The emotional bond that happens between people who get attached is a magical thing.
However, sometimes this attachment can be unhealthy.
A psychologist, John Bowlby, developed attachment theory, which says that we form emotional attachments during childhood, and they often shape our attachment styles in adulthood.
So, the way you form connections with romantic partners today highly depends on the connection you had with parents or caregivers in childhood.
Mary Ainsworth was a psychologist who identified the four main attachment styles that you’ll read about soon.
So, if you stay in unhealthy relationships or repeat the same unhealthy patterns in relationships, you might find the key to your problem right here.
Emotional attachment can contribute to a healthy relationship, but when that attachment is unhealthy, the relationship can’t be healthy either.
But what is an emotional attachment, and how do you identify your attachment style?
Let’s find out, and later on, you’ll learn about the 17 signs of unhealthy attachment and how to fix it.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you attach to people in healthier ways than you do now. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
What is emotional attachment?
Emotional attachment is the emotional bond that you feel with someone you’re attached to, and it’s a natural part of a person’s development. However, emotional attachment can be unhealthy, which can lead to mental health issues and relationship problems.
The Four Attachment Styles In Adults
Psychologists have identified four main attachment styles in adults, and these attachment styles influence the way you behave in romantic relationships.
Identifying your and your partner’s attachment style is the first step to addressing unhealthy attachment.
1. Secure attachment.
Securely attached people usually had positive, consistent experiences with parents or caregivers during childhood and felt safe, supported, and loved.
As adults, they are comfortable with independence and intimacy, and they can trust their partner. They can depend on you in a relationship but will still maintain their sense of self.
Securely attached people communicate openly and can healthily resolve conflicts, so they tend to have healthy, long-lasting relationships.
2. Ambivalent (or anxious-preoccupied) attachment.
People with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style usually experienced inconsistency from their parents or caregivers during childhood. As children, they felt a need to constantly seek reassurance and attention from their caregivers.
As adults, these people often become preoccupied with their romantic relationships. They have a fear of abandonment and a need for constant closeness and validation from their partners.
Jealousy, clinginess, and emotional roller coasters are common with these people, and their self-esteem often depends on their partner’s words and actions.
3. Avoidant-dismissive attachment.
Avoidant-dismissive individuals usually experienced unresponsive or emotionally distant caregivers during childhood. As adults, they tend to be self-sufficient, and they value their independence.
It is sometimes hard for them to express their feelings, and they may not realize how important emotional intimacy is in a relationship.
They often avoid getting too emotionally involved, and too much closeness makes them uncomfortable. They’re also often afraid to show their vulnerable side.
4. Disorganized (fearful-avoidant) attachment.
Those with a disorganized attachment style usually had parents or caregivers who were sources of both fear and comfort during childhood. They often experienced abusive or inconsistent caregiving.
As adults, they have conflicting needs for independence and closeness. They want emotional intimacy but are at the same time afraid of it.
These people often have unstable or turbulent relationships and oscillate between wanting connection and fearing getting hurt.
17 Signs Of Unhealthy Emotional Attachment
Unhealthy attachment can look different for different individuals.
The following are some of the common signs of unhealthy attachment, but there are more signs, depending on your attachment style.
1. You constantly think about your partner.
Are you emotionally attached to the extent that it interferes with your everyday life? You constantly think about your partner, and you miss their presence whenever you’re away from them.
Constantly thinking about someone may sound romantic, but it can be a sign of unhealthy attachment.
People with an unhealthy attachment style often obsess over their relationship and have no life outside of it.
Constantly being preoccupied with your partner to the point where it interferes with your everyday life doesn’t allow room for personal space and individuality.
People with an unhealthy attachment style often avoid being alone and neglect growth because they’re so focused on their relationships.
2. You’re afraid that your partner will leave you.
You have an intense fear of abandonment that increases your anxiety and insecurities. If you’re constantly worried that your partner might leave you, you can’t relax in the relationship.
People with a healthy attachment style trust that their partners respect and value the relationship.
