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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Linderman

Attachment Activation: Why Relationships Can Trigger Our Anxiety

Understanding How Our Past Shapes Our Present Relationships and Triggers Our Anxiety

Relationships can be a source of love, joy, and support, but they can also be a source of anxiety and stress. For many of us, our past experiences with attachment and relationships can shape the way we interact with partners in the present. In this blog post, we'll explore the concept of attachment activation and how it can trigger our anxiety in relationships.

Attachment theory suggests that our early experiences with caregivers shape our attachment style, which influences how we relate to others in later life. When we experience a trigger in a relationship that reminds us of a past hurt or trauma, our attachment style can be activated, leading to feelings of anxiety, fear, or insecurity.

For example, if someone had an inconsistent caregiver as a child, they may develop an anxious attachment style that causes them to feel like they can't rely on their partner. This can be triggered by something as simple as their partner not responding to a text message, leading to feelings of anxiety and worry.

Similarly, if someone had a caregiver who was emotionally unavailable, they may develop an avoidant attachment style that causes them to avoid intimacy and push partners away. This can be triggered by something as simple as their partner wanting to spend time together, leading to feelings of discomfort and the desire to retreat.

Why does my anxiety get activated when my partner doesn't text me or why do I want to save them?"

Anxiety can get activated when your partner doesn't text you or when you feel the need to "save" them because of your attachment style. Attachment theory suggests that the way we relate to others is influenced by the quality of our early relationships, particularly with our primary caregivers. If we experienced a secure attachment style with our caregivers, we are likely to develop secure attachment styles in our adult relationships.

However, if we experienced inconsistent or inadequate care from our caregivers, we may develop insecure attachment styles. These styles can include anxious-preoccupied attachment, which is characterized by a fear of abandonment and a need for constant reassurance, or avoidant-dismissive attachment, which involves a tendency to avoid closeness and emotional intimacy.

If you have an anxious attachment style, you may feel anxious or distressed when your partner doesn't text you because it triggers your fear of abandonment. You may also feel the need to "save" your partner because you believe that doing so will increase their dependence on you and make them less likely to leave.

Attachment Activation

Attachment activation can also be triggered by more subtle cues, such as body language or tone of voice. When we experience these triggers, our bodies can respond with a fight, flight, or freeze response, leading to physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, or heart palpitations.

Attachment activation is a significant factor in anxiety within relationships. When we have past experiences with attachment that have shaped our attachment style, it can trigger feelings of anxiety and stress in our present relationships. This can lead to issues such as jealousy, clinginess, and avoidance, which can damage the relationship and increase anxiety for both partners.

For example, if someone has an anxious attachment style, they may feel constant worry and fear that their partner will leave them. This can lead to clinginess and the need for constant reassurance, which can trigger their partner's avoidance attachment style. This cycle can lead to increased anxiety for both partners, causing the relationship to suffer.

Similarly, if someone has an avoidant attachment style, they may push their partner away when they start to feel too close or vulnerable. This can trigger their partner's anxious attachment style, leading to a cycle of push-pull behavior that can increase anxiety and stress in the relationship.

By understanding attachment activation and how it relates to anxiety in relationships, we can begin to work on managing our triggers and building more secure attachments with our partners. This can involve therapy, communication, and mindfulness practices that help us to recognize our triggers and respond to them in healthy ways.

Anxiety in relationships is often rooted in our past experiences with attachment and how they shape our present behavior. By recognizing these patterns and working on managing our triggers, we can build stronger, healthier relationships and reduce our anxiety in the process.

Understanding how our past experiences with attachment and relationships shape our present behavior can help us to navigate our anxiety in relationships. By recognizing our triggers and developing strategies to manage them, we can build more secure and fulfilling relationships. So the next time you feel your anxiety being activated in a relationship, take a step back, and try to understand where it's coming from. With time and practice, you can learn to manage your anxiety and build more secure attachments with others.

There are several ways to overcome the troublesome issues related to attachment activation and anxiety in relationships. Here are a few strategies to consider:

  1. Seek therapy: Working with a therapist can help you understand your attachment style and how it may be impacting your relationships. A therapist can also teach you techniques for managing anxiety and improving communication with your partner.

  2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. This can help you recognize when you are feeling anxious or triggered, and give you the tools to respond in healthier ways.

  3. Communicate with your partner: Open and honest communication is essential for building strong, healthy relationships. Be clear with your partner about your needs and feelings, and listen actively to their perspective.

  4. Build self-esteem: Low self-esteem can contribute to anxiety and attachment issues in relationships. Focus on building your self-esteem through positive self-talk, self-care, and doing things that make you feel good about yourself.

  5. Set boundaries: Boundaries are essential for healthy relationships. Be clear with your partner about what you are and are not comfortable with, and respect each other's boundaries.

  6. Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion when you are feeling anxious or triggered. Recognize that everyone has their struggles, and that it's okay to ask for help when you need it.


  1. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. Basic Books.

  2. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. Guilford Press.

  3. Simpson, J. A., Rholes, W. S., & Nelligan, J. S. (1992). Support seeking and support giving within couples in an anxiety-provoking situation: The role of attachment styles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(3), 434-446.

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