Getting too attached to someone can lead to a host of emotional issues and relationship problems. When you become overly attached, you tend to rely too heavily on that person for your own happiness and self-worth. You may become obsessed with the relationship, experiencing intense anxiety when apart from them. This clingy and desperate behavior can push the other person away. Learning to cultivate healthy attachment styles and boundaries is important for nurturing a balanced, sustainable relationship.
What causes unhealthy attachment?
There are a few key factors that can drive someone to become overly attached to a partner or potential partner:
- Insecurity – Having low self-esteem or abandonment fears makes it hard to feel secure in a relationship. You may cling to the other person obsessively in an attempt to find safety and validation.
- Unmet needs – If important emotional needs were not met in childhood by caregivers, it can be difficult regulating intimacy and attachment in adulthood. Adults may desperately seek to fulfill unmet attachment needs.
- Trauma – Past emotional, physical or sexual abuse can impact someone’s ability to develop secure, healthy attachment patterns. Survivors may latch on tightly to avoid repeating trauma.
- Love addiction – Some believe that unhealthy attachment stems from a psychological addiction to another person and the rush of dopamine released during intimacy. Love addiction makes relationships feel compulsory.
In essence, unhealthy attachment arises from deeper issues of personal insecurity and attempting to find healing or fulfillment through another person. This makes the individual susceptible to clinging behaviors.
Signs of unhealthy attachment
How can you identify if you or your partner are becoming unhealthily attached? Here are some key signs:
- Obsessive preoccupation with the person – You can’t stop thinking about them and spend most of your time analyzing the relationship.
- Ideally them – Putting them on a pedestal and viewing the relationship as “perfect.”
- Extreme jealousy – Feeling irrationally jealous regarding their time, attention and interactions with others.
- Fear of abandonment – Extreme anxiety about the relationship ending and being left alone.
- Poor boundaries – Invading their privacy, making excessive demands on their time.
- Identity loss – Your sense of self becomes enmeshed with their identity.
- withdraw from other important relationships and interests.
- Emotional volatility – Your mood depends completely on the state of the relationship. Small issues catalyze intense reactions.
These symptoms tend to get worse over time without intervention. People suffering from unhealthy attachments often try to “fix” things through increasingly desperate, irrational behavior – pushing their loved one farther away.
Impacts of becoming overly attached
What happens when someone becomes unhealthily attached to a partner? For both people involved, excessive attachment can deeply impact the relationship and personal wellbeing in negative ways:
Impacts on the relationship
- Toxic controlling behavior
- Boundary violations
- Excessive arguments and conflict
- Emotional burnout in the other partner
- Withdrawal and eventual abandonment
- A dysfunctional, unstable dynamic
Impacts on the attached person
- Damaged self-esteem
- Increased self-loathing and shame
- Reinforced abandonment fears
- Escalating anxiety and depression
- Addictive attachment patterns
- Personality and identity issues
In the worst cases, unhealthy attachment can completely destroy relationships and undermine mental health in profound ways. Without help, it often becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of dysfunction.
How to develop healthier attachment
If you recognize signs of unhealthy attachment in yourself, don’t despair. With commitment and support, it is possible to cultivate more secure, balanced attachment patterns over time. Here are some tips:
Seek professional help
Therapy is strongly recommended to start identifying and working through root causes of attachment issues, like childhood trauma. A counselor can provide exercises and advice tailored to your situation for improving attachment ability.
Practice self-care and self-love
Boost your confidence through positive mantras, rewarding hobbies and healthy lifestyle habits. Develop your identity outside of relationships. Learn to meet your own needs directly rather than through others.
Establish healthy boundaries
Respect your partner’s autonomy. Give them space when requested. Ask directly for needs to be met rather than making demands. Compromise fairly on issues like time together versus apart. Boundaries help sustain attraction.
Talk openly and honestly with your partner. Don’t accuse them of causing your attachment feelings. Calmly explain your anxiety triggers and ask for reassurance. Make requests, not demands.
