Advice for the anxiously attached.
April 1, 2013 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a great new relationship, yay! It's been about 4 months. I like her. She likes me. But I am a classic anxiously attached type, and I would like your advice on how to cope with the "omg what will I do when she figures out I'm a loser and she dumps me and why didn't she call last night and she seemed annoyed when I said that and omg what if she doesn't like me anymore" feeling.

I know that I'm experiencing a cognitive/emotional glitch, and I don't act out by asking for lots of reassurance. Been there done that in other relationships, and I have a better handle on it now. However, when these thoughts and feelings arise, it's very uncomfortable, and I would like to enjoy myself more as I get to know her better. What are your tips/reading recommendations/mantras etc.? Let's leave therapy off the table for now.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
It often helped me to run through some absurd, ever-escalating worst case scenario at times like that.

Suppose I am dating someone but feeling insecure about my weight.

"Oh my god, he finally noticed that I'm fat.
He's never going to talk to me again.
And he's going to be at the bar going 'like_a_friend is so fat! How did I ever date her?!'

(At this point, I'm required to start getting more absurd.)

In fact, he'll tell all of NYC about how fat I am.
Then the NYC fat police will come and arrest me for fatness.
And send me to fat camp.
Where I'll die.
On fire."

By the time I get to the first implausible situation ("he'll tell all of NYC...") I am starting to laugh at myself. By the time I get to the literally impossible ("Where I'll die.") I've usually shaken off the anxiety spiral and have gotten to the mindset where, whatever happens, at least I'm not going to die on fire, so it's all within my ability to cope.

posted by like_a_friend at 12:27 PM on April 1, 2013 [17 favorites]

One thing that I think helps is to realize that when you go into those anxiety spirals, you're not just thinking bad things about yourself, you're also thinking bad things about your partner. I think everyone is hard on themselves, but if you realize that by thinking "I'm a loser and she's going to dump me" you're really kind of thinking, "My partner is super shallow, a jerk, and has really bad communicative skills", then I think it puts into perspective how uncharitable and untrue it is (for both of you!)
posted by thewumpusisdead at 1:05 PM on April 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm definitely one of those people, and honestly the only thing that's ever helped it is time.

Another big thing is, focus on them demonstrating the fact that they don't care about these things that are making you anxious. Remember all the times they said you looked nice, or were beautiful, or your outfit was cute, or something you did was cute, etc.

Having been with people who also did this, i can also say that it's pretty hurtful to be the partner on the receiving end of this type of doubt. The biggest thing to let go of is the belief that they're somehow lying when they say nice things about you, or trying to manipulate you or something by not really meaning what they say. Taking their complements and affection at face value, and to heart is the first step to getting this locked down. Any time it starts to upset you, just think "would the person who said this this and this and backed it up by acting like Y really think that about me?".

This works, but generally takes more time to build up more reinforcement of caring, affection, and attraction from them. The groundwork should already be there at 4 months though.

And yes, i know this can be hard if you actually have dated a manipulative shitty person who plays off your doubts/lies/etc. But your current partner is actually a good person right? The most important sword in this battle is trust. You really just have to take your partner at their word when they say something nice about you, until they give you a reason to believe otherwise.
posted by emptythought at 1:19 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

The biggest thing to let go of is the belief that they're somehow lying when they say nice things about you, or trying to manipulate you or something by not really meaning what they say.

This. This is so hard, but keep at it. I also try to remember that if I had a friend with what I perceive as my negative qualities, I would never ever be mouthing off about them in a bar, because in other people, what I see as really bad things in myself are revealed as just things that people do/have. (I can't think of a better way to phrase that, but hopefully you get my meaning.)
posted by ashirys at 3:01 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

First make sure there really isn't anything happening (or not happening) in the relationship that is prompting these feelings. Is the status quo working for you? Do these feelings come over you whether you're together or apart? Your phone call example, with you asking her why she didn't call last night and her getting annoyed by your asking, made me wonder if there actually is some validity to this that isn't being properly communicated because you're so afraid of looking clingy and insecure. Was there a reason why you thought she'd call, and then she didn't?

