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How to Handle Emotional Attachment

The key is to focus on your journey, figure out how you contribute to your relationships and how you can improve your bonds with others.

Natalie  Magic/ Shutterstock
Natalie Magic/ Shutterstock

Emotional attachment refers to the feelings of closeness and affection that you feel towards someone you’re close to. This could be anyone, a friend, a lover, mother, father or even an object. Emotional attachments may not always be romantic and sexual in nature. The primary emotional bonds that we all form are with our parents or caregivers, which tend to guide and shape the emotional attachments that we form with our friends and romantic partners.

Emotional Attachment and love are not the same. While emotional attachments are self-centred and need-based, love is selfless and often involves passion and growth. But emotional attachments are important in maintaining lasting relationships. The intensity of emotions may fade over time, but attachments tend to linger. If you are aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which explains the levels of basic human needs that are to be fulfilled before a person reaches the stage of self-actualisation or nirvana. The third tier is Love and Belongingness needs. This represents social needs that comprise a sense of protection, comfort and validation from people we’re close to. Emotional attachments are therefore very important in our lives.

However, there is a fine line between Healthy emotional attachments and Unhealthy emotional attachments. This line is even harder to figure out when you don’t have a precedent for healthy relationships. 

Healthy attachments involve balance and interdependence. While you are capable of fulfilling your needs yourself, you are not afraid to seek support from your partner. You feel comfortable, vulnerable, safe and close to the other person. Healthy relationships involve trust, security and open communication between the partners.

It’s important to understand your attachment style. According to the famous Attachment theory by Bowlby, there are four main types of attachments styles that are based on our relationship with our primary caregivers.  

Secure attachment involves being empathetic, setting appropriate boundaries, feeling stable and more satisfied in close relationships. They don’t fear being alone as they acknowledge their self-worth, but they do thrive while being in healthy relationships. 

Ambivalent attachment represents people who tend to be overly needy. These people are often anxious and uncertain and lack self-esteem. They fear being left alone and hence try to use different, sometimes unhealthy behavioural patterns, to cling to others and stop them from leaving. 

Avoidant attachment is the opposite of ambivalent attachment. They are independent individuals who tend to steer clear of emotional connections. They want intimacy but they are afraid of anticipated hurt. So they find it uncomfortable to express emotions and appear to be distant. 

Disorganized Attachment stems from intense fear, childhood trauma, neglect or abuse. Adults with this style believe that they don’t deserve love or closeness, display passive-aggressive behaviour in relationships and other unhealthy behaviour patterns that may even be abusive. 

Once we recognise our attachment style, we must understand the unhealthy behavioural patterns that we display in our close relationships. Some of these behaviours are:

  • You constantly seek approval from others. 

If you struggle with self-confidence and self-validation, you might define your self-worth by how others see you. You need to be constantly told that you’re doing well or that others love you, especially your partner. Your self-worth depends on this. Any conflict or disagreement with people close to you, worry you until it’s completely resolved. 

  • You become selfish and possessive of people close to you. 

Getting frustrated when they don’t reply fast enough, checking their phone’s or location. You begin to think that their lives should revolve around you and that you have a role to play in the good things that happen in their lives. When you start believing that they must respond to all of your needs at all times just the way you want them to. 

  • You have developed excessive trust issues. 

D you Keep an eye on their every move like who they spend their time with and obsessively check their Instagram stories? Stalking people that they have been involved with before for long hours and drawing comparisons. This can be true not only for romantic relationships but also for friendships. 

  • You’ve lost your sense of self. 

You have started to believe that you can’t survive without them. Their needs always come before yours. You may find yourself doing whatever you can to secure the relationship as you don’t know what you are outside of the relationship anymore. You and your partner have become more of a unit and lost traces of your individual personalities. 

  • You put people on pedestals and think of them as superiors. 

When you start regarding people as superiors or being better than you, often because you suffer from a lack of self-esteem, you allow them to hold a certain power over you and your life. You start changing yourself according to them and you do as they say. You believe that they can never be wrong and their presence in your life makes a world of difference. This behaviour often tends to occur when there’s an inherent power-difference in the relationship due to age or status. 

  • You seek out relationships to avoid being alone. 

You tend to jump from one relationship to another and not allow yourself a space to build a relationship with yourself. You become co-dependent on others to meet your needs. You are more likely to settle for stagnant and emotionally harmful relationships because you are dependent on them. 

  • You avoid attachment. 

You avoid getting close to others emotionally. Emotional intimacy makes you quiver and you try to keep your relationships superficial in nature. Consequently, you feel deprived of emotional support because as human beings are social beings, we require these emotional needs to be fulfilled. 

Once you recognise your unhealthy behavioural patterns, comes the question of how do you break out of them. The most important part is to accept these behavioural patterns. Only when you recognise and accept your unhealthy attachment patterns, you can start working on them. It’s crucial to understand that you cannot change others, but you can change yourself and the people that your company. It is extremely difficult to break out of these patterns of behaviours. Probably because humans are programmed with a basic need for attachment and love and we are sacred of living a lonely life. When we acquire these behavioural patterns while forming our emotional attachments, they often facilitate the growth and maintenance of these behaviours. 

Investing resources into self-discovery can help you reconnect with your personality. Create time for yourself to do things that you enjoy doing by yourself that make you feel rewarded. Work on building relationships with people that display healthy behavioural patterns and make you feel secure. Perhaps seek professional help. A trained individual can help you figure out your attachment style, guide you through understanding your unhealthy behavioural patterns and how to work on them. They can help you to focus on yourself, develop a stronger sense of self and explore strategies that enable you to meet your own needs. 

Lastly, all relationships, romantic or platonic, have their ups and downs. No relationship exists without hurdles. A healthy relationship should make you feel loved, safe and joyful. It is represented by the growth of the relationship over time, along with facilitating the development of the people involved in it. If your relationship has more pains than gains, as the millennials might put it, you know that something needs to be re-evaluated. Relationships should offer peace and should settle into your lives. If they provide you with surface or temporary relief but leave a long-lasting feeling of anxiety, guilt, shame or any other negative emotion, then it is not healthy and you must decide to cut ties sooner or later. 

The key is to focus on your journey, figure out how you contribute to your relationships and how you can improve upon your behavioural patterns to improve your emotional bonds with others in your life.