A More In Depth View of the

Anxious/Ambivalent Disorder

Attachment is an overarching system that explains the principles, the rules, and the emotions of relationships—how they work and why they don’t, how we feel when we’re with the ones we love the most.

Comparison of Attachment Styles

Avoidant Attachment Style POSITIVE View of SELF/NEGATIVE View of OTHER
Grass is greener on my side of the fence “I am the smart one. You are not.”

Anxious/ Ambivalent Attachment Style NEGATIVE View of SELF /POSITIVE View of OTHER
Grass is greener on your side of the fence. “You are the smart one.” I am not.”

Disorganized Attachment Style NEGATIVE view of SELF / NEGATIVE view of OTHERS
No grass Satan lied to us about who God is and who we are! “We can’t love or trust. Anyone.”

Secure Attachment Style POSITIVE view of SELF/POSITIVE view of OTHER
Green grass no fences plenty of love for all. God says we are both designed in His image. 

Questions we ask ourselves

“Are you there for me?
Can I count on you? Do you really care about me?
Am I worthy of your love and protection?
What do I have to do to get your attention, your affection, your heart?

These are questions of attachment. When they cannot be answered positively, your psychological, relational, and even spiritual foundations can be shaken”
(By Dr. Tim Clinton & Dr. Gary Sibcy "Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do".)

“Unthinking confidence in the unfailing accessibility and support of attachment figures is the bedrock on which stable and self-reliant personality is built.” —JOHN BOWLBY “I am the door: by me if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:9-10 (KJV) Shared from Pocket Bible for Windows Store ( 

Anxious/Ambivalent Disorder

Anxious/ Ambivalent Attachment Style NEGATIVE View of SELF /POSITIVE View of OTHER
Grass is greener on your side of the fence. “You are the smart one.” I am not.”

          a. Anxious/Ambivalent Disorder and Emotions
                    1. Overwhelmed by emotions.
                    2. Overact – too much emotion. (You can’t get upset, because I’m the one with the problem.)
          b. Anxious/Ambivalent Disorder and Intimacy
                    1. Moves toward you and against you at the same time.
                    2. Questions your love, never satisfied. (I am who I am based on my performance.)



Those with the ambivalent attachment style are wonderful people to be around. They have a powerful way of making you feel good about yourself, and they can experience life with intense emotion, love, and laughter. But really they are needy people with some very strong core beliefs:

• I am/feel incompetent. • I struggle to handle things on my own.

I need a strong protector to care and do things for me. • This is a cold and dangerous world where people will hurt me and disaster will strike at any time, so I need to play it safe and stay close to those who are stronger and wiser. Those who hold to these beliefs will unavoidably develop some pretty negative feelings. If they feel incompetent, when they’re presented with a challenge, even a normal challenge of life, they’ll be visited by stifling anxieties and nearly debilitating self-doubts. For example, a very delightful and hard-working lady we know was asked to lead devotions at the next week’s Sunday school class. The next Saturday she broke out in hives, and by the time she stood in front of the class Sunday morning she had become overwhelmed to the point that after she read the verse of Scripture, her voice shut down and she couldn’t even speak! Can you imagine what it’s like for those who need a strong protector to care for them to even think of going on a trip alone, dealing with hotel and plane reservations, figuring out what to do when things go wrong? The mere thought of doing these kinds of activities alone would terrify them. After all, in the eyes of dependent people, the world literally crawls with danger: Cars run out of gas, airline tickets get lost, jobs evaporate. And because they view themselves as needy, they diligently search for someone to rescue them from all these possibilities, all these eventualities. For them, “White knights are not the inhabitants of fairy tales; they are the invited dinner guests.”3 When you believe you can’t survive without the protection of someone you perceive as stronger and more competent, you’re willing to go to great lengths to keep that other person around. You simply can’t take the chance of driving him or her away. You have to please that person. So the template for living your life is Make no waves. If you’re hurt, say nothing. If you’re afraid, say nothing. If you need the salt, get up and get it yourself. And if you need to be a doormat, lie down, and when he’s done, make sure his shoes are clean. Sure it hurts . . . but it’s true. In all things, serve with unwavering devotion. Whatever you do, don’t let your beliefs, your moral values, or your sense of self get in the way of pleasing that other person. Tuck them away. Persons with an ambivalent attachment style are terrified that by asserting their own beliefs, desires, limits, and opinions, they will anger their attachment figures, and those figures will run screaming from the relationship. Now, that’s a tough way to live. But it’s more common than you might think.
The fear of rejection can breed some pretty destructive behaviors and feelings in those with an ambivalent attachment style: • very low self-confidence • fear of making decisions, looking to others to make major life decisions • rarely expressing disagreement with others • frequently seeking assurance, nurturance, and support • feeling obsessed with the fear of being left alone (for example, the fear that your spouse will die suddenly) • feeling helpless when alone • desperately seeking new relationships when others end • frequently subordinating themselves to others • perpetually seeking advice • often working below their ability level • accepting unpleasant tasks to please others • having a tendency to express distress through medically unexplainable physical symptoms rather than emotional pain (For example, they may develop headaches while doing unpleasant activities rather than saying, “No, I can’t do this. It’s too stressful.”) 