If you’re instead frequently terrified that the relationship might end, it shows that either the relationship isn’t healthy or your attachment style isn’t.
To some extent, it’s normal to be afraid of losing someone you love. However, when there’s no real reason to think that this might happen, you have a fear of abandonment.
3. You depend on your partner too much.
You need to be self-sufficient and independent, but if you have an unhealthy attachment style, you will struggle with this. You rely on your partner for validation, emotional support, and fulfillment of all your needs.
Maybe you also constantly seek their approval. Depending on someone that much is not healthy. It creates imbalance and unhealthy power dynamics in the relationship.
Codependency can leave you without a sense of self, and you can lose yourself in your relationship by relying too much on your partner.
Enmeshment is not good for you or your relationship, and you need healthy boundaries instead.
4. You are overly jealous.
Do you frequently have jealous outbursts? Jealous, obsessive, controlling, and possessive behavior is common with unhealthy attachment styles.
If your partner gives you no reason to doubt their loyalty, you need to learn to control your jealousy. Constant suspicion is the opposite of what you need in a relationship because it destroys open communication and trust.
Excessive jealousy is often a sign of insecurity associated with an unhealthy attachment style.
Did your partner really deserve the lack of trust, or does this come from your own insecurities?
5. You want to spend all your free time with your partner.
You want to be with your partner constantly, and you miss them all the time when you’re away from each other. Pretty much your entire life revolves around your relationship.
You neglect other areas of your life, other people in your life, and yourself, because of your relationship. You don’t want to be alone, so you would rather spend every minute of your day with your partner.
People with insecure attachment styles often fear being alone and display clinginess and neediness.
You must stop suffocating your partner because both of you need some room to breathe for your relationship to work.
6. You ignore the red flags.
Would you rather stay in an unhealthy relationship than be alone?
Rationalizing or ignoring the problematic behavior of your partner is one of the signs of insecure attachment overpowering your better judgment.
If you frequently choose to ignore the red flags and stay in an unhealthy relationship, you’re repeating a toxic pattern. Red flags are there to warn you when someone is clearly not good for you.
Yet you fear being alone to the point that you would rather choose to stay with someone who’s not good for you.
When a relationship with someone is unhealthy for you, there will always be warning signs, and ignoring them is not because of romantic feelings; it’s because of an unhealthy attachment.
7. You neglect your own needs.
You prioritize your relationship to the point of neglecting your own needs. Maybe you even put your partner’s needs ahead of your own when it’s not good for your well-being.
You don’t invest time in self-care, and you’re stuck repeating toxic patterns instead of pursuing self-growth. Other areas of your life and other people in your life also get neglected because of your obsession with your relationship.
You constantly prioritize your partner’s needs and neglect yourself in the process, all because of an unhealthy attachment.
8. You’re on an emotional rollercoaster.
When it comes to your emotional state, you experience extreme highs and lows based on your partner’s actions or the current state of your relationship. This can turn your life into an emotional roller coaster.
Healthy attachment is all about stability and support. Instability and unresolved issues instead cause frequent and extreme emotional highs and lows.
Your mood shouldn’t depend on your partner or your relationship. This reliance on your partner creates unhealthy power dynamics.
9. You don’t set boundaries.
A lack of clear boundaries can create big problems in a relationship, and it’s a problem often associated with unhealthy attachment. Boundaries are there to ensure that both you and your partner’s needs are respected.
But when there’s a blurred line between your individual identities and lives, you can become enmeshed.
You need to define what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship, and boundaries are there to help you do that. Don’t tolerate bad behavior when you can say no to what is unacceptable to you.
10. You can’t let go.
You could be holding on to a relationship that has ended or no longer serves your well-being. This indicates that you can’t let go even when moving on is in your best interest.
Often, this is because of an insecure attachment style. If you can’t move on from an emotionally unhealthy attachment or can’t accept the end of a relationship, it will lead to anger, sadness, and resentment.
