How to Know if Your Emotional Attachment Is Unhealthy
Emotions are critical to any kind of relationship, whether romantic or friendship. For love or any healthy relationship to last, it needs emotional attachment. But unfortunately, not all emotional attachments are created equal. Especially when unhealthy attachment styles are thrown in the middle of a romantic relationship scenario, it can be the root cause of many issues you’re experiencing together as a couple.
All healthy relationships need balance. When you’re interdependent, you thrive as a couple while still maintaining your individuality, both contributing to the relationship equally. When that balance gets off-center, that’s when issues arise. This can happen when both people are too independent, too dependent, or even one of each. And it all stems from your emotional attachment style.
Why Unhealthy Emotional Attachments Cause Problems
When a person has developed an unhealthy emotional attachment, emotional dependency develops. However, this isn’t the kind of romantic, emotional attachment that’ll make your heart swoon.
In the beginning, maybe it does seem romantic. But over time, in an unbalanced relationship, one person in the couple tends to look to the other for way too much emotional support without offering much — if anything — in return. As a result, their partner who routinely rises to the occasion to provide that support without meeting their needs will ultimately feel drained and resentful.
The Four Kinds of Emotional Attachments
Emotional attachment styles are thought to be mostly stable throughout life and developed predominantly in childhood. However, there’s hope! Some research suggests that your emotional attachment style can slowly change over time, especially when in a healthy relationship.
The trick? First, you need to identify and acknowledge which attachment style you may have as an individual and learn how to be aware of your harmful and often toxic behaviors.
Ambivalent/Anxious Emotional Attachment
People who have developed an ambivalent or anxious emotional attachment crave closeness — often to an unhealthy extent. They will feel hurt or dysregulated when the person they love is not close and view any separation as rejection or abandonment.
This distance could be a physical distance like a business trip or a night out with friends without the other person being included, or it could be a more subtle distancing — like sitting in the same room with one person distracted on their phone without engaging with the other.
Common behaviors for those with an anxious emotional attachment are:
Worrying they are not really loved.
Constantly seeking reassurance.
Feeling insecure in the relationship.
Coming across as demanding or clingy.
Often these people will test or punish their significant other after they’ve felt abandoned, despite their desire for closeness and intimacy.
This emotional attachment style is developed when a child experiences an inconsistency with their parent's attention and affection. As a result, they’ll often grow up to be people-pleasers because they are anxious about that love leaving or causing it to go away.
Avoidant Emotional Attachment
Someone who has this emotional attachment style feels uncomfortable with closeness, despite desiring a healthy relationship. People with avoidant attachment styles want to be self-reliant, and any help from others may cause them distress, so they keep their distance or even ignore attempts from others to create closeness or intimacy. In extreme cases, they may even feel relieved if a loved one pulls away because it has less pressure or stress associated with it.
As a child, you may have developed this emotional attachment style if your parents were emotionally distant. You had to learn to detach to avoid the pain of emotional deprivation.
Disorganized Emotional Attachment
Disorganized attachment styles are usually the result of experiencing either physical or emotional abuse from a parent as a child. They want and crave the love but also run from it because it causes pain — so they become anxious and avoidant at the same time. When you combine an avoidant emotional attachment with an anxious emotional attachment, you’ll get this one.
Not only will a person with this emotional attachment style display the behaviors of the two other styles, but they’re also typically prone to emotional immaturity, aggression, substance abuse, and mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
Often, the relationship suffers from a consistent lack of communication between the partners and empathy.
Secure Emotional Attachment
Those in a healthy relationship have an established secure attachment style. They feel comfortable letting people get close and are comfortable with relying on others or having others rely on them. They genuinely enjoy being involved in others’ lives, whether romantically or in a friendship.
When you experience this level of emotional security, people can be separated without anxiety and reunite happily and healthily.
Times apart can even be enjoyed. Think of that old friend you see and how when you finally get to catch up after months or years, it’s like no days have even passed. This is a healthy emotional attachment that is secure.
Signs of a Negative Emotional Attachment in an Unhealthy Relationship
When a relationship becomes unbalanced, it enters the unhealthy zone. Typically, this imbalance is due to a negative emotional attachment style infiltrating the connection and causing issues between the two partners. Regardless of what kind of emotional attachment style the people in the relationship have, here are the core signs that it is causing harm in the relationship:
One person relies on the other for approval.
One person loses their sense of self because the other person dominates.
One person feels lost or unable to function without the other.
One person’s needs always come last.
One person feels excessively jealous.
What to Consider When Evaluating Your Emotional Attachment Style
When trying to figure out the issues in a relationship, self-reflection is key. Here are some things to consider and ask yourself:
Do you have a fear of being alone?
Do you feel insecure when you’re not in a relationship with someone?
Do you have a defined sense of self, or do you find yourself questioning who you really are?
By getting to know yourself as an individual, you will better understand how you work on a deeper level. By understanding your inner workings, including your emotional attachment style, you’ll be a whole person and more likely able to embrace and function within a healthy relationship.
When to Seek Professional Help
Because emotional attachment issues are often developed in childhood, having a professional therapist help you navigate and unpack these issues can be extremely helpful.
The truth is, you don’t need to be in a relationship to seek out help. Whether you’re trying to become a more emotionally intelligent and secure adult or you’re in a relationship and struggling, working with a mental health professional can have significant benefits.
You can unpack your childhood, better understand your triggers and behaviors and develop coping mechanisms that will help you navigate future situations rather than falling into your same, possibly toxic, or destructive patterns.