You might wonder how this type of dependency develops. Let’s take a look at four common scenarios that can produce a dependent personality most likely to develop ambivalent attachment. The primary goal of good parenting is to help children become autonomous adults who are able to function independently of their parents. But some parents do just the opposite. Their goal is to foster compliant, always-there-for-the-parent’s kids—dependent children who are discouraged from being independent.

5 The Cold-Shoulder Treatment

The genesis of the dependent personality can begin in situations like this: (a) The child behaves in a way the parent disapproves of, and (b) the parent refuses to talk to the child or emotionally turns a cold shoulder toward the child. Often uncomfortable with strong emotion, these parents especially learn to unleash their frigid-shoulder demeanor when the children assert their sense of self, their own opinions, and their ways that differ from the parents’. Ice also forms on their shoulders when the children express strong emotions, like anger or frustration. Don’t get us wrong here. We are not suggesting that parents allow their children to be rude or obnoxious when they disagree with their parents. However, children should be allowed to disagree, and that disagreement should not be automatically interpreted as “bad attitude” followed consistently with the cold shoulder to correct their nonconformity. Overprotection Kids should be allowed to be kids. When parents forbid children from participating in age-appropriate, ordinary activities because the parents believe such activities put the children in too much physical or emotional danger, the children never learn to deal with the normal bumps and bruises the world hands out. As a result, they remain dependent. A couple of examples: A mother of an overly anxious, generally fearful child refused to let him go roller-skating because she thought he would undoubtedly break a kneecap, or worse. Another parent, of an anxious fourteen-year-old this time, insisted she sit next to her at all high school football games because “there are lots of creeps at these events, and I don’t want her getting manipulated by one.” Her daughter’s objections were met with cold stares and emotional withdrawal. The message was clear: I must protect you from this dangerous dangerous world, and I will withhold my approval of you if you disagree. Safety is one thing. Overprotection is another. Withholding Affection and Approval As the name implies, withholding occurs as parents withhold their affection and approval when children get excited or experience joy independently of the parents

6 As you can imagine

This dampens the children’s sense of autonomy and makes it too dangerous to explore outside the parents’ world. For example, a ten-year-old girl told us she and her girlfriend were playing in her room, whispering and giggling about the typical things ten-year-old girls find funny, when the girl’s mom poked her head in, interrupted, and accused them of misbehaving. With the mother present, we discussed this incident in some detail. Mom finally admitted she was jealous that her daughter was having fun without her. Mom was sending her daughter the message that it was not permissible for her to have fun independently of Mom.

Invisible Fences

An invisible fence is used to teach the dog to stay in the yard. Here’s how the training goes: An electronic “fence” is buried around the perimeter of the yard. During training, when Rover, wearing a special collar, gets too close to the fence, the collar emits a high-pitched sound. As the dog walks closer to the electric field it gets a painful shock. The master then pulls the dog back, away from the shock. The dog quickly learns two things: First, it associates the high-pitched sound with pain, so when it hears it in the future, it stops and retreats. Second, it believes the electric force field continues, infinitely, beyond the perimeter. That’s why good doggie parents never let the dog loose beyond the invisible fence’s electric field. It will learn its parents have misled him, and may take them out of its will. Dependency develops in the same way whenever children behave autonomously, express their own opinions or their feelings of anger or frustration, or engage in age-appropriate activities, and the parents display disapproval. Just as the dog associates the high-pitched sound with a painful electric shock, so the dependent person comes to associate painful disapproval with the experience of autonomy and independence. Likewise, just as the dog becomes anxious at the sound from its collar and retreats into the safety of the master’s yard, so the dependent person becomes fearful whenever faced with independence and anxiously seeks refuge in the caregiver. 