Challenge obsessive thoughts
When you catch yourself spiraling about the relationship, pause and breathe. Examine thoughts objectively – are they overly dramatic or irrational? Replace them with realistic, positive statements.
Build your support network
Don’t rely solely on one person for comfort and security. Develop close, trusting bonds with family and friends to meet emotional needs in a balanced way.
With diligence and courage, excessive attachment can be overcome. You may need to work through difficult emotions, but achieving secure, healthy relating ability is well worth the effort.
When to seek help
Seeking professional support is advised if attachment issues are:
- Significantly damaging your self-esteem
- Causing extreme, persistent anxiety
- Disturbing your daily functioning
- Damaging important relationships
- Leading to emotional or behavioral instability
- Increasing thoughts of self-harm
A psychologist can assess if you meet the criteria for an attachment disorder or if trauma is contributing to your attachment style. They can help you safely work through painful emotions and difficult past experiences. With specialized counseling, unhealthy attachment patterns can be overcome.
When to end an unhealthy attachment
In some cases, it may be healthiest to end the relationship if attachment has become highly dysfunctional, toxic or even abusive. Consider leaving if:
- Your partner is extremely uncomfortable with your attachment behaviors and requests for space are ignored
- Arguments have escalated to shouting matches, put-downs or other emotional abuse
- You exhibit controlling behaviors like checking their devices, emails or social media accounts
- You are experiencing anxiety, depression or thoughts of self-harm as a result of the relationship
- Your attachment causes consistent conflict with no improvement over an extended time
- The relationship has become obsessive, addictive or dangerous
Leaving a dysfunctional attachment relationship can be immensely difficult. The broken attachment may significantly worsen your anxiety and depression temporarily. However, it is often necessary for your ultimate wellbeing. Talk to close friends and family and work closely with a therapist when making this decision.
Attachment theory recognizes four main styles adults develop based on childhood experiences. Your style impacts how you relate in romantic relationships:
Understanding your attachment tendencies can help you consciously develop healthier relating skills.
Healthy vs unhealthy attachment
Attachment exists along a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy. Compare differences:
|Healthy Attachment||Unhealthy Attachment|
|Mutual care for each other||Obsessive preoccupation|
|Respects partner’s autonomy||Controlling behaviors|
|Manages time apart||Severe separation anxiety|
|Balanced perspective||Idealization of partner|
|Expresses needs calmly||Makes excessive demands|
|Compromises thoughtfully||Refuses to compromise|
|Has outside support system||Isolated from other relationships|
|Stable self-esteem||Low self-worth|
|Realistic expectations||Unrealistic standards|
|Accepting of imperfections||Hypercritical tendencies|
With self-awareness, anyone can shift toward healthier attachment behaviors.
Attachment theory history
Attachment theory was first pioneered in the 1950s by British psychologist John Bowlby. Some key moments in the development of this theory include:
- 1958 – Bowlby publishes seminal paper “The Nature of the Child’s Tie to His Mother” discussing attachment and separation anxiety.
- 1960s – Mary Ainsworth conducts “Strange Situation” experiments looking at infant reactions to separation.
- 1969 – Bowlby publishes Attachment and Loss trilogy explaining theories on maternal bonding.
- 1978 – Mary Main develops first adult attachment interview techniques.
- 1980s – Hazan and Shaver apply attachment theory to romantic relationships.
- 1990s – Attachment theory expands, including Bartholomew’s four-style model.
- 2000s – Neuroscience shows attachment patterns correlate with brain activity.
While originally focused on infants, attachment theory continues to evolve in understanding human relationships across the lifespan.
Becoming unhealthily attached to someone can undermine your self-esteem, create relationship conflict and lead to instability. However, with professional support, personal commitment and compassion for yourself, developing healthier attachment is possible. Cultivating secure attachment takes time, courage and resilience, but allows for relationships built on mutual respect, care and trust.