A lot of people with insecure attachment styles are also afraid of being alone, and they would rather stick with a bad relationship instead. This might also be behind your inability to let go because you would rather be in any relationship than no relationship at all.
11. You manipulate your partner.
Playing mind games, emotional blackmail, and guilt-tripping are just some of the manipulative tactics that you use to maintain an unhealthy attachment. You manipulate your partner into staying with you and giving you what you want.
A healthy relationship is supposed to be based on respect, trust, and open communication.
There is no room for manipulative tactics in a relationship like that.
When you manipulate your partner into doing things for you, you’re behaving in a controlling and possessive manner, which is often a sign of an insecure attachment style.
12. You’re in a one-sided relationship.
Does your partner reciprocate your affection and the effort you put into maintaining the relationship?
People with an unhealthy attachment style often end up in a one-sided relationship where their efforts and affection aren’t reciprocated.
The well-being of your relationship can’t depend solely on you. The effort needs to be mutual for your relationship to work.
If you instead waste time on a one-sided relationship, you are just going to keep giving while you get nothing in return. That’s not something that you should settle for.
13. Your self-esteem depends on your relationship.
Healthy self-esteem is supposed to come from within, not depend solely on external factors.
When you link your self-esteem and a sense of self-worth only to the status of your relationship, it’s very unhealthy.
You need to be responsible for your own self-esteem instead of letting it be determined by what’s going on in your relationship or how your partner treats you.
If their validation, actions, and opinions determine your self-esteem, you need to do something about it. It’s a sign of an unhealthy attachment style.
14. You repeat the same mistakes in relationships.
Have you noticed that you’ve been repeating the same unhealthy attachment patterns in many of your relationships?
Even when they lead to a negative outcome, you still stick to these patterns.
Thankfully, once you’ve identified these patterns, you’ve already made a big step toward resolving them. If you repeat the same mistakes in relationships, it’s time to change your behavior.
For instance, maybe you chase away your partners with clinginess and neediness. Maybe you get separation anxiety whenever you’re alone and could benefit from learning to be less clingy to your partner.
15. You lost your sense of self.
Do you still know who you are outside of your relationship with your partner? Maybe your life revolves entirely around your partner, and you feel like you’ve lost your individual identity.
Healthy relationships foster independence and personal growth, and unhealthy attachment leads to losing yourself in the relationship.
Emotional investment shouldn’t require you to ditch your entire identity. In fact, this is destructive for you and the relationship and leads to unbalanced power dynamics.
16. You don’t communicate well with your partner.
When you can’t communicate effectively with your partner, it leads to arguments, misunderstandings, and a lack of emotional connection.
Maybe you have trouble expressing your concerns or needs, or you don’t actively listen to your partner. Both of these things can prevent healthy attachment.
Open and honest communication about your thoughts and feelings could bring you closer together and help you bond.
17. You have fantasy-based expectations.
Do you believe that your partner should always make you happy or fulfill your every emotional need?
These are unrealistic, fantasy-based expectations that lead to conflict and disappointment.
If you have idealized expectations of your partner, they are not going to be able to live up to those expectations.
Fantasy-based expectations are one of the common unhealthy attachment patterns that people repeat in relationships.
They are never happy with their partner, but the partner that would make them happy doesn’t exist. Their expectations are unrealistic, and no person could be or should be responsible for another person’s happiness to that extent.
How To Fix A Problem With Unhealthy Attachment
You can change your attachment style. It’s difficult, and it takes time, but it is possible, especially if you’re in a relationship with a person who has a secure attachment style.
Here’s what you can do to improve your situation:
1. Talk to a therapist.
A therapist can help you identify your attachment style, uncover the causes of it, and provide specific advice to move toward a secure attachment style.
If you grew up in an unstable home and have been through emotional neglect, you probably developed some coping mechanisms to deal with the pain.
Talking to a therapist is recommended in any of these situations, and they can give you tailored advice.