If you're absolutely certain your anxious feelings are not based on reality and she has proven many times to really like you and value the relationship, try making more plans with friends on days when you're not seeing her, and get involved in more activities that keep your mind busy so you don't have so much time to dwell on this.

But, if you haven't talked to her about this at all, it might be worth mentioning it and seeing how she responds. At the four-month point, hearing that from you shouldn't scare her off, and maybe you'll have a nice talk about it. For all you know, maybe she's had the same feelings too. Then at least you've put it out there, and you can maybe feel better about ignoring it until it goes away.
posted by wondermouse at 3:01 PM on April 1, 2013

I'm an anxious person as well. I think that my anxiety has hurt my past relationships in some ways- acting out and saying hurtful things to get a reaction from my friend/partner. Now, I'm so much more aware of my own issues. When my anxiety starts to rise for whatever reason, I usually talk it out with a close friend. These friends are aware of my issues and I trust them. They just offer me another perspective and I'm able to calm myself down. It helps so much and I'm not poisoning relationships with my own insecurities.
posted by Butterflye1010 at 8:52 AM on April 2, 2013

Try searching

I believe he speaks a lot on this subject, even if written for women.
posted by AlmondEyes at 8:53 AM on April 2, 2013

I'm probably not the best person to give advice here - I struggle with the same thing. But you should let yourself be vulnerable in front of your girlfriend - in other words, tell her that you feel this way. Intimacy involves talking about problems that arise in a relationship, even (especially!) if they come solely from you. I bet your girlfriend has noticed your unease, and it might be making HER anxious.

Also, frankly, I don't think seeking reassurance is such a bad thing. You don't want a girlfriend who feeds into your pathologies - it sounds like you've had codependent relationships in the past - but you do want someone you can trust. Is there a way you can help your girlfriend put you at ease? Think about when you feel most comfortable with your partner (after sex? Doing an activity that's just the two of you? Having a romantic dinner?), and try to make it a point to do that more often. And be open about your worries! That's how you will build trust and STOP worrying!
posted by minerthreat at 4:14 PM on April 2, 2013

I think being open and honest is a good policy, but I would caution about being too open, too quickly. In my experience, it's nice when both people are at the same level or interact in the same way, but that doesn't always happen. I've never had much success with getting someone to meet me at the "higher" level and have found that if the other person is taking things slow then I make myself match their pace. Because otherwise you can sometimes wind up in the situation where you are spilling your guts about all your insecurities, and the other person just isn't vulnerable. All of a sudden they might feel this heavy burden or get weirded out. (aside: I may just have had somewhat difficult partners in the past and so have become a little defensive and am in a datingpolitik phase). One of the calmest relationships I had was where I just followed their cool lead. As in, I call to plan something and they're going out with friends instead. They call me to do something the next week, and I respond I'm doing things with friends and then go do things with friends. And that sort of resets things, helps clear out some of the weird power imbalances. I mean, if it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander.

It may not be the glorious, lovey-dovey approach but I've found that it keeps me from getting too hurt and invested in people that are just unavailable, or gives them enough time to realize what exactly it is they want. If they want more, then they'll step it up.
posted by yeahyeahyeah at 5:59 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's a short article from Psychology Today about anxious attachment with some strategies for dealing with it, though it sounds like you're already doing these. It links to another article about why it's better to take a relationship slowly.
posted by lharmon at 6:28 PM on April 5, 2013

I would like to note that I just had to take both my own advice tonight and other advice from this thread as well--lo and behold, still works (well, mostly. I'm sure I'll probably have some weird dreams when I finally go to bed...) Hope you're trying out some of the excellent suggestions and feeling a bit more even-keeled!
posted by like_a_friend at 10:06 PM on April 8, 2013

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