How Insecure Attachment Can Lead to Passive-Aggressive Behavior

A Look at Attachment

Think back to some of your earliest memories with your mom, dad, or other caregiver. Did you feel safe, connected, and loved unconditionally? Perhaps you felt that love was given conditionally, or even withheld from you intentionally. If you were raised in a household where addiction or abusive behaviors were present, you may remember living in fear much of the time. These early experiences often shape our future relationships, how we attach with intimate partners, and even our communication style within these relationships. Several different types of attachment styles have been identified. Three of the most prominent styles are, secure, anxious, and avoidant. Let’s explore the different styles and which characteristics are prevalent in each.
  • Secure: This is considered to be healthy attachment. In secure attachment, trust, respect, and honesty is felt and expressed openly. There is a confidence in knowing that your partner loves you, finds you attractive, and wants to be with you. This type allows both partners freedom to be connected to one another and also independent of each other without fear of loss or hurt.
  • Anxious: This type of attachment is characterized by fear and is considered an insecure attachment. Fear of rejection, jealousy, and relationship uncertainty is common which often stems from erratic parental affection and attention. If you have an anxious attachment style, you may notice strong feelings of jealousy and clingy behaviors.
  • Avoidant: As the name implies, people with avoidant attachment avoid being vulnerable and appearing dependent on anyone. Independence is valued and they may want closeness yet fear intimacy. Many times avoidant partners will distance themselves from their partner in times of conflict or uncertainty as a way to avoid being hurt.
Definition of Passive-Aggressive Behavior “Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, stubbornness, sullen behavior, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.” Wikipedia

The Attachment/Passive Aggressive Link

Passive-aggressive behaviors are not often seen in relationships with secure attachment. It can be problematic, however, for individuals who demonstrate anxious or avoidant attachment styles. When anxious individuals demonstrate clingy, needy behavior, their partner (especially if he/she is avoidant) reacts by withdrawing which then causes the anxious partner to strengthen the pursuit. This pursue/withdraw behavior then repeats itself when conflict or instability arises. Passive-aggressive behavior links easily with insecure attachment patterns. After repeated pursue/withdraw episodes, resentment builds and instead of dealing with the conflict directly, the avoidant partner may retaliate with indirect yet hostile behavior. It is a dysfunctional way of responding to needs not being met in the relationship, and may represent a pattern that was established in a person’s early development. Some examples of passive-aggressive behaviors include:
  • Giving your partner the silent treatment when they reach out
  • Deliberately procrastinating the completion of a requested task
  • Projecting a hostile attitude toward your partner
  • Using compliments to appear warm but actually intending to criticize
Do you recognize any of these examples or think that insecure attachment may be negatively affecting your relationships? Is this an issue that you would like help with today? Contact NewPoint of View Counseling to get started on the path of hope and healing! As a professional therapist, I look forward to helping you learn to forgive and to live your most authentic life, filled with love, trust, and relationship satisfaction.