As humans, we naturally seek connection and intimacy, often looking for reassurance within our relationships. This reassurance is a significant component of any relationship as it fosters a sense of security and promotes emotional bonding. However, the line between healthy and unhealthy practices can blur, especially when reassurance-seeking is tied to fears of infidelity or abandonment, leading to a strain on relationships, crossing personal boundaries, and breeding mistrust.
It’s crucial to distinguish between our intuitive ‘gut’ feelings and anxious thoughts. Intuitive feelings, or ‘gut’ feelings, stem from our innate ability to understand and respond to situations. They are often automatic, immediate, and subconscious responses based on our past experiences and learned patterns. On the other hand, anxious thoughts are primarily fear-based, often rooted in insecurity, fear of abandonment, or negative experiences from past relationships.
For those with anxious attachment styles, the lines between these two can often blur. Anxious attachment is characterised by a chronic need for reassurance, fears of abandonment, and hypersensitivity to any potential signs of distance or disinterest from a partner. This can lead to interpreting neutral or ambiguous actions as negative, causing an unnecessary sense of alarm.
This is why it’s essential to distinguish between gut feelings and anxious thoughts. While our gut can guide us and alert us to potential red flags in a relationship, anxious thoughts, if unchecked, can lead to a cycle of insecurity, an overwhelming need for reassurance, and strained relationships. By distinguishing between these two, individuals with an anxious attachment style can better manage their anxiety, improve their relationships, and cultivate a healthier self-image.
Identify the root cause
Understanding and acknowledging your emotional needs is the first step in maintaining a healthy balance in your relationship. Persistent need for reassurance can originate from various sources, including past relationship traumas, personal insecurities, or inherent anxiety.
Recognising why you have these urges allows you to identify patterns and initiate change. By understanding your behaviors, you can provide a meaningful context to your anxiety and arm yourself with the knowledge to manage it better.
A person who gets anxious when their partner is slow to respond to messages or travels without them could reflect on their past experiences by writing them down in chronological order. They might find out that they have a deep-seated fear of abandonment and rejection because they have an absent father and were cheated on in a significant relationship. Once they are aware of the root cause of their anxiety, they can differentiate their partner’s actions from worries related to these past experiences.
This understanding can help to lessen feelings of shame, validating their need for reassurance, and eventually leading to self-acceptance.
From identifying the root cause of your anxiety to becoming secure can be a long journey.
For now, you could practice grounding techniques that focus on the physical world around you to distract from overwhelming feelings or anxiety. Here are a few examples:
5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This technique involves identifying five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This helps you focus on your senses and the world around you, rather than your internal thoughts and feelings.
Physical Grounding: This could involve techniques like stamping your feet on the ground, clenching and unclenching your fists, or focusing on the feeling of your clothes against your skin. The aim is to focus on physical sensations and the reality of the present moment.
Mental Grounding: This could involve techniques like describing your environment in detail, naming objects around you, or doing a mental puzzle. The goal is to engage your mind with the present moment and distract it from distressing thoughts or feelings.
Soothing Grounding: This involves thinking of things that are calming or reassuring to you. For example, you could think of your favorite place, repeat a comforting mantra, or visualize a loved one.
You could also develop a “worry time” routine and set aside a specific time each day to address your worries.
Remember, different techniques work for different people, so it’s worth trying out a few to see what works best for you. The key is to focus on the present moment and your connection to the physical world around you.
Cultivate self-trust and independence
Cultivating self-trust and independence is a fundamental part of managing anxiety and the need for constant reassurance. This process involves growing in self-confidence, enhancing self-awareness, and fostering a sense of independence.
Self-trust is about acknowledging your strengths, recognising your capacity to handle difficulties, and believing in your judgment. It is about developing an understanding of your emotions and being able to trust your thoughts and feelings. This self-trust reduces the need for external validation and reassurance, as you become more confident in your abilities and decisions.
To cultivate self-trust, you can start by acknowledging your achievements, however small they may seem, and focusing on your strengths. Write down your achievements and the strengths that helped you accomplish them. This simple act can boost your confidence and reinforce your belief in your abilities.
Creating a routine that involves self-care activities that you enjoy can also help nurture self-trust. These activities provide an opportunity to spend time with yourself, enjoy your own company, and recognise your interests and talents.
Independence, on the other hand, is about being able to stand on your own, make decisions, and take care of yourself without excessively relying on others for support. This is not to say that seeking support is wrong; instead, it’s about finding a balance and ensuring that your happiness and well-being don’t hinge solely on someone else.
Building independence can involve setting personal goals, pursuing personal interests, making decisions for yourself, and taking responsibility for your actions. This will not only provide a sense of accomplishment but also increase your confidence in your ability to manage situations independently.
