When your partner is distant, unavailable, or hostile in response to your insecurity, the evolutionarily and neurologically hardwired attachment alarm fills your head, unconsciously, with the fear that you will be abandoned unless you reconnect. For our ancestors, abandonment meant death.
“Relationships, marriages are ruined where one person continues to learn, develop and grow and the other person stands still.” – Catherine Pulsifer
Clingy Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors
When my partner dismissed my insecure feelings or blamed me for having them, my attachment alarm went into the hyperactive mode and hijacked my brain, filling it with thoughts and feelings to seek closeness, including:
1. Obsessively thinking about my partner’s unavailability, making it difficult to focus on other things. When I was at work or even out with friends, I would check my phone every 3–5 minutes to see if my partner had responded to my messages. My mind was addicted to seeking closeness because I rarely got the reassurance I needed.
2. Highlighting my partner’s good traits and neglecting to take note of her negative ones. My friends, who talked with me about my relationship problems often responded to my complaints with, “Why are you with her? What she did was messed up!” I would respond with, “I know but she’s so interesting and attractive.” My activated attachment system prevented me from seeing a realistic picture of my partner, and my low self-esteem (common in clingy lovers) prevented me from creating and enforcing healthy boundaries to create a relationship that met my needs.
3. A feeling of anxiety that goes away when I am around my partner. 4
4. Ruminating thoughts about being too needy or focusing on my inadequacies. During this relationship, my self-talk was abusive. I hated my body (it wasn’t fit enough and my muscles weren’t big enough), I hated my finances (I actually went into debt trying to impress this partner), I wasn’t funny enough (I bought a handful of books on how to be funny). 5 Brene Brown says, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
5. Believing this is my only chance for love.6 The kinds of thoughts that went through my head included: “This is the most interesting and attractive person I’ve ever dated. If we break up, I’ll never be able to date someone like her again,” or, “If I leave, she’ll be the partner I wanted with some other guy. I have to stick it out.”
6. Blaming myself for my partner’s unavailability and lack of care. (7) I used to tell myself that the reason my partner didn’t want to spend time with me was because I wasn’t fun to be around. This mistaken belief reinforced my unlovable self-image and created more doubt about what I deserve in my relationships. (8)
These thoughts and emotions became worse the less responsive my partner was. While the attachment system is designed to keep you close to others, it also has a dark side that leads you to beat yourself up, because it cares more about your short-term survival by maintaining closeness to your romantic partner than about your long-term well-being. As Levine and Heller state in Attached, “Even if your rational mind knows you shouldn’t be with this person, your attachment system doesn’t always comply.” (9)
Research on Adult Attachment claims that clingy lovers struggle to regulate their thoughts and can become tortured by overwhelming thoughts and feelings of negativity. (10) This includes bringing up old memories of your partner not being available or responsive and mixing them in with present problems, thus compounding distress.
“Don’t let jealousy fool you. It’s just another name for insecurity.” – unknown
As clingy lovers, we react with more intensity to any thoughts of loss and simultaneously, struggle to calm ourselves. This can lead to reacting to our thoughts and feelings and an overdependence on our lover for soothing our emotions.