Here’s How To Heal From a Breakup When You Have an Anxious Attachment Style

Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold
Everyone has their own timeline when it comes to healing from a breakup. Some may take several months (or longer) to commit to being alone and practicing self care, and others may feel ready to jump back into dating after a few days, depending on the nature of the relationship. Personally, nearly all my previous breakups took me years to move on from—especially in cases where the breakup wasn’t my idea, or no one did anything wrong. As I’d later learn, part of the reason I had so much difficulty letting go after a breakup was because of my anxious attachment style.

The concept of attachment styles, of which there are four (secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized), stems from attachment theory, which says that the relationship you had with your caregiver(s) as an infant and young child informs how you will connect with others in your adult life. Though it’s not a new concept, attachment theory is having a moment on TikTok (the hashtag #attachmentstyles has over 24 million views), as more people turn to the framework to better understand their love life and how they approach and act within relationships… and during breakups.

Experts In This Article
  • Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp and editor-in-chief of Heart Hackers Club, an online magazine that focuses on the psychology behind love, lust, and desire
  • Tana Espino, LMFT, psychotherapist and somatic coach

People with an anxious attachment style, in particular, experience frequent anxiety about potential abandonment, typically due to early childhood experiences with a caregiver who didn’t (or didn’t reliably) meet their emotional needs. As a result, they often seek reassurance from a partner1 that they still like them and want to be with them.

In grappling with my own attachment issues, I've found myself worrying about what my current or potential partners were doing when we were apart, questioning their feelings for me and whether they shared my vision for our future, and essentially waiting to see if they would leave me. It’s no wonder, then, that the eventual breakups sent me spiraling.

“A breakup activates our survival response and triggers our abandonment wound, which can make us feel like we won’t ‘survive’ the breakup.” —Tana Espino, LMFT, psychotherapist

“Attachment is about survival, it develops in infancy, and that gets triggered during breakups if we haven’t healed into a more securely attached system,” says psychotherapist and somatic coach Tana Espino, LMFT. “A breakup activates our survival response and triggers our abandonment wound, which can make us feel like we won’t ‘survive’ the breakup.”

Below, experts share why a breakup hits differently when you have an anxious attachment style and their best advice for making it through. No matter how difficult it may feel if you’re in the wake of your own breakup, it’s important to remember: You’re not alone, and there is hope.

How an anxious attachment style can affect your experience of a breakup

Breakups can be difficult for anyone, but “people with an anxious attachment style often experience breakups more intensely2 compared to those with other attachment styles,” says Amy Chan, author of Breakup Bootcamp and host of the Breakup Bootcamp podcast. After all, those who have an anxious attachment style have a predilection for feeling abandoned or neglected based on early childhood experiences—which can make breakups feel that much more destabilizing when they happen. And the tendency of anxiously attached people to connect their own sense of identity and self-worth with the validation of a partner can further worsen the experience of a breakup, says Chan.

That's certainly been true for me. My sense of self-esteem absolutely plummeted when each of my past relationships ended because I had come to base my worth on how much my partner loved me. Whenever one of my partners decided to end things, I felt like I had lost everything—because I had made him my everything. As is typical for anxious attachment, I had let my other relationships with friends and family members fall the wayside and even sacrificed hobbies to focus solely on the relationship and the validation I gained from it, leaving me with seemingly nothing in its wake.

Processing such big feelings of loss or rupture can send the nervous system into overdrive, says Espino, leading someone with an anxious attachment style to react with a fight-or-flight response. “They may start to do whatever is in their power to maintain the connection,” says Espino, “even at the expense of their own needs and values.” This reaction can trigger some irrational and ill-advised decisions, like begging your partner to stay, changing things about your appearance to see if it’ll change their mind, or using physical intimacy as a last-ditch effort to maintain some form of connection with them.