Anxiety, uncertainty, and self-doubt rumble like a nearby subway just beneath the surface of dependent people. Their goal is to manage the anxiety. If and how they manage it differs, however. Let’s take a look at three shades of dependency. The Anxious Dependent Anxious dependents behave a little like turtles without their shells. They feel vulnerable all the time—. to the world and to others.
All they ever want is security and to be protected, but they never get it, or at least they never feel that they do. Instead, a foreboding sense of danger, of being somehow defective and inadequate, follows them like a little black cloud. If you are married to one of these people, you understand. Caught in a tough spot, this strong dependency is combined with the dismal sense that others will inevitably reject them. For these people, the greatest fear is that others will get to know them for who they really are—inadequate and defective. And they are sure this awareness will lead to instant and outright rejection. As a consequence, anxious dependent persons. hesitate to start a relationship unless certain that they won’t be rejected. And how many relationships like that do you know? To the casual observer, these people appear apathetic and disinterested in relationships, but somewhere inside them a storm of desire clashes with fears of rejection—and the thunder rolls. Some common characteristics include
• a tendency to avoid close relationships because of fear of rejection
• an unwillingness to get involved in activities that require social interaction
• a pattern of restraint and reservation within social situations
• excessive fear of criticism
• an aversion to embarrassment, one of the most feared emotions
• low self-esteem, a feeling that the person is fundamentally flawed or defective
• a tendency to exaggerate risks, especially the risk of being embarrassed socially
• a tendency to be easily sidetracked and overwhelmed by otherwise minor failures or disappointments Engulfed in this fire, it’s very difficult to get out of the flames. Why? Because it’s a vicious, self-repeating cycle that is often plagued by a number of negative thought patterns:
• I feel flawed; no one could possibly like me.
• Every failure verifies I am flawed.
• If someone rejects me, it also proves I’m flawed.
• Those who like me must not really know who I am or else they’re poor judges of character.
• If I feel embarrassed, it will be overwhelming and unbearable.
What’s also difficult is that they tend to behave in ways that invite rejection from others. For example, Gina was an anxious dependent college student who followed her high school boyfriend to college, where they continued dating. But during her freshman year she became depressed because she couldn’t develop new friendships with other females due to spending all her time with the boyfriend so that she wouldn’t lose him. Faced with all the pressures of her new life, she became clingy and controlling with her boyfriend. As a result, he felt smothered and found someone else. To find a solution to her problem, Gina went to counseling. After several sessions, she was referred to group therapy. Soon after starting the group, her self-defeating pattern of behavior surfaced again. During the sessions, she just sat there aloof and disinterested, rarely making direct eye contact with the others. When she finally opened up and described her incredible fear of embarrassment and her actual desire to connect with group members, many of the group members were shocked. They told her they initially thought she was snobbish and conceited. So they had withdrawn their attention and ignored her. This revelation shocked Gina as well and caused her to see, with the group’s help, how she’d fallen into a self-defeating cycle of social behavior. Just to put a fine point on it, let’s review the cycle: Gina felt flawed, and she feared if others knew her true self, they’d reject her. So she withdrew socially to prevent them from knowing her. Others, in response, interpreted her standoffishness as a sign of disinterest and conceit. They reacted angrily and withdrew from Gina, putting up a wall of indifference. Gina, not to be outdone, interpreted this as confirmation of her feelings of being flawed and worthless.
The Melodramatic Dependent While anxious dependents deal with the fear of rejection by withdrawing, melodramatic dependents, often women, are far more active about it. They seek attention with great enthusiasm and tenacity. 

7 Unfortunately

when trying to achieve their goals of acceptance and social applause, they tend to rely too heavily on their looks and theatrical displays of emotion. As a result, others tend to see them as shallow and immature as they live “life as a child, hoping to find a perch on Daddy’s knee.”

