Feeling insecure, anxious, and paranoid at work? Or do you struggle with certain issues at work? This might be due to your attachment style, or what experts call an ‘anxious attachment at work’.
“People with this attachment style tend to be insecure and over analyse or overthink things. They are anxious about losing relationships and are worried about how they are perceived in the workplace. They have high levels of worry and self-doubt, and, as a result, they may come across as people-pleasers or constantly seeking approval” UK-based consultant psychiatrist Dr Anney Varghese with a special interest in Women’s Mental Health tells Vogue Singapore.
If you see these symptoms manifest at work, read on: Vogue Singapore does a deep dive into everything you need to know about anxious attachment at work. From the signs and symptoms to nine therapist-approved ways to overcome them so you can lead a healthier, happier work life.
What does “anxious attachment at work” mean?
When we hear or think about the word ‘attachment’, relationships come to mind. When we think about relationships, we often refer to family and intimate relationships. However, we miss the big bit: our work relationships.
“Anxious attachment is an insecure attachment style and when applied to how one functions and performs in the workplace, it can be called anxious attachment at work. If you or someone you know struggles with issues at work, this might be due to insecure attachment patterns. Applying attachment theory in the context of the workplace is relatively new,” Dr Varghese explains.
US-based Psychologist Dr Justine Grosso says: “Anxious attachment usually refers to fears of loss, abandonment, or rejection in relationships. However, in the context of work, this fear shows up around co-workers or bosses.”
This is not the case for everyone as some may experience a different kind of distress at work and may be more than your attachment fears.
“Some bosses are abusive, you may be in a hostile work environment, or you may be experiencing discrimination,” Dr Grosso.
According to research, having an anxious attachment style can result in personal and interpersonal struggles in the workplace.
Dr Varghese says people who have an anxious attachment at work “may have low self-esteem and may have underlying mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, trauma, neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD, or during certain stages in their life such as in the perinatal period (pregnancy-related) or mid-life (perimenopause or menopause).”
As a result, anxious employees might constantly seek approval from their colleagues.
Signs and symptoms of someone who has an anxious attachment at work
Common signs of someone who may be experiencing an anxious attachment at work.
- Avoiding conflict to avoid confrontation
- Hypersensitivity to feedback
- Strong fear of rejection and negative evaluation; feeling preoccupied about whether their boss or colleagues are mad at them
- Constantly checking emails out of fear that something is not okay
- Perceiving benign requests, feedback, and questions from the boss as evidence of doing something ’wrong’, ’being in trouble’, or a threat to job security (in the absence of any evidence that your job is in jeopardy)
- Answering emails reactively or defensively
- Trouble setting boundaries with how much work you can take on or your work hours
- Over-functioning for other team members
- Difficulty asking for time off from work
What will happen if this is not addressed or ignored?
While anxious attachment at work has its cons, it also has pros. Experts say people who have anxious attachment styles are alert to their own potential deficiencies and hyper-vigilant about seeking ways to improve. This may result in a positive effect on performance and create less friction in the workplace since they are non-confrontational individuals. So, expect a peaceful and calm work environment.
However, ignoring the symptoms is never the way to go. We take work seriously and we sometimes take it home. By having this kind of relationship at work, you will suffer greatly in your personal and professional life.
“Living with an anxious attachment at work can be very draining and can lead to burnout or struggles with work-life balance. It may be hard to relax outside of working hours because of constant worry about relationships being ‘okay’ at work.” Dr Grosso says.
What kind of relationship should one have with work?
We all crave a life of no conflict in all aspects of life. But creating no boundaries is not made for human beings to thrive and speak their minds. We’re all susceptible to all sorts of emotions and we don’t live on a planet full of rainbows, unicorns, and cotton candies, and that’s okay.
But striving for a happy and healthy relationship at work can be achievable through a realistic set of eyes of days of ups and downs and feeling okay about it.
“An ideal relationship to work, in the presence of a genuinely safe and supportive work environment, is characterised by the ability to take a mindful pause and respond intentionally to emails, colleagues, and bosses.
You can self-soothe when stressful situations and communications occur and proceed from a place of wisdom and clarity.
It also includes the ability to be assertive: you can say ’no’ to requests outside of your bandwidth, ask for time off from work, and navigate conflict skilfully.
There is also a capacity to have a growth mindset: interpreting questions and feedback as invitations to improve the working relationship and not evidence of failure or rejection. You should be able to take full advantage of all your benefits (sick days, vacation days, etc),” Dr Grosso says.
9 therapist-approved ways to tackle anxious attachment at work
Here are seven therapist-approved ways to overcome anxious attachment at work that you can practice daily, as Dr Grosso and Dr Varghese advised.
- Nervous system grounding skills can help soothe fear, anger, and worry that come with the anxious attachment at work. Grounding skills include breathing in for four counts and out for six counts, feeling your feet on the ground, yoga, and rigorous exercise.
- Do mini behaviour experiments to confront your fears and allow your nervous system to learn that whatever the feared outcome is, it does not happen. Examples of mini-experiments are not responding to emails outside of business hours, not responding to an email for 1-24 hours (you choose), taking a day off from work and not responding to emails.
- If you do a mini-experiment (i.e., request taking time off) and there is an unreasonable consequence, it is important to harness healthy anger. Healthy anger motivates us to have an assertive conversation about a given request or set boundaries. Assertive communication is direct, calm, and firm and does not include yelling or aggression.
- Write a compassionate letter from your adult self to your inner child about why it makes sense that they feel fear in relationships with authority figures. Express compassion for the fact that they are suffering.
- Talk. Be it to a close friend, a therapist, a coach, or find a trusted psychiatrist who will listen to you and not dismiss your anxieties. There may be an underlying treatable mental health issue too.
- Focus on your overall well-being, Sleep, and learn strategies to manage your stress. Try apps such as CALM, and Headspace, or use wellbeing pods in your office if you have one.
- Seeking informal feedback frequently and proactively in the workplace may be one way of working around your rejection sensitivity.
- People with anxious attachment styles tend to be very self-reflective, often looking for ways to improve. So, hone it to this superpower of yours as self-awareness is key.
- It may take time and effort, but over time you can learn to develop a Secure Attachment Style by learning to be comfortable asking for what you need, setting clear boundaries and sharing your feelings openly.
Research suggests attaining secure attachment in both employees and leaders tends to have many benefits in the workplace. Awareness is the first step and addressing it by taking proactive steps in the right direction will produce tangible results.