How Do I Make My Anxious-Attachment Ex Feel Safe?

Question: Yangki, my ex is everything you describe about anxiously preoccupied attacher. I broke up with her and she asked for no-contact for 60 days because her therapist told her to do so. She told me she didn’t want to do it but everyone said she should. Long story short, she reached out to me two weeks ago and since we’ve been texting 10 – 20 texts a day. At first it was kind of fun, but it can be overwhelming sometimes. What really gets me is when I don’t respond right away, she sends several texts asking why I am ignoring her then telling me she’s over me and to forget about her then she loves me etc. Everyone tells me she’s crazy and to run but I know her, she’s not like this all the time but only when she feels insecure and unloved. I want to try to make this work and need your help.

Yangki;s Answer: Run! Kidding…

I am sure there is more to this story and situation, but I’ll try my best to respond to the part that really gets to you.

The best way to approach an anxiously preoccupied attacher is to ask what they need to feel safe or loved. You can say, “What can I do to make you feel secure or loved?”, then try to do it.

I say “try” because most of the time you will feel that what they need to feel secure and loved is way over the top (needy) and absurd (if you are a dismissive-avoidant). In addition, many anxiously preoccupied attachers don’t know how to receive love and when offered without boundaries, some can become manipulative and controlling.

Promising to ‘try’ and showing that you are genuinely trying to make them feel secure and loved without giving up too much of your independence and autonomy goes a long way.

Make sure you are clear about what they mean because anxiously attached men and women have a tendency to be vague and imprecise about their needs because they:

  • Believe they will not get it anyway and;
  • Are afraid that if they say what they want or are honest about their needs, it may end up pushing someone away (their past experiences have proven that’s the case).

Make a habit of repeating to them what you think they meant so they can hear it the way you hear it. Once you are clear about what they want and need, decide what you can do and what you can’t. It’s important that you have clear boundaries and communicate them clearly.

For example you can say, “I’ll respond to your texts within 30 minutes when I am able to, and when I am not, I’ll text to let you know I received your text and will respond as soon as I can. Will this show you that I am not ignoring you or being disrespectful (or whatever they said not responding makes they feel)?”

If they say it does, add “But if you send me several texts before I have had the chance to respond, I’ll not respond at all. Do we agree on this?”

This way you give them the reassurance they need but also communicate clear boundaries and the consequences of violating those boundaries.

It’s important that you come from a place of love and genuinely trying to provide safety and security and not anger or resentment. When you are triggered and/or angry and resentful, you may end up putting up a wall between the two of you and creating even more anxiety and fear in someone you claim to love.

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