members with similar mental health challenges. A 2013 study found that group therapy can be helpful for people with attachment anxiety. In particular, the study looked at people who experience adverse self-perception, trouble with emotional regulation and unhealthy relationships with others. The Basic Methods of Different Therapy Types How Do I Help My Partner With Ambivalent Attachment? Having a partner who deals with anxious ambivalent attachment can be challenging. It’s important to remember that this likely stemmed from when your partner was a child when life was out of their control. That said, if your partner is exhibiting harmful behavior or is having trouble committing to your relationship, it’s not something you have to simply “put up with.” It doesn't do you any good to let unhealthy behaviors slide. You can’t change your partner, but you can encourage them to grow and mature. One thing you can do is to be consistent in your responsiveness to them and show them what secure attachment looks like. But you can’t do it alone. Consider encouraging your partner to seek therapy. You can show them the research showing that therapy is an effective way of tackling attachment issues. If you and your partner continue to struggle, you may consider couples counseling. Research has found that couples therapy is an effective way to manage attachment issues and can lead to more secure and satisfying relationships. 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