An ambivalent attachment style comes from a childhood in which love and affection are inconsistent, based on factors that the child does not understand. Love and affection, although desperately sought after by the child, are seen as incredibly fragile things that can disappear without warning. Since the child is never sure of receiving love and affection, he has an urgent need to protect himself due to the insecurity he experiences.
Ambivalent attachment originates in childhood
A child who is unsure of love and lives in constant fear of abandonment grows ambivalent toward relationships. They want something of which they are fundamentally fearful. In ambivalent relationships, there is no security . Love and acceptance one day does not guarantee love and acceptance the next, even in identical circumstances.
The only constant the child has to blame for this inconsistency is himself. The child concludes that love is withheld because they are not good enough or have not communicated strongly enough. There is no security in the relationship with parents because that person can abandon or withdraw love and affection at any time.
Ambivalent attachment in adult life
Children with anxious attachment often grow up to have worrying attachment patterns. As adults, they tend to be self-critical and insecure. They seek the approval and safety of others, yet this never alleviates their doubts. In their relationships, the deep feelings that they will be rejected worry them and they do not trust them. This leads them to act with attachment and feel overly dependent on their partner. These people’s lives are not balanced: their insecurity leaves them turned against themselves and emotionally desperate in their relationships.
Adults with troubled attachment patterns often feel hopeless and take on the role of the “chaser” in a relationship. They often have positive opinions of other people, especially their parents and partner, and generally have a negative opinion of themselves. They rely heavily on their partner to validate their self-esteem. Because they grew insecure due to the inconsistent availability of their caregivers, they are “sensitive to rejection.” They anticipate rejection or abandonment and look for signs that their partner is losing interest in them, they look for signs where they may not exist.
These people are often forced to engage in preventive strategies in an attempt to avoid being rejected. However, their excessive dependency, demands, and possessiveness tend to backfire and precipitate the very abandonment they fear.
Overly “preoccupied” couples appear to be “perpetually vigilant and somewhat histrionic.” They feel resentful and angry when their partner does not provide the attention and reassurance they feel they need. They often believe that unless they dramatically express their anxiety and anger , the other person is unlikely to respond to them.
Many of those with ambivalent attachments are reluctant to express their angry feelings toward a partner for fear of possible loss or rejection. When they try to suppress their anger, their behavior tends to waver between angry outbursts and pleas for forgiveness and support. In some cases, fears and anxieties can lead to more serious emotional disturbances, such as depression.
Do you have an ambivalent attachment problem in your life?
These are the statements that describe people with an ambivalent attachment style:
- I really like to share my feelings with my partner, but they don’t seem as open as I do.
- My feelings can get out of control quickly.
- I worry about being alone.
- I worry about being abandoned in close relationships.
- My partner complains that I am too clingy and emotional.
- I strongly want to be very intimate with people.
- In my closest relationships, the other person does not seem as eager for intimacy and closeness as I do.
- I am very concerned about being rejected by others.
- I tend to value close and intimate relationships over personal achievement and success.
- When I am stressed, I desperately seek support from others, but no one seems to be as available as I wish they were.
A person with an ambivalent attachment style is constantly looking for evidence of love and affection. They distrust others and seek to verify the relationship, often with extreme behaviors that can backfire and alienate the other person. Because the relationship seems to always be in jeopardy, the ambivalent person tends to obsessively focus on the relationship. Questions like, “How is it going? Is there a problem? Did I do everything right? How does the other person feel about me?” They always haunt your mind. No reasonable amount of reassurance seems sufficient, and the person appears needy and dependent and at the same time capable of extreme anger and rage outbursts.
Transform it into a secure attachment
Fortunately, a person’s attachment style can be revised through new experiences, through interaction with a partner who has a history of secure attachment, and through psychotherapy. Another effective way to develop a secure attachment in adulthood is to make sense of your lived history. The best predictor of a child’s attachment security is not what happened to their parents as children, but rather how their parents made sense of those childhood experiences .
The key to making sense of one’s life experiences is to write a coherent narrative that helps them understand how their childhood experiences are still affecting them in their current life. People need a guide to walk through the process of creating a coherent narrative to help them build healthier and safer attachments and strengthen their own personal sense of emotional resilience. When you create a coherent narrative, they actually rewire their brain to cultivate more security within themselves and their relationships.
In couples therapy, both parties can go through the process of therapy, something that will help them identify and challenge the critical internal voices that promote expectations of rejection and that fuel their feelings of anger. In the sessions, couples can expose their self-criticism, as well as their hostile and cynical attitudes towards the other person.
Generally speaking, in effective couples therapy, both people expose and challenge their critical internal voices and come to understand the source of their destructive thoughts and attitudes in the context of their early attachments. This approach provides the impetus to explore new and more positive ways of relating, and frees people to experience genuine feelings of love and real security in their intimate relationships.