If this post resonates for you, consider that you might be an ‘anxiously attached’ person. If it doesn’t sound like you then that’s OK. However, you could be an ‘avoidant attached’ person and therefore it’s very likely that you are in a relationship with an anxious attached person so read on to understand your partner more!
For those of you who might be avoidant attached, I will post in a few days what you might be experiencing and why, and how you too could overcome that. My current scope of experience is with these two attachment forms which appear to be the most common.
I have recently returned to the village where I grew up. As I walk round every morning, there are roads, houses, public buildings, playgrounds and so many other features (and none!) that trigger memories. Some good and a lot which I like to reframe as ‘growth opportunities’. I wasn’t learning from them at the time, but I definitely attribute them to my current growth. A time when a boyfriend threw a pint of Guinness over me for ignoring him in the pub; being coerced into sexual situations that I wasn’t comfortable with; chasing emotionally unavailable men to a point of, well, embarrassment really… the list goes on.
When I shared ‘My Journey’ a few weeks ago there was a particular part in it that had some friends concerned about having done ‘something wrong’. Here’s what I wrote;
“I spent much of my life feeling quite disconnected to women. I couldn’t trust them and felt that there was always an element of competition and mistrust which prevented me from fully embracing female friendship. I longed to be able to speak with full vulnerability to other women, but every time I did I seemed to get let down in one way or another. The last to be invited. Forgotten off the list. Not really important enough to check in to see how I was.”
So how does this relate to my walks? I have been aware for a good while, before I went to a self-development retreat, that I have a mainly ambivalent/anxious attachment (with a generous portion of disorganised). Although I didn’t know it was called that when I started ‘noticing’ it. My behaviour went something a little like this, with friends and in intimate relationships…
Want to get to know someone so make a looooot of effort to befriend, get their interest.
Change what I liked about myself, didn’t like about myself, including my personality, to ensure a connection to said ‘point of interest’. Being a fun person and saying and doing things that I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable or aligned with but did them anyway. In the hope they would like me.
Eventually ‘win’ the person’s attention and become friends or be in a relationship with them.
I would then begin to get closer to that person and tell them some of my vulnerabilities. Having been hurt in the past by others who took advantage of that vulnerability, I would then feel worried that they would do something to hurt me.
Cue analysis of every sms message, every look, every, ‘not tonight I’m busy’, etc. I would be looking for where I was failing. Looking for excuses on why they wouldn’t like me or were trying to avoid me or purposefully leave me out. And when I found them, it confirmed further my feelings of lack of worth and not being enough.
I would be jealous if they spent time or energy on anyone but me. When I wasn’t their main focus or priority, I viewed it as loving someone else or wanting to be with someone ‘more’ and that there would be less love or attention for me. If friends told another friend and not me about a problem they were having I would take this personally as me not being ‘good enough’ or I had some other failing, maybe ‘too much’. Wanting too much to fix. Wanting too much to help. Because helping and fixing would mean I would receive love in return, right?
I would then become emotional and a victim, changing myself even more to be liked. Losing all sense of boundaries. I would become overwhelmed by feelings of lack of self-worth.
This would more often than not freak people out who would back off, making my attempts to get their attention even more desperate until they could no longer cope and would leave. This was especially with friends.
In relationships my reaction tended to be anger and jealousy leaving the men overwhelmed and feeling trapped.
Seeing that written down feels really weird. It was part of my reality for so long. To write it, I really had to tune into old emotions and triggers. I can feel where in my body that is showing up too, dense feelings in my chest and heart and restriction around my throat. The sense also of ‘panic’.
I also remember the sensations and chemistry of falling head over heels in love. The heart racing, the butterflies in the tummy, that nervous giggle.
I’m probably going to burst some bubbles now. But that chemistry that you feel at the beginning of a relationship? It's not what you think it is. What that chemistry actually is (and this is true for anxious, avoidant and disorganised attachments) is a primal and limbic response to a situation that is ‘familiar’ to you. So when you met that person, there was a recognition in your subconscious mind to a childhood pattern of love, and therefore triggering a response in your nervous system which feels like ‘chemistry’. Your attachment style is a coping mechanism created when you were a child from caregivers who didn’t create a secure attachment with you. I know, it’s mind-blowing, and also a little disappointing at the same time. Which is why you never went for that nice guy/gal.