It all starts with identifying your attachment style, which you can also try doing on your own, but moving toward a secure attachment style will probably require some help.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
2. Identify your attachment style.
Learn more about attachment styles and understand your attachment style better. Self-awareness is the crucial first step when you want to improve your attachment patterns.
If you don’t have a secure attachment style, you have one of the insecure ones. Figure out if it’s an anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, or fearful-avoidant attachment style.
You should also learn about your partner’s attachment style. People with an insecure attachment style are more likely to develop a secure one if their partner already has a secure attachment style.
3. Reflect on your past.
Think about your childhood and your experiences and relationships with your parents or caregivers. Consider how it could have influenced your attachment style.
Reflect on your past to identify and understand any traumas or significant events that might have influenced your attachment patterns.
A therapist can help you during this important step. Unresolved trauma can be hard to process without a professional present.
4. Identify triggers and patterns.
When do you tend to become overly dependent, possessive, or anxious? Identify your triggers and situations that lead to unhealthy attachment patterns.
What are these patterns? Think about the recurring issues or conflicts that you’ve had in this relationship, or in all of your relationships.
When do you become excessively jealous, avoidant, or clingy? Recurring patterns should be easy to spot, and identifying your triggers can help you anticipate and manage them.
5. Set healthy boundaries.
Establishing boundaries is important to make it clear what is and isn’t acceptable. It is also a way to ensure both of your needs are respected.
Communicate your boundaries calmly, assertively, and openly with your partner. Stick to your boundaries and repeat your stand on things if needed.
You should also respect your partner’s boundaries. For instance, if you violate their privacy because of your excessive jealousy, this is something that they probably won’t tolerate.
6. Work on your self-esteem and independence.
You should have a sense of self that doesn’t depend solely on your relationship or external validation. Focus on improving your self-esteem and becoming more independent.
Spend time on personal interests and self-care activities and pursue personal growth. Don’t expect your partner to fulfill all of your emotional needs or make you happy all the time.
Work on becoming more than just a partner, and start feeling like a separate individual again.
Don’t constantly seek their approval, and learn to enjoy your own company.
7. Challenge negative thoughts.
Identify negative thoughts and negative beliefs related to your attachment style. Challenge them when you notice them.
For instance, if you have a fear of abandonment, find evidence that contradicts this fear to challenge it.
When you start feeling jealous, challenge this assumption by trying to find valid evidence for what you’re feeling. This doesn’t mean going through your partner’s phone, but you can, for example, consider other possible explanations that might be more plausible.
8. Develop better communication skills.
Foster open and honest communication in your relationship. Do this by actively listening to better understand each other and your needs.
Develop better communication skills to be able to express your concerns, feelings, and needs to your partner effectively.
Talk about your attachment styles and how you could work together on having a secure attachment style.
Consider couples therapy as a way of working on your communication and your attachment styles.
9. Expand your social circle.
You need additional sources of affection and emotional support so as not to rely too much on just one person. So find a support network to help nurture relationships and friendships outside of your romantic relationship.
Expand your social circle by reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Spend time with family members, and get to know the new people you meet.
Join a club or start a hobby that would connect you with like-minded people.
Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself in your relationship by neglecting all other people in your life because of your partner. You do not need to be so possessive of them.
10. Be patient and give it time.
Developing a healthier attachment style is possible, but it is a gradual process that takes time. Be patient with yourself and with your partner.
It will take a lot of effort to move toward a healthy attachment style, and you should be prepared for occasional setbacks. While you can use these ways to try to tackle this on your own, it’s best that you involve a therapist in the process.
Your attachment style wasn’t formed overnight, and it can’t be changed overnight either.
With effort though, you can significantly improve the quality of your relationship or any other relationships that you will have in the future.
11. Address past traumas.
There is a chance that past traumas are contributing to your problem and the unhealthy attachments you form. Healing from such a bad experience can seem impossible if you try to do it on your own.
However, there are people who specialize in helping others heal from the pain of unresolved trauma and finally get closure.
Consider talking to a therapist who could help you develop fulfilling and secure relationships that can support your personal growth and emotional well-being.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.