8 Their ambivalent attachment style is characterized by...

The ambivalent attachment style is characterized by dependency and attention seeking, especially getting attention from men. The following list shows some important characteristics and life themes of melodramatics:
• are “onstage” all the time as they seek to be the center of attention
• tend to perceive relationships as closer than they really are
• are strongly impacted by the opinions of others
• pay excessive attention to their physical appearance
• always want to stay looking young
• dress in sexually provocative ways but get little pleasure from sex, even in marriage
• shift emotions rapidly, often quite dramatically
• speak in a very impressionistic way, paying very little attention to details
• though emotional displays may be quite dramatic, they generally try to downplay stronger emotions (especially about abandonment) and present themselves in a very favorable light

9 Movies

The secular music industry, and pop magazines strongly reinforce the “beauty” image for our kids. They underscore the message that the more attractive you are physically, the more lovable you are, and if others are more attractive than you are, they’re more lovable as well. In addition to basic dependency, melodramatic dependent people struggle with three fundamental beliefs:
• I must be the center of attention or I’m not worthy/lovable.
• I need someone, especially a strong man, to constantly offer me reassurance and praise or I will feel awful about myself.
• In order for others to want to be around me, I must always be fun and exciting.  

10 It’s no wonder

It’s no wonder they’re thought by those nearest them as shallow—because they might just be! And for good reason, since they spend so much time and energy on their externals while paying little attention to their internals. Self-knowledge is often just avoided. It feels alien, just plain odd, to look too deeply into their own thoughts and feelings. As children, their parents praised their looks and theatrics, not their thoughts and feelings when they tried to discuss them. In fact, because self-reflection was somehow threatening to their parents, it was shunned and ignored.
Lizzi exhibited many of the characteristics of the melodramatic dependent. Forty years old with two teenage daughters, she attended the same group as Gina and complained incessantly that “no one really cared” about her. She said her daughters were growing up and were more connected to their peers and their boyfriends, and her husband, a successful businessman, was gone almost three weeks a month. “He makes big bucks, which I need—I love to shop. I gotta look good, y’know. I like to glitter when I walk.” Everyone in the group agreed she actually did. But the more she talked, the more everyone, including Lizzi herself, realized her marriage was profoundly dissatisfying and a source of a lot of anxiety and frustration. As the group experience continued for Lizzi, her melodramatic style became more apparent. At one meeting a member confronted Lizzi on her lack of substance, her tendency to focus on wealth and prestige rather than on character, feelings, and thoughts. He wanted to know how she really felt about life issues, how she felt about others in the group. He was tired of hearing about her money, her clothes, and her church activities. The rest of the group chimed in with similar questions, but Lizzi shut them off as she collapsed into a histrionic display of tears. Her face twisted and streaked with mascara, Lizzi squalled, “You guys don’t understand me. Nobody understands me.” Then she slumped into her seat and withered into sobs. Everyone fell silent and open-mouthed as they glanced at one another with deep discomfort. To Lizzi’s credit, she stuck it out with the group. And over time she gathered some important information about herself and her marriage. Probably most importantly, she came to understand that if she wanted deeper, more intimate relationships and she wanted to dampen her nagging sense of loneliness, she had to get real—both with herself and with others. This was rocky, uncharted territory for Lizzi, but she slogged her way through it. Next, she learned her looks were not synonymous with her self-worth and lovability. Because she had equated looks with those characteristics, whenever Lizzi’s hubby commented on how other women were also attractive, Lizzi went off like a Roman candle. She was sure he was admitting he loved other women. And if he considered other women attractive, then he must consider her “as ugly as an ol’ cow”! Well, on this topic, the group sparked like the Fourth of July. The members held an opposite view, but Lizzi wasn’t about to be easily swayed. She was prepared to fight tooth and nail for this belief, because it was a faith to her, an intensely held conviction, so deeply lodged in her mind that she couldn’t see life unfolding any other way. Tom, a middle-aged, pudgy-cheeked member of the group, leaned forward in his chair. “Lizzi,” he began, “take a look at us guys here. We’re all just regular guys, past our prime, but even when we were at our peaks we weren’t all that good looking. Do you think our wives really think we’re the best-looking guys they’ve ever seen? Do you think my wife believes I’m the best-looking thing on the planet? She’d have to be delusional!” Lizzi smiled. She was starting to get it. Tom went on. “But she loves me. I know she does. She’d have to, to stay with a guy who looks like me. She’s not in it for the looks. That’s obvious, isn’t it? There’s more to me than my looks.”
Tears welled in Lizzi’s eyes then broke down her cheeks. She’d stopped wearing so much mascara to group meetings, but what little there was of it began to run. Reacting, several in the group expressed concern and asked her why she was crying. “There’s nothing else,” she cried, the tears stronger now, “nothing but my looks. I hate getting old. I hate having to worry every day about wrinkles, about weight, about how my clothes fit, about what I eat. I hate it. But that’s all there is to me. My looks. Without them, I’m nothing!” This was an important admission for Lizzi. It distilled on the outside what had been, up until that moment, an internal truism. Now it was out in the open and in play, and over the next year or so, the group helped her deal with it. How? They helped her find more about herself than just her looks to rely upon. Finally, she saw herself as more than just a boy-toy, more than a Christian version of Madonna’s “Material Girl.” She discovered that others enjoyed hearing about her opinions, her insights, her thoughts, and her feelings. When she shared those elements of who she was, they felt closer to her. And, to her surprise, she felt closer to them and, as such, far less lonely, less clingy, and less dependent. Her relationship with God also got stronger. She began to realize that no man could meet the deepest longings of her heart—only He can. We witnessed how she started turning to Him for a sense of safety and security and began to rely less on the things she had. 