The point of me explaining the pattern I had and the ‘chemistry’ is to outline that my perceived reality and what really was happening were two different things.
Where things were ‘going wrong’: 1) I was unconsciously seeking relationships with people who were not good for me. I tended to put some people on a pedestal and doing this put me in an inferior position. I felt that I had to change who I was to be accepted by them. Often they were the people most outspoken and judgemental of others. I suppose subconsciously the fear of becoming the ‘judged’ person meant I needed to control the relationship and do everything in my power to have them like me. Chasing was what I did.
2) I had extremely low self esteem. I would communicate how vulnerable I felt. I would expect others to communicate how they were feeling. If I suspected that someone didn’t like me I had to prove in any way possible that their idea of me was wrong, that actually I was a really nice person. However, my behaviour (to them) said otherwise and made them uncomfortable so here was where the spiral continued.
3) Boundaries. I had never heard of them until a self-development retreat. Once I had learnt about them, I could see that I didn’t use them. I said yes and chased, to be seen, to be loved, to be validated. I was constantly looking outside of myself for my worth.
4) I subconsciously chose people who were of the ‘avoidant’ attachment. People who would shut down when pushed for more intimacy (either verbally or physically). People who would avoid discussion and not want to communicate. People who didn’t respond to sms messages or would ignore certain messages - which would then leave lots of questions going round in my head about what might be happening in theirs. Creating more discomfort and worry and more pressure from me.
If for some reason, the relationship was nurtured by the other person, that would leave me dissatisfied and I would no longer be interested. I would end up self-sabotaging the relationship to ‘get out’.
So how did I move forward from this?
I started making a mental inventory of people in my life. People who always asked how I was, stayed. People who were critical or would purposefully leave me out of situations would go. If I put boundaries in place and they weren’t respected, depending on the situation and how frequently this happened I would decide whether they should stay or go.
Letting these people go (and telling them verbally the relationship wasn’t working), deleting names from my phone, unfollowing or unfriending people on social media and just simply not contacting people anymore. It did initially leave me feeling worried. Worried that I might miss out. Because what if they change? What if, by me not contacting them they completely forget about me and are no longer interested in me.
And then it clicked. If they weren’t interested in me, then why should I be interested in them? Sounds obvious. But it really wasn’t for me - I was addicted to the chase.
I also began to try to imagine what the other person might be doing or going through. Busy with kids? Read the message late at night and fell asleep? Instead of trying to put the lack of response about me, I made it about them.
Interpreting messages too. That began to change once I started spending a lot more time on self-care, building my self-esteem and knowing my worth. I would also wait before replying to messages to make sure that I wasn’t reacting to it.
Ego work also helped me with this as when putting boundaries in place or protecting my ‘energy’, any reactions to that I learnt to brush off with ‘their emotions are their responsibility’. My boundaries have triggered some feelings of self-worth or similar in them.
Doing these really affected my self-confidence in a positive way. The saying of ‘fake it until you make it’ really rang home true. Of course there were periods of confusion, of doubt, but with the more frequency I did it, the better I began to feel about myself. The easier it became and I would say now that I am ‘consciously secure’. As in, I’m secure, but it’s a conscious effort and I have to be mindful of any stories that pop up or how my nervous system behaves in response to a message or situation.
So now you can probably see why in ‘My Journey’ the part about friends wasn’t really about them. It was about me. It was about my growth.
Now I know. When I meet new people or get in touch with old friends, if I get the feeling that I’m needing to change the person I am, if I feel inclined to agree with them for them to like me. If I’m changing from my authentic self, and I can normally feel it in my tummy, then I know. This relationship isn’t ‘safe’ for me.
It isn’t good for me.
So I smile.
And stay true to me.
And if that doesn’t work?
I walk away.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.