Give them the benefit of the doubt
At some point in a relationship, extending the benefit of the doubt becomes necessary. Trust, an essential cornerstone of any relationship, implies taking a leap of faith. It means trusting your partner and respecting their personal space and privacy. This doesn’t mean you should ignore blatant red flags; it’s about striking a balance between trust and conscious awareness.
So, how do you know when to give the benefit of the doubt? To answer this question, consider these points:
Consistency: If your partner has consistently shown honesty, integrity, and respect in your relationship, it might be time to give them the benefit of the doubt. A track record of trustworthiness can help ease anxious thoughts.
Communication: Open dialogue can help resolve uncertainties. If your partner listens, understands, and respects your fears, and reassures you when you express your concerns, it may be time to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Lack of red flags: If your worries are rooted more in your insecurities than in your partner’s actions, it may be time to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, do not dismiss or ignore significant issues that consistently make you uncomfortable.
You can practice giving your partner the benefit of the doubt by consciously choosing to trust their actions and words, unless there are clear reasons not to. This involves reminding yourself of your partner’s past reliability and integrity and resisting the urge to jump to negative conclusions without concrete evidence. Remember, building trust takes time and patience, and it’s essential to maintain open communication and to balance your feelings with a rational understanding of the situation.
Communicate openly with your partner
Transparent and respectful communication is the backbone of any healthy relationship.
Opening up about your fears and explaining why you feel the need for constant reassurance can foster greater understanding between you and your partner. It’s equally important to listen to your partner’s perspective and feelings. This open dialogue can pave the way for collaborative problem-solving and enhanced mutual trust.
To facilitate this, practice using “I” statements to express your feelings, such as “I feel anxious when I don’t know where you are,” rather than blaming or accusing your partner. Encourage your partner to share their feelings and thoughts, creating a safe space for open and honest communication.
Through open communication, you can also assess your compatibility with your partner and whether they are the right person for you at this stage of life, based on their responses. If your partner is dismissive or uses shaming language, they’re not the right person.
Decide what’s best for you
If your need for reassurance is not met by your partner, don’t suppress it and act like you are not anxious. Acknowledge your attachment style and everything that comes with it. Do what’s best for you and your well-being.
For instance, you might realise that this is not the right time for you to be in a relationship and that you should focus on becoming more secure on your own before dating again. Without the ups and downs and ambiguity of the early stage of dating, you will likely be in a better mental space to practice all the strategies to help find balance, build your sense of self, and develop resilience.
Other self-help strategies for those unable to seek professional help
Not everyone has the resources or access to seek professional help. If this is the case, there are some more strategies you can use to manage your anxious attachment style and foster healthier relationships.
Developing self-soothing techniques: Anxiety can sometimes feel overwhelming. Having a set of self-soothing techniques you can turn to during these times is important. These techniques are different for everyone; some people may find deep breathing exercises helpful, while others may prefer progressive muscle relaxation or repeating a comforting mantra. The key is to find what works best for you and to practice it regularly, so you can rely on it when anxiety hits.
Creating a reassurance journal: This is a dedicated space where you write down all the moments, big and small, where your partner has shown their love and commitment to you. This could be a thoughtful text message, a special date, or just a comforting hug at the end of a long day. When your anxiety tries to convince you that your partner doesn’t care, you can refer back to this journal for tangible evidence of their love. Note: If you have not much to write in your journal, it’s time to reassess the relationship. Your needs for communication, care and love are valid!
Building a support network: While your relationship is important, it’s also essential to have a wider network of supportive relationships, including friends, family, or even a therapist. These people can provide different perspectives, emotional support, and practical advice. They can also help validate your feelings and reassure you when needed.
Practicing gratitude: Anxiety often fixates on the negatives. Practicing gratitude can counteract this by focusing your attention on the positive aspects of your relationship. This could be as simple as taking a few moments each day to think about what you appreciate about your partner or jotting down positive experiences you’ve shared.
Engaging in activities you enjoy: Having hobbies, interests, and activities outside of your relationship not only boosts your self-esteem but also reduces anxiety. Plus, it helps you maintain your identity beyond the relationship, fostering a sense of independence and self-worth.
Practicing self-compassion: An anxious attachment style often comes with a harsh inner critic. Practicing self-compassion means treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you’d offer a friend. It involves recognizing that everyone struggles, everyone has fears, and it’s okay to not be perfect. By doing this, you can reduce self-criticism and increase self-acceptance.
Remember, change takes time and it’s okay to take small steps. Celebrate your progress and be patient with yourself on this journey. In the end, it’s about understanding ourselves, our needs, and our patterns. It’s about open communication, trust, and respect. It’s about personal growth and resilience. And most importantly, it’s about love — for our partners and for ourselves. Because we all deserve to be in healthy, loving relationships where we feel secure and valued. And with understanding, communication, and a little bit of help, we can all get there.