It's widely known that humans are hard wired to attach themselves to other humans. They secure attachments with their young, with their partners, friends, and family. The way a person attaches to another though often varies person to person. As you might have guessed, attachment styles have a lot to do with how a person was raised themselves and what experiences they've had thus far. Parenting attachment styles are no exception and there are many different ways a parent can attach to their child. So what is anxious attachment and how does it affect your parenting?
Many parents go between being super attuned to their kids needs, and sometimes not so much. A parent could be very nurturing and attentive to their child's emotional needs one week, and emotionally available or insensitive the next week. Anxious attachment develops when the parent's back and forth behavior oscillates too much between the two very different responses, according to the Psych Alive website. As a result, researchers claim that children in this emotional environment become confused, insecure, and unsure of what kind of treatment to expect. Additionally, a child may feel distrustful or suspicious of their parent and may even act clingy or desperate. As explained on the website these kids have an anxious attachment with their unpredictable parent.
So, how do some parents get here? Where is their variable behavior coming from? Author, speaker, and psychoanalyst Dr. Claudia Luiz says it may stem from subtle abuse or neglect from previous generations. "Anxiety can occur when there is an unspoken story that needs to be defended against," Luiz tells Romper in an email interview.
"Today's parent, who is very self-aware and very attuned, defends against the old painful narratives, with hypervigilance and control, which are forms of anxiety." She says children often respond to their parent's anxious attachment in one of two ways. "They buy into the anxiety and allow the parent to micromanage their life, doing what they can to control any seemingly out of control forces, like lack of academic interest, friendship problems or physical challenges — from poor nutrition to real autoimmune problems typical of families with excessive anxiety."
The other way a child can respond to anxious attachment parenting is the complete opposite. "The children may turn away from the anxious parent, having to block the parent from consciousness, which leads to poor academic performance, acting out with premature sex or excessive experimentation with drugs," Luiz explains. Understandably, this is not encouraging for parents who currently feel their attachment style is on the anxious spectrum, as the future ramifications of their behavior on their kids doesn't look good. Rest assured though, it can be changed into an attachment that is more secure, it just takes some work.
"As soon as the family finds a narrative for why everybody is behaving the way they behave, the family improves and the process of healing challenges from the past and establishing better, more relaxed patterns of interaction can be established for future generations," Luiz says. She also credits millennial parents for being really attuned to their pasts and how they're acting presently with their kids.
"In many ways this is the generation that stands a chance to become not only more emotionally aware and articulate, but also able to find the unspoken narratives that have plagued previous generations and interfered with happiness and well-being," Luiz explains.
She says when the family can find their story the anxiety can dissolve. Furthermore, traces of toxicity from generations past can be transformed into pure love and connection for a child and a more secure attachment can be established.
The most important thing to take away from this is even if you feel an anxious attachment has already formed between you and your child, it can always be undone. Through awareness, honesty, and maybe even some professional therapy if needed, you can take a more consistent and connected approach to parenting if you desire.