Written by: Dr. Leslie Davis, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
When we develop an anxious attachment style, we may easily misinterpret anxious feelings as a sign that our partner is showing us red flags.
If you have a history of being in toxic relationships and you recently said yes to a new relationship, you're probably hoping to avoid the toxicity you experienced in the past. You might also be wondering if the traumatic experiences you've endured will resurface with this new partner. You're likely excited, hopeful, nervous, scared, and insecure all at the same time.
After a few months with your new partner, a familiar yet unwelcomed sense of panic arises within your heart. Red flags seem to be everywhere, intensifying a heightened sense of anxiety.
You sense your partner pulling away from you, triggering feelings of rejection. A feeling of panic sets in when they don't respond to your messages in what you consider to be a timely manner. They start to question your questions and blame you when arguments ensue.
I know what you might be thinking…they must be gaslighting you.
Your relationship seems too familiar, and you believe you're seeing the signs of another toxic relationship developing. You might say to yourself, "I can't believe they're hurting me like the others. Why does this keep happening to me? I should have known better."
Before you start to blame your partner, let me make this clear…
You have signs of an anxious attachment style.
Having an anxious attachment style can be exhausting, especially when you allow your mind to dictate what you believe to be true about yourself, your partner, and your relationship.
Here are a few indicators that you developed an anxious attachment style in adult relationships:
You have an intense fear of abandonment and rejection.
You feel insecure about yourself and the relationship.
You tend to catastrophize every triggering moment and conversation with your partner.
You often feel an extreme sense of loneliness in the relationship.
Your partner and others describe you as being "clingy" in relationships.
It's not uncommon to train yourself to seek out red flags if you've ever been in a toxic relationship.
Recognizing red flags is a healthy method of protection but having an anxious attachment style is also a method of protection and self-preservation that may not be so healthy. Let's take a look at two examples of how your anxious attachment style can be misinterpreted as red flags in your relationship.
Your partner changes their communication frequency with you.
When you started dating, you received regular texts and calls from your partner, and you felt secure. What seems to be all of a sudden, your partner responds slower than normal to your messages and pumps the brakes on sending good morning texts. You begin to increase your frequency of contact in an attempt to maintain a connection because you can feel them pulling away from you. You start sending them messages in all forms, through text, social media, email, voicemail, and maybe through your friends, because you want your partner to know for sure that you don't want to lose the relationship. They stop answering your calls and you begin to feel ignored. You begin to wonder if they're playing mind games with you. Maybe their cheating. Your anxious attachment style is activated, and you instantly associate their lack of communication with a red flag.
Is it a red flag, or did your display of anxious attachment trigger your partner's avoidant attachment style and their need for space?
Your partner has not been spending as much time with you.
You've been feeling isolated and lonely since your new partner seems to reject your offers to spend time together. You begin to wonder what your partner is doing without you. Lately, they've been canceling plans with you, stating they've been extremely busy at work. The last time this occurred in a relationship, you found out your partner was unfaithful, so you assume it's happening again. Red flags are everywhere, so you think. In an attempt to maintain connection, you visit them unannounced, hoping to find out the truth about their infidelity. To your surprise, you find them at home alone, and they welcome spending quality time with you for the evening. Your partner apologizes and explains how hectic life has been for them, and they simply wanted to spend time with you when they are at their best.
Was it a red flag, or was your partner displaying secure attachment by taking care of their personal need for rest?
If you're ready to break free from this toxic cycle of falling victim to your anxious attachment style, try these 7 tips to develop a more secure attachment.
Identify the facts: When you're feeling anxious, you may tend to magnify your feelings as truth. Ask yourself, "what proof do I have that what I'm feeling or thinking is true?"
Troubleshoot with a trusted friend who's in a healthy relationship: Ask your friend to help you navigate a situation in your relationship that's causing your anxiety to rise. Your friend may have experienced a similar situation and be able to provide you with an alternative perspective.
Engage in an activity you enjoy without your partner: Focus on yourself, so you can minimize the time you have to be anxious. Spend time with friends, make time to declutter, volunteer in your community, etc.
Take a break from social media: Sometimes, our thoughts and feelings can be easily influenced by posts on social media, including posts from therapists and coaches. It's not uncommon for anxious individuals to use what is posted online and hold these statements as their truths. Take some time to unplug.
Develop a healthier communication style and talk to your partner: It's perfectly fine to share your fears with your partner. You never know, sharing your fears and concerns could help to develop intimacy in your relationship.
Set boundaries with your partner and communicate them early: The key to maintaining healthy boundaries in a relationship is to be mindful that boundaries are for your partner and you too. Discuss your deal breakers with your partner, as well as your plan of action if a boundary is crossed.
Connect with a licensed therapist to develop a secure attachment: Your therapist can serve as a model and base for developing a secure attachment. Your time in therapy is the perfect space to practice communication skills as well as to gain a better understanding of patterns in your relationship.
Red flags do exist, and they are great indicators that we need to pay attention to the relationship. If you've been in a toxic relationship, you may instinctually search for red flags in your partner's behaviors, but remember…
Your anxious attachment style can be a red flag too.
If you're ready to shift towards creating a secure attachment, let's connect.
Dr. Leslie Davis, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Leslie Davis is a licensed counselor, relationship coach, mental health consultant, and podcaster. Using an Emotion-Focused approach, she empowers women and youth with tools to develop healthy connections. Her work with clients focuses on attachment styles, self-esteem, and empowering women to cope with anxiety and depression. As the Founder and Executive Director of Hearts in Faith, NFP Dr. Davis also brings awareness and addresses the needs of single mothers, single fathers, and youth in her community. You can find her podcast, She Matters with Leslie Davis, on various platforms including Apple and Spotify.