Being in love is one of the greatest joys in the world. But most of us often confuse attachment with emotional connection and this can make a relationship to become toxic.
Unconditional love or unhealthy attachment?
Everyone wants to be loved. It makes us feel good about ourselves. Having someone who cares about us makes us feel valued and worthy. Unfortunately, this can result in unhealthy attachment styles that can lead to the end of even the strongest relationships. What we may perceive as a genuine and honest connection with someone we adore may simply be nothing more than an insecure attachment. Our relationships and attachment styles are shaped by our thoughts, beliefs, personalities and experiences. But it can also be influenced by our ego, poor self-esteem, need for attention, lack of self-confidence and most of all… a lack of self-love. What we believe to be unconditional love may just turn out to be our desperation for seeking attention and validation. We tend to believe that having someone to care about us makes us valuable, worthy of being. It makes us believe that we are not a sum of all those negative thoughts that years of self-criticism and self-hatred have made us believe. So we hang on to our relationships with the talons of our desperation for validation, latch on to our partners with the tentacles of broken self-esteem in the dark abyss of insecurity and fear of loneliness.
But this harms us more than it harms them. It makes us blind to our reality by confusing unhealthy attachments with true connections. As our hearts and minds can often play tricks on us and alter our perception of reality, having a little knowledge of human psychology can help identify the true emotional connections and distinguish it from toxic attachments.
Attachment is not as same as love
You should know that already. Right? Yet we blind ourselves and take a leap of faith when it comes to relationships. Even though we may have a protruding doubt in the back of our minds, we mistake insecure attachments as pure emotional connections. So we give everything we have to our relationship to make sure it works, it lasts, it keeps making us feel the way we want it to. But that’s not love. Love is free. It’s relieving. It’s not a burden or a duty or responsibility. You don’t need to constantly worry about your partner leaving you if you do something wrong. You don’t need to jump through hoops. Love is simple. It pulls you towards itself. You don’t run towards it secretly praying all the way that you don’t fall down and miss your shot. Love strikes you when you least expect it and you can’t fight it. It consumes you and makes you feel happy like you’ve never experienced before.
However, an unhealthy attachment makes you feel stressed, anxious and depressed. Attachment feels heavy, like an inescapable responsibility. It is born of desperation and helplessness. It thrives in the belief that you are not worthy nor you are enough by yourself. It makes you feel stuck in the dark abyss and makes you feel that you need someone to rescue you. To make you feel whole again. To make you happy. Attachment comes with a clause. Emotional connection is free from any expectations. Attachment makes you want someone because they have something to offer you in return – value, affection, care, attention, validation, happiness, support, motivation… whatever. True connection offers you no such promise yet you want to be with that person simply because. You love them because you do. There is no fear of loneliness or loss, no insecurity, no expectations, no anxiety. It is natural and nurturing. Insecure attachment is forced. It comes with a sense of ownership. It makes us “want” the relationship more for our own happiness, than for the other person. Genuine connection is a mutual feeling of respect, compassion and partnership.
How attachment develops
According to the attachment theory by British psychologist John Bowlby, connections and romantic relationships in adulthood are often influenced by attachment styles in our childhood. Research shows that adult attachment is closely associated with parent-child attachments. In essence, our relationship with our parents during our childhood and adolescence can and do impact how we relate to others and perceive romance as adults. Author Kendra Cherry explains that “When children are frightened, they will seek proximity from their primary caregiver in order to receive both comfort and care.” However, this behavior pattern can persist into adulthood, leading to toxic attachment styles. Although not all attachment patterns are unhealthy, children with insecure attachment can have poor self-esteem, inability to express or regulate emotions, experience anxiety & depression and have toxic romantic relationships.
Studies have found that individuals with insecure attachment can develop trust issues and jealousy in adult romantic relationships, leading to partner abuse. “While attachment styles displayed in adulthood are not necessarily the same as those seen in infancy, early attachments can have a serious impact on later relationships,” adds Kendra.