After another lengthy and mentally taxing fight with the narcissist, it’s common to find yourself wondering, “how did I ever get myself into this mess?”
You’re certainly not to blame for the abuse you suffer, but what if you never had never entered the relationship at all?
What even drew you towards this person in the first place?
What if you had noticed (or not ignored) the red flags? What if you had strengthened yourself to provide an adequate defense?
We needn’t fortify ourselves with a metaphorical militarized wall and refuse all entry in the name of avoiding narcissistic abuse. We can, however, identify our own emotional attachment style and take measures to make sure a partner will fulfill our needs before finding ourselves in a big mess again.
What’s Your Emotional Attachment Style and How Does it Affect Your Romantic Relationships?
Recovering from and avoiding future narcissistic abuse requires plenty of introspective reflection. It’s easy (and completely right) to blame the narcissist for luring you into their trap and sucking you dry.
If you want to avoid future narcissistic abuse, however, you’ll want to identify and treat unique parts of your psyche. Specifically, why you enter relationships in the first place – what draws you to specific people and not others?
Relationships may seem mysterious, but when we inspect them more closely we are likely to find patterns related to our attachment styles. That’s a term psychologists use to describe basic orientations that we form starting in our infancy and early childhood years.
Secure Attachment Style
In a relationship where both parties experience secure attachment, they are both happy with themselves and don’t rely on the other party for validation of self-worth. People with secure attachment tend to have high self-esteem.
Secure attachment helps us to feel confident and enjoy healthy, close relationships. People with secure attachment styles are comfortable with their emotions and are more trusting of their partners. They are happy with themselves and their relationships.
Individuals with a secure attachment style make good partners for other securely attached people, but also for those with an insecure attachment style, discussed below.
Insecure Attachment Style
The insecure attachment style is constantly hypersensitive to the possibility of being rejected or abandoned.
Individuals with an insecure attachment style often attempt to attach themselves to the first person who gives them attention. In other cases, they may become completely infatuated with the first person who exhibits a specific trait or quality they admire.
The insecure attachment style is very common when someone has a traumatic past of emotional or narcissistic abuse. Also, studies show that there is a link between chronic widespread pain in people with insecure attachment.
Insecure attachment may lead to pushing people away by being too sensitive to the possibility of rejection. People with anxious attachment styles often feel jealous, needy, and worried and generally have a hard time trusting romantic partners. Ironically, they tend to attract the very partners who enhance their anxious feelings.
Folks with an insecure attachment style fare better in relationships with people who have a secure attachment style. However, a relationship with someone with an avoidant attachment style (discussed below) can be a living nightmare.
Avoidant Attachment Style
People with an avoidant attachment style generally shun intimacy and bonding.
Avoidant attachment is associated with being isolated and emotionally distant. People with avoidant attachment styles basically turn off their need for any emotional or intimate attachment. They may come across as agreeable and sweet, but whenever their partners express any emotion, the avoidant person becomes angry and dismissive. The avoidant attachment style may seem open to talking about relationship issues, but it’s only a matter of time before they explode like a ticking time bomb. Because of these tendencies, those with an avoidant attachment style make the worst partners for people with an insecure attachment.
This category of attachment style includes narcissists, as well as the garden-variety love avoidant.
Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Emotional Attachment
Emotional attachment is a normal part of every relationship – whether it be with parents, family, friends, or loved ones.
Because someone has a relationship with their partner based on secure attachment, it doesn’t mean they won’t feel sad or hopeless when they leave – be it temporarily or permanently. It just means that they don’t rely on another person for validation in themselves.
What Causes Unhealthy Emotional Attachment?
Most causes of unhealthy attachment can be traced back to when we were young. In some cases, we retain feelings of abandonment from things that happened when we were an infant or child.
In other cases, we may feel unhealthy emotional attachment from issues that happened with other relationships in the past, be it with friends, family members, or romantic partners.
Previous relationships, whether they’re from 30 or five years ago, set the stage for how we function in current or future relationships.
4 Red Flags You’re Prone to Unhealthy Emotional Attachment
Here are a few signs that you’re experiencing unhealthy attachment with an insecure or anxious attachment style.
1 – You Get Easily Distracted with Superficial Qualities
Superficial qualities could refer to material aspects like a nice body or secure job. However, it could also apply to shared hobbies or other specific qualities. For instance, someone who shares your hobby of exercise or reading isn’t the best match based on that reason alone – they should also be supportive and understanding.
The point here is that you cling to specific qualities and develop an emotional attachment or infatuation based on these qualities instead of developing a healthy relationship based on mutual respect and trust.
2 – You Follow Emotion Instead of Logic
We all rely on emotion to an extent. If you allow unhealthy emotional attachment to dominate your relationship choices, however, this will only lead to trauma and pain later.
Relying on emotion means ignoring red flags, rationalizing, and making big life changes without considering the real-world implications or outcomes.
3 – You Can’t be Happy Alone
It might be a cliché that we can’t make anyone happy until we’re happy with ourselves, but it’s also true. We need to feel satisfied with ourselves before bringing another person into the mix.
If we can’t be happy alone, this means we may easily develop an unhealthy emotional attachment to fulfill specific needs. This isn’t fair to ourselves or others.
Bringing another person into your life to fill a void means you will almost always be unfulfilled because another person can only do so much to fill another’s emptiness. It’s a huge burden to impose on someone.
4 – You Rationalize and Suppress Emotions
When we’re suffering from unhealthy attachments, we suppress our own feelings and emotions to avoid upsetting our partner. The thought of them leaving is utterly devastating so we keep our mouth shut when their actions bother us.
As a victim of narcissistic abuse, it’s natural for you to actively avoid conflict. You probably stopped expressing your emotions a long time ago out of fear that it would trigger a massive fight and leave you feeling worthless.
If you start dating a new partner, however, and he likes to hang out at strip clubs or she likes to attend Burning Man with her friends and this bothers you, you need to speak up. You’re not doing anyone a favor by masking your emotions to avoid conflict – you’re just pretending to feel secure.
How to Break the Cycle of Unhealthy Emotional Attachment
Chances are, if you experience unhealthy attachment – particularly insecure attachment style – you might describe yourself or others may describe you as needy. Maybe you have mini panic attacks when your special someone doesn’t respond right away or you constantly fear the worst.
“I haven’t heard from her all day. She must be cheating on me.” In reality, she was just stuck at work all day without a phone charger and worried that she couldn’t text back.
Unfortunately, if you don’t heal your wounds from narcissistic abuse and work towards healthy emotional attachment, you’ll carry these unhealthy behaviors and attachment styles over into every relationship. Worse, it can make you attractive to narcissists and other manipulators.
If you find yourself in this position, it isn’t a good idea to jump into another relationship and hope your issues sort themselves out. You’ll either end up:
- Devoting your time and energy to the wrong person based on your need for emotional security.
- Hurting or damaging a relationship with someone who may genuinely be right for you because of your own insecurities.
Here are a few ways you can work on healing your past trauma before attempting a new relationship.
- Work on your self-esteem. Once you feel comfortable with yourself, other relationships won’t feel like such hard work because they aren’t filling a void.
- Get outside yourself. Focus on your career or hobbies to build your sense of self-worth.
- Talk to a counselor. This is important to see things from an objective perspective.
- Make new friends. Don’t rely on one person to fill your emotional needs.
- Manage stress. Find new ways to reduce stress so you don’t act on every impulse.
How to Heal Insecure Attachment
After suffering from months or years of abuse, it’s natural to feel different or uncomfortable embarking into new relationships. It’s important to take some time to develop a strong sense of power and self-worth.
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