I get attached really quickly and it drives me emotionally crazy

Hi Camilla,

I generally avoid relationships, because when I really like someone, I get very attached to the point where I can’t control my emotions. I’ll get very paranoid of them not feeling the same way, or if they’re talking to someone else, I feel insecure as shit and quite frankly, I don’t want to feel that way.

For example, I liked this one girl. She talks to me, but I always feel like she’ll leave or something. I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but I want to figure out how to deal with this.

I’ve only been in 2 relationships within my life, but there have been some girls that I’ve really liked, but things never work out. I hate that this always happens to me.

I also have a hard time with communicating.

Please help!

 

Hello former self, is that you? As someone who similarly feels things intensely, I understand that there’s nothing quite like the acute pain of perceived unrequited love. If you’re anything like me (I don’t want to presume here, but I’m trying to sympathise with a similar experience), love ignites a whole pharmacy of emotions within you that are simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Like happiness, joy, heartbreak, anxiety, fear, and despair. It seems as though we’ve been dealt a cruel and unusual neurological makeup. Why do our brains submit us to such a bonfire of hormonal fluctuations? Is it because we’re unworthy of a steady stream of oxytocin and dopamine, or unworthy of the constant affections of our lovers? Is our incapability to hold down a relationship a true reflection of a deep moral failing on our part?

No, and no.

Before I forge on ahead, know this: I’m by no means qualified to give advice, but as a human with an emotional heart, here is my attempt to direct you to some resources which might serve you better.

Firsly, I’m unsure of what you refer to when you say you can’t control your emotions. I’m assuming if you’re feeling anxious, that you’re either, a) exhibiting ‘needy behaviour; b) withdrawing; c) lashing out; or d) exhibiting all of the above. My advice is designed to help with all of these behaviours, because I’m guilty of indulging in them all. They all indicate insecurity (once again, I don’t mean to offend, but merely to sympathise).

For the longest time, I too felt like a tiny chihuahua, shivering and crying at the thought of my lover leaving. It’s hard to shake the thought that you’re profoundly unworthy of care and affection, and as I am but a self-improvement embryo, this insecurity is something I continue to battle with varying rates of success.

But, I do have moments of strong self-hood. As I’m an avid reader, a lot of this personal development and inner strength came through books recommended to me by those who’d frantically scampered along a similar path as I. As such, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of a book called Attached by Amir Levine. Every chapter lit up my brain with infinite a-ha! moments, and the theories discussed by Levine are grounded in research and factuality. It’s palatable for those who’ve skimmed the love psychology section of the bookstore, but not watered down like much mainstream self-help advice.

What is the Attachment Theory of love?

To summarise (in case you do not like reading books, in which case you can get the audio book here), Attached posits that the way we show up in our romantic lives is a reflection of our relationship with our parents. The books rests its laurels on Attachment Theory as developed by psychologist John Bowlby in 1969, which describes the deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space. There are three different attachment styles, and these styles don’t have to be reciprocated by each party.

attachment theory of love

Taking your particular scenario as described by you as an example, it sounds as though your past romantic experiences are a text book case of the anxious-avoidant dynamic. In his book The Art of Loving, psychologist Erich Fromm refers to this as sado-masochism.

“The sadistic person is as dependent on the submissive person as the latter is on the former; neither can live without for other. The difference is that the sadistic person commands, exploits, hurts, humiliates, and that the masochistic person is commanded, exploited, hurt, humiliated.”

I don’t refer to sado-masochism as an insult, as I’ve been there too, and I recognise the deep fear and anxiety you’re feeling. Perhaps the women you’re dating are entirely secure with intimacy, which is why I emphasised perceived unrequited love in the first paragraph of this response.

To expand on the diagram above, a person with an anxious attachment style longs for physical and emotional intimacy. For them, these are central to a positive connection, and they likely give up their needs to accommodate their partner’s in order to achieve intimacy. Have you ever cancelled plans at the last second to spend time with your lover? I know I’m guilty as charged. They are your heroine. When they text you or meet you, you have your fix and you’re healed. But upon parting ways, you’re sick again. You’re the Walter White of romantic complexity, transforming people into narcotics that you can use to get your high.

Unfortunately, your neurological drug-stash won’t always be fully stocked, as people are not emotional vials you can empty when you’re thirsty. You won’t always be able to get your emotional needs met, so you become anxious, drug sick. By the sounds of it, you’ve likely been shutting relationships down in a bid to ultimately be the one to do the rejecting.

You can quit anytime you want to, right?

I’ve acted out emotionally too, sending gun emojis at 3 in the morning as a response to a lack of communication.

And you know how the recipient responded?

As many people do to a perceived emotional and physical threat (rendered via pixels, nevertheless), they withdrew, and we broke up.

How to change your anxious attachment style

Fortunately, your attachment style is not a fixed state and you can change your programming. Think of it as a neurological software update. However, as your attachment style likely formed many, many years ago when you were a child, it’s not as easy as reading a book and deciding to pursue a healthy adult relationship.

But with self-control, self awareness and self love, it can be done.

The thing is, anxious attachment pursuers are generally attracted to people with an avoidant style. Insecure attachment is enlivening and familiar, and it completely fits the romantic script in place. A relationship with someone who is similarly anxious, or a relationship with someone who is secure, is foreign and uncomfortable. Your psyche believes that you’re profoundly unloveable, so how do you behave when someone shows you genuine care and affection?

You can’t deal. It’s like this:

Oh, you like me and want to show you care for me?

That’s disgusting.

As you’ve said above, you’ve found it hard to control your emotions and your relationships haven’t worked out.

For whatever reason that may be, here’s the thing: you’re 100% worthy of love and an amazingly fulfilling relationship that’s secure, mutually beneficial and based on meeting each other’s emotional needs.

 

I’m not sure how old you are, or if you’re currently in a relationship.

However, your insecurities sound like they’re preventing you from pursuing and building a long-term, healthy romance. I would try to get to the core of where that insecurity comes from. Seeing a psychologist could help, as could finding reprieve within online communities and books (like Levine’s Attached) that can help you understand yourself better. I need to stress the tired, new age cliché here: happiness is an inside job. More than that, it’s an ongoing job. Commit to developing your emotional intelligence and communication like you would any other muscle; it requires continual movement lest it atrophies.

 

Header Image: Christiana Rivers

All We Cannot Say is a dating podcast that explores love, sex, joy and heartbreak through a lens of philosophical enquiry. Subscribe via iTunes to learn more about relationships 2.0, ethical non-monogamy, sexuality, lgbt issues, modern romance, adventures on Tinder, online dating, compassion, empathy, sex tech and more.