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Signs your attachment style is unhealthy

Our attachment styles are the foundations of the relationships that we build. They determine not only the way that we connect, but even the types of partners we choose to pursue. In order for us to build more happy and fulfilling partnerships, we have to ensure we are connecting with the right intentions and from the right place. When insecurity or pain is given precedent in our relationships, we set ourselves up for mismatch, pain, and failure.

Signs of an unhealthy attachment style.

Do you have a habit of attaching in an unhealthy or toxic way to your intimate partners? While some of these behaviors have been touted as “loving” by society (and even our own families) — they’re actually toxic and generated from a place of insecurity. Losing ourselves, becoming emotionally dependent, and committing to savior mentalities are all signs of unhealthy attachment in love.

Losing sense of self

Are you someone who loses their sense of self when they’re in a relationship? You become so concerned about the needs (and happiness) of the other person that you lose touch with your own needs entirely. This is usually the type of person who disappears once they’re in a relationship. Active and engaging on their own, once in partnerships their identity becomes their partner’s identity.

Relying on approval

Although some of us have been sold the idea of being submissive to our partners (especially in more traditional relationships), it’s not healthy to rely on their approval for the living of your life. Are you someone who needs their partner’s approval before you do anything or make any decisions? While it’s certainly healthy to consult with our partners before making a leap, ultimately our lives are our own to lead and we should be able to do what we want with them.

Unbalanced relationships

Do you keep ending up in one-sided relationships? There’s no give-and-take balance. Instead, it’s entirely one sided. It’s all about your partner, their feelings and their needs. You take a backseat in all your romantic relationships. You don’t ask to be considered in return and you don’t expect it all. To you, self-sacrifice is how you prove your worth to your partners. If you’re someone who attaches in this way, your attachment is not shared; which is what makes it unhealthy.

Limited function

What happens when your partner exits the picture? Maybe they have to go out of town for a business trip, or you just need a little space from one another. What happens when your loved one is physically or emotionally absent? Do you crumble? If you can’t function without them — then your attachment to them is unhealthy. If you need constant reassurance from both their physical presence and their emotional strength, then you have to stop and reassess the basis of your relationship.

Emotional dependence

Emotional dependence is one of the most common signs of unhealthy attachments styles in a partnership. When we emotionally depend on a partner, we become reliant on their presence, guidance, and support. Deeper than limited function, without your partner in residence, your negative feelings become overwhelming (or theirs do). This results in lashing out, toxic behavior, and all kinds of poisonous, codependent relationships with people who want to take advantage of us.

Savior mentality

Ask yourself an honest question. Do you have a savior mentality? Do you think that you can rescue people you love? Or change them? Has this led to subpar partners that you thought just needed to be “loved a little harder” or more faithfully? We cannot rescue our partners. We cannot change them and we can’t make them be someone they are not. It’s unhealthy to look at relationships as projects, and it’s disrespectful to expect your partner to change on your terms. Pick better partners the first time around by reworking your attachment style.

How to cultivate healthier attachment patterns.

Believe it or not, we can (eventually) train ourselves to have healthier attachment patterns. Overall, this is a process that takes a lot of time — and even a little therapy — to get through entirely. There are actions we can take, though, to force ourselves onto the track of self-realization and happier romantic relationships.

1. Get some insight into things

It is impossible to work through our unhealthy attachment if we don’t first acknowledge it for what it is. Society pushes a lot of narratives in love and relationships. Many of these are unhealthy, which helps us to normalize our unhealthy behaviors. Now is the time to step outside of yourself and look at your failed partnerships for what they truly are. Once you have the insight that you need, you can move forward into healing that works.

Spend some time getting to the root of your attachment issues and get some insight into what’s really going on. We learn how to attach to others early in life, and these lessons are reinforced through our subsequent connections. Identify your issues honestly and openly by looking back at past relationships and the way you were brought up.

This is how we begin the complicated untangling of our attachments styles and patterns. Like a weed, these issues have to be rooted out in order to be removed and replaced with something more positive and beautiful. Don’t do it on your own. Reach out to supportive loved ones (or even mental health experts) to work through the pain of your past. Sometimes, we’re too close to what happened to see things as they truly are. For us to move forward effectively, we have to take off the rose-tinted glasses and see the past as it still affects us today.

2. Work out the kinks

Identifying your core issues is only a first step (and a very important one). Once we know that we have hangups or issues, though, it’s up to us to fix them. Knowing isn’t enough. We have to take action if romantic love is something that is important to us. To build happy relationships with happy partners, we have to be the best possible version of ourselves that we can be.

Once you know where your pain points are, spend time and energy working on yourself and the beliefs that have led to your unhealthy attachment styles. This means healing childhood trauma. It means confronting infidelity, and all the ways in which we sabotaged and accepted less than what we wanted.

Actively work out the kinks. Don’t stare at your relationship flaws and accept them. If you want things to change, change them. That means consciously making the choice to do things differently. For some, this may mean abstaining from relationships until you understand what you want. For others, this may look like committing to a counseling program or choosing different partners. There’s no right or wrong way to course correct. Improve your attachment patterns by healing the pain and trauma of your past relationships in whatever way you need to.

3. Build on your self-esteem

More often than not, insecurity plays a major role in our unhealthy attachment styles. We are taught to fear connection early, and that follows us. How much of your unhealthy attachment comes from a place of insecurity? Are you afraid you’re going to lose your partner? Are you convinced you won’t be deserving enough of respect? Or of love and compassion? These things only get turned around when we focus on rebuilding a strong foundation of self-esteem to launch from.

Look inward. Identify your insecurities and name them for what they are. Did an unfaithful partner teach you that commitment couldn’t be trusted? Did a less-than-loving parent teach you to cling desperately to the people that you love? Experiences like this instill insecurities within us that set us up for toxic patterns.

Confront your insecurities honestly for what they are. Then counteract them by falling in love with yourself, your body, and your life. Celebrate your strengths. When you wake up in the morning, write down at least 5 things that you’re grateful for. By focusing on the positive in our lives (and ourselves) we start to see who we are in a brighter light. Little-by-little you’ll be able to see your weaknesses and your insecurities in a more positive light too. From there, self-love is only a dose of perseverance away.

Putting it all together…

Do your partnerships continue to fail time-and-time again? Do you keep picking partners that don’t have what you need? Or clinging to toxic partners until everything explodes in a hail of sparks? Our unhealthy attachment patterns come from our past, and the pain that we have yet to resolve. Acknowledging them is how we get our love lives back on track, but it’s a process that requires both honesty and action.

Get some insight into what’s going wrong in your relationships. Question your attachment. What is causing problems, and what is coming from insecurity? Once you’ve identified your problems, you can take action and work it out. Step off from there and take steps to solidify your self-esteem. The more you believe in yourself, the easier it becomes to push forward in the name of happy, healthier relationships and connections. While you work through the pain of your past, make sure that you’re always aware of and addressing any red flags up front. More than that, enhance the way you use communication. Speak up for yourself respectfully and often. By committing to these simple steps, we can build new patterns of bonding that help us establish thriving relationships.

  • Fraley, R., & Roisman, G. (2019). The development of adult attachment styles: four lessons. Current Opinion In Psychology, 25, 26–30. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2018.02.008
  • Simpson, J., & Rholes, W. (2017). Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationships. Current Opinion In Psychology, 13, 19–24. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006

Cultivate healthier attachment styles by getting to the root of your relationship needs. My new book can help you get started. Available now.