How to heal from a breakup if you have an anxious attachment style

As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. If you struggle with anxious attachment, though, the process of healing from a breakup may take you more time and energy than it would for people who are securely attached, but it will be well worth it in the end. Use these tips to embark on that journey:

Distance yourself from the situation

As tempting as it may be, checking up on your ex’s Instagram or hanging around their favorite local coffee shop and hoping to “run into” them won’t do you any good. (Trust me, I’ve been there, and it never helps.) Rather than keeping yourself in close proximity to the person or situation that has caused you so much pain, Chan says that going no-contact is critical to the healing process.

“This step is crucial because continued interaction can reinforce the neural pathways associated with your ex, making it harder for your brain to adapt to the new reality of the breakup,” says Chan. “By cutting off contact, you enable the process of synaptic pruning, which is the brain's way of eliminating unnecessary neural connections, facilitating healing, and moving on.”

Steer clear of overthinking

Ruminating on the breakup, why it happened, and what your ex is experiencing or thinking rarely helps. Instead, such overthinking can become a vicious cycle that prolongs your suffering and delays the healing process further, says Chan. “Mind-reading, catastrophizing, and making assumptions about how little they are feeling the impact of the breakup are all cognitive distortions which amplify stress and anxiety,” she explains. “Even if your ex had a secure or avoidant attachment style, chances are, they are processing the grief, too, in their unique way.”

Move your body

“Because a breakup activates our [nervous] system, we need to focus on getting back into a more regulated state and feeling more secure within,” says Espino. To do that, she suggests engaging in somatic work.

That can look like breathwork, meditation, yoga, or even dancing—any physical way you can start to reconnect with your body and ground yourself in self-love and compassion.

Not sure where to start? Try this yoga-for-heartbreak flow:

Seek support from your community

In my own past breakups, I’ve often come to realize just how much time and energy I had invested into my relationship with my former partner—often at the expense of my connections with my friends and family. Weeks or even months would go by where I ignored texts from my girlfriends asking to hang out or forgot to call my mom back, all because I was completely engrossed in the person I was dating. It wasn’t until after a breakup happened that I would realize how important it was to have people in my sphere beyond a partner.

When you’re dealing with anxious attachment during a breakup, leaning on your support system can help remind you that you’re not being abandoned or left alone, and that you are still loved and appreciated. Chan recommends reaching out to those in your life who won’t judge you and will hold space for you to express and process your feelings.

It’s also a good idea to share with them the ways in which you'd like to be supported. “Let them know that you would like a listener who offers empathy rather than advice,” suggests Chan. “Since not everyone knows how to support someone who's grieving, it's important to guide them on how best they can assist you.”

Shift your focus to something new

Choosing not to think about your ex or the breakup is often easier said than done, but it’s important to make sure that this former relationship doesn’t occupy all of your present mental and emotional space. (I can say with experience that listening to sad music and scrolling through old pictures of you and your ex won't do you any favors.)

Instead of giving into self-punishment, engaging in new activities that will distract you from the breakup can help remind you that there are better things on the horizon. “Whether it's learning a new skill, meeting new people, or traveling to new places, these experiences help your brain evolve and adapt, reducing the dominance of neural pathways linked to your ex,” says Chan. “This approach effectively reshapes your neural landscape, aiding in the recovery process.”

A few ideas? You can set up a standing movie night with your friends, meet up with your coworkers for happy hour, or try a new workout class in your area. Even starting a new ritual or routine, like taking long walks with your dog every morning or checking out a weekly farmer’s market, can help you build a new life and positive reality without your ex. “It’s okay to have healthy distractions while we are healing from a breakup, in order to bring ourselves more ease,” says Espino.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Evraire, Lyndsay Elizabeth et al. “The Contribution of Attachment Styles and Reassurance Seeking to Trust in Romantic Couples.” Europe’s journal of psychology vol. 18,1 19-39. 25 Feb. 2022, doi:10.5964/ejop.3059
  2. Eisma, Maarten C et al. “Desired attachment and breakup distress relate to automatic approach of the ex-partner.” Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry vol. 75 (2022): 101713. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2021.101713

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