My husband Adam and I have been together for 11 years and married for 4 years. Before we even started dating, Adam got a really good picture of what it looked like to be with somebody that was struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia...
One night I was out with friends at a restaurant and experienced a full blown panic attack. I left the restaurant and went outside, sat on the curb shaking and crying, and called Adam. At the time, I had no idea what prompted me to call him because we barely knew each other but I’m so glad that I did. He said, “I’ll be right there.”
He parked his truck and walked across a parking lot to meet me. He hugged me and said nothing. It was just what I needed. Then, he stopped at a store and bought me strawberry milk and a Zebra cake. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I couldn’t have either of them because I was gluten and dairy free, but it was such a sweet thing for him to do!
When we first met, I had been struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia for over 8 years. I had always avoided relationships because I felt like I was too much of a mess to be in a healthy relationship. I, of course, worried about somebody witnessing and having to support me through my anxious and panicky moments, but I also struggled with anxious attachment.
Have you ever heard of anxious attachment? In short, it’s when you long for a deep connection and love but you have anxious thoughts that leave you feeling insecure, not worthy of love, or rejected.
For me, I developed an anxious attachment because of my childhood. I grew up with a very loving mom but my dad was often emotionally unavailable and unpredictable. I saw glimpses of my dad being capable of being loving but it was super rare. I knew that he loved me, but it’s like he could never bring himself to fully express or show it. As a child, this was so hard for me. And as an adult, trying to navigate my relationship with Adam, I often found myself struggling with some really challenging thoughts and emotions. Let me share them with you!
I didn’t like to be apart. When Adam wanted to spend time alone or do things with friends, I found it hard because it made me feel like he was rejecting me on some level.
I needed constant reassurance that he loved me and wouldn’t leave me.
When he got upset, I would convince myself that I was the reason why and I would worry that he was going to leave me. I would often ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?”
I would convince myself that our relationship wouldn’t last, even though I knew deep down that we had a good relationship.
I worried that he didn’t love me as much as I loved him, and sometimes questioned whether or not he even loved me at all (even though I knew that he did).
Overall, I felt as though I was drowning in insecurities and self-doubt, and I felt super needy and dependent. I also had such negative views of myself which often led to me sabotaging our relationship. I can’t tell you how many times I caused unnecessary arguments!
Can you relate to any of this? If so, it’s okay. Anxious attachment is something that you can work through and push past. And if you also had an emotionally unreliable parent, sure, you can’t change the past, but you can work to change the present.
Here are some things that helped me to work through anxious attachment:
Be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and the negative patterns. When you start becoming aware of the things you’re thinking, feeling, and the thought patterns you are consistently finding yourself in, it will help you to begin to acknowledge and process your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, and it will help you to work to shift your thoughts. Shifting your thoughts to be more realistic, positive, and healthy will help to break those unhealthy and unproductive thought patterns that leave you feeling convinced that you are incapable of having a healthy relationship or being loved.
Communicate! And ask for, and be accepting of support. Once you’ve processed your thoughts and feelings, sharing what you’re thinking and feeling in a healthy way can go a long way. I’m a writer, so I always like to process my thoughts and feelings on paper before I share them. This way, I can make sure that I’m effectively communicating what I’m thinking and feeling because it’s given me an opportunity to process my own thoughts and emotions.
Share with people that you trust and feel comfortable with. These are also great people to ask for support from. Asking for support doesn't mean that you are needy, dependent, annoying, or broken. We all need support. Being accepting of support will make you stronger and more capable.
And I know that it’s hard to share this stuff and ask for support because it’s either embarrassing, seemingly silly, or scary, but embarrassing, silly, and scary is better than sabotaging a healthy relationship that brings you joy. And if it makes you feel more comfortable to try it out on a family member or friend instead of your significant other, start there! Small steps will get you there!
Put lots of focus on healthy habits.
Forgive yourself instead of blaming yourself! Especially when you have those unproductive and unhealthy thoughts, or when you get upset and don’t communicate your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. It's important to forgive yourself and learn from these moments.
Put more focus on the things that are going well. Ask yourself: What’s going well? What progress have I made? What is something good that is happening right now in my life?
Give yourself kind messages often. Even just one kind message a day can go a long way!
Spend time with people that make you smile and laugh, and people that support your happiness.
All of these things take hard work and dedication, but it’s worth it for you, for your significant other, and for your relationship! And if you are single, the work you do now will foster a healthy relationship for the future. You are capable of being in a healthy relationship, even if you are struggling with an anxiety disorder or anxious attachment. You are not broken. You are worthy and deserving of love.