Anxiously Attached People Experience More Memory Lapses

Are you afraid that your partner will leave you? Do you experience love with great intensity, but also with a mixture of constant fear and anguish? It could be due to your memory of difficult earlier times in your childhood.
Anxiously Attached People Experience More Memory Lapses
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 11 January, 2024

We all deserve to have happy childhoods. However, when we come into the world, there’s no guarantee that our parents will be the best or that the primary bonds we establish with them will be the healthiest.

However, the attachments we establish with our caregivers form the mental framework with which we interpret, for better or worse, what relationships are like.

As a matter of fact, few events are more transcendental for our psychosocial and emotional development than our early anchoring with those who are obliged to take care of us, protect us, and teach us the meaning of affection.

Therefore, an inconsistent parenting pattern (that’s unfortunately all too frequent) can be harmful. These are the kinds of parents who are affectionate at times and at others, distant.

This ambivalence in the child’s treatment and attention means they don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. For instance, maybe yesterday, their cries and fears were comforted but today they’re yelled at or their parents are indifferent to them.

This means their brain remains trapped in uncertainty and anxiety. Attachment patterns are extremely important in the regulation of emotions. Consequently, anxiously attached people suffer many striking negative consequences.

For example, we know that anxious attachment in childhood translates into higher rates of anxiety disorders and panic attacks in adulthood. Also, there’s a greater risk of drifting into dependent relationships. Today, it’s also known to be linked to memory failures.

Relationships with people defined by anxious attachment are often stressful. They need constant positive feedback so that fear of abandonment or fear of not being loved doesn’t arise.

Embracing couple symbolizing anxiously attached people
Anxious attachment leads us to develop dependent relationships in which the fear of abandonment is a constant.

Fears and anxiety in the brain of people with anxious attachment

Anxiously attached people live their lives accompanied by infinite and invisible fears. They fear being rejected and abandoned by their closest figures. Moreover, they analyze every word, interaction, gesture, and situation, looking for potential gaps in the relationship.

In fact, they find themselves asking “Have I disappointed them? Are they thinking of someone else? They’re so late home. Has something happened to them?”

Being dominated by a mental narrative built on a childhood of unequal attention and inconsistent affection leaves a permanent scar. Indeed, anxiously attached individuals desperately seek the attention of those around them.

They need their affection to be validated at all times and for others to be their daily saviors. This can be exhausting for their friends and partners.

We need to understand how the imprint of a deprived childhood alters brain development. An investigation conducted by the Research Center for Brain and Cognitive Neuroscience, Liaoning University, (China) claims that anxious attachment in childhood alters several brain regions. This affects various cognitive processes.

The anxious attachment personality is focused on a fear of rejection and an obsession with overanalyzing relationships. This causes the individual to stop paying attention to other areas and suffer, not only from memory lapses, but also create false memories.

A brain on alert that forgets information

Anxiously attached people show overstimulation in the right posterior cingulate cortex. This means they experience any emotion more intensely. Not only that. The region is also linked to threat detection.

Therefore, an inconsistent upbringing in terms of affection and security shapes a brain that constantly sees risks. These risks are linked to the idea that certain figures will stop feeling affection or love for them. In effect, anxious attachment makes them hypervigilant. They’re figures that anticipate catastrophic futures and live in the grip of fear of abandonment.

However, what does this mean in reality? On a relational level, living with someone dominated by these mental and emotional dynamics is exhausting.

On the other hand, at the cognitive level, the cost of their hypervigilance translates into clear difficulties for them in paying attention to the real world beyond its turbulent labyrinths of fear and anxiety.

Memory lapses, forgetfulness, misunderstandings and confusion are a constant.

Attention is hijacked and false memories are created

The theoretical universe of attachment is currently a hot topic and studies on the subject are increasing. One example is research recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. According to this study, people with anxious attachment not only suffer from memory failures but also create false memories.

This phenomenon is extremely disabling. After all, relationships are already complex for individuals with this type of attachment, but their daily life become even more chaotic when they have a tendency to mention things that aren’t true.

For instance, in the middle of a conversation, they might suddenly refer to things that never happened or words that weren’t said. Unsurprisingly, this frequently provokes arguments and problems.

Memory lapses are annoying, but false memories cause tension and anguish. So, what causes them? Often, the anxiously attached person is so wrapped up in their emotions and thoughts that they mix reality with the inventiveness of their fears.

Therefore, it shapes fables that become memories they see as true. However, in reality, they’re the product of a mind dominated by anxiety and fear of abandonment.

Anxiety and a hypervigilant mind hinder the proper functioning of our executive functions, such as attention and memory. Consequently, when someone lives focused only on their fear of not being loved or being abandoned, forgetfulness and false memories are common.

Woman doing therapy symbolizing anxiously attached people
Therapy is essential to help us reflect on how we bond in order to develop more secure attachments.

What can you do if you’re anxiously attached?

If you’re anxiously attached, you’ll tend to form dependent and painful relationships. You’ll also frequently suffer from anxiety disorders, such as phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

That said, memory lapses, like false memories, are nothing more than the effects of your worried mind, weak self-esteem, and a story from your past that you need to attend to.

We can all learn to better relate to others. To achieve this, you’ll need to go through a psychotherapeutic process. It’ll help you develop a healthier mental approach, in which fear doesn’t exist and you’re able to build more secure attachments. The kinds that start from self-confidence.

If you’re confident, with healthy self-esteem, you’ll be able to successfully handle any anxiety and fears in your relationships with others. In addition, it’ll make you feel more self-fulfilled and capable of focusing your attention on what matters, not on your unfounded fears and anxieties.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Deng, M., Zhang, X., Bi, X. et al. Neural basis underlying the trait of attachment anxiety and avoidance revealed by the amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations and resting-state functional connectivity. BMC Neurosci 22, 11 (2021).
  • Hudson, N. W., & Chopik, W. J. (2022). Seeing you reminds me of things that never happened: Attachment anxiety predicts false memories when people can see the communicator. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.