Attachment Styles

Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment


Preoccupied attachment in adulthood, also known as anxious attachment, is characterized by a strong need for closeness and a fear of abandonment. Individuals with this attachment style often have low self-esteem and struggle with feelings of insecurity in their relationships. They may cling to their partners and become overly dependent, or conversely, become overly jealous and possessive. These individuals may also struggle with trust and may become anxious or upset if their partner does not respond to their emotional needs in the way they expect. Preoccupied attachment can lead to relationship difficulties, increased stress, and emotional disregulation. However, with the right support and treatment, individuals with this attachment style can learn to develop more secure and healthy relationships.

Characteristics of the Preoccupied Attachment Style

It is thought that preoccupied attachment is the result of distracted and inconsistent care during the attachment period. There also seems to be a pattern of role-reversal where the caregivers, either subtly or explicitly have the child be responsible for the caregivers’ mental states. Often the caregiver presents as helpless and thereby enlists the child’s help. This inconsistency and role-reversal cause anxiety around attachment and the sense that the child should stay with the caregiver and help regulate the caregiver’s mental states instead of venturing away from the caregiver to explore. This is what accounts for the anxiety around both attachment and exploration, general sense of helplessness, fear of abandonment, the underdeveloped exploration capacities, and compulsive caretaking behaviors frequently seen in preoccupied adults.

Those of us with preoccupied attachment are excessively outward in orientation focused on the attachment figure. They often try to gauge what the other person is thinking and feeling so that they can present themselves in a way that is pleasing to the attachment-figure. They thereby neglect contact with their own thoughts and emotions. They tend to be somewhat deficit in self-monitoring and not very good at emotional self-regulation. They are also more emotional and not as cognitive in orientation.

Treating preoccupied attachment is similar to treating dismissing attachment. However, in the guided meditation the sense of guilt and worry about the mental states of the perfect nurturers are addressed with recognition and soothing from the parents. The perfect nurturers clearly show how much they enjoy being there for us. This helps abate the abandonment fear and thereby tamping down the anxiety about the parents’ mental states.

For those of us with preoccupation, anger often arises in the meditation towards the inner parents. This is given space and allowed. It’s made clear that the inner parents won’t get hurt by or upset about these displays of anger. Moreover, as we get more settled and soothed, the inner parents encourage exploration of both the inner world and the outer world.

A guided meditation for Preoccupied Attachment

This short guided meditation can give you an actual experience of the mental state of Preoccupied Attachment.