 The Angry Dependent 

Although anger seems out of place for a dependent person, it’s a common characteristic—if we define it right. So before we go any further, let’s define two types of anger.11 Primary adaptive anger recognizes we’ve been wronged or mistreated. It is validating anger; some have called it righteous indignation, a sense that This just isn’t fair. I don’t deserve what you’ve done to hurt me. For example, if a husband comes home from work an hour late without calling, a move that causes the wife’s roast to burn, she might say, “I’m mad. You don’t care about the work I do around here or my feelings. Do that again, and you’re sleeping on the couch with the dog.”

Secondary maladaptive anger 

frequently ignores the event that provoked the anger and suppresses it. Behaviorally, it’s repressed anger, tamped down— stuffed and over controlled because the person is afraid to be direct about it. However, anger can’t ever be totally repressed for very long, because it always finds an expression. In time it will surface—maybe physically, in problems like ulcers or high blood pressure, or perhaps emotionally, through irritability and nagging. In the above situation, consider that the wife, instead of confronting the husband when he gets home, says nothing initially. But later she may begin criticizing him about how he strews his clothes all over the bedroom or how he never completes a project: “You’ve got half-done projects all over this house,” she might continue. The husband fights back, and as the battles between them heat up, she may escalate from criticism to contempt,12 assaulting his character or his prowess as a father, a husband, or a follower of Christ, and so on. For dependent people, anger generally takes the form of the secondary maladaptive type. This causes those exasperating, unsatisfying emotional wars of the type we just described, but it can also get even worse. An unfortunate, but all too frequent, scenario bubbles up if the partner, tired of the nagging, emotionally disengages from the dependent person and goes silent. The walls thicken and become impenetrable, forcing the angry dependent person into a vicious cycle as he or she becomes increasingly exasperated by the situation. After all, angry dependents believe themselves unworthy, and when their anger, no matter how indirectly expressed, goes unacknowledged, anger can easily degenerate into rage. Inevitably the relationship deteriorates. When this happens it fulfills the dependent’s worst nightmare and a morbid depression or devastating anxiety may consume the soul. BREAKING THE CYCLE to be honest, we feel a little uncomfortable sharing these rather dark and disturbing descriptions of the ambivalent attachment style with its clinging dependence and self-feeding tendencies toward anxiety, anger, and despair. We know if you’ve recognized yourself or a loved one as you’ve read this chapter, you’ve probably been hurt by the stinging descriptions and disturbing depictions. If you’re one who relates to your loved ones with an ambivalent attachment style, you might even have become embarrassed as you’ve read these depictions—and we’ve already discussed how fearful you are of that unwelcomed emotion! But we encourage you to keep reading. You can break free of this destructive cycle of dependence. Just as we helped Lizzi and Gina— and many others—escape the negative aspects of the ambivalent attachment style, the information we share in the second half of this book can help you break free to a new life of close, rewarding relationships.

(By Clinton, Tim. Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do (p. 94).)