“If you don’t love yourself, you’ll always be looking for someone else to fill the void inside you, but no one will ever be able to do it.” ~Lori Deschene
There are four attachment styles including anxious, avoidant, anxious/avoidant, and secure.
Attachment theory teaches us that the way in which we attach ourselves to our romantic partner mimics the relationship we had with our primary caregivers growing up.
So, if you were like me and had parents who were not physically or emotionally present, you grew up feeling a void within yourself and always worrying if you were lovable. Because of this void, you feel unlovable and unworthy of love, which causes you to be drawn to partners who are considered avoidant.
An avoidant partner is someone who believes their independence is more important than being in any relationship. They feel uncomfortable opening up to others. They prefer a casual hook up over an intimate relationship. And the moment they begin to feel vulnerable or like they like you too much, they ghost.
Suddenly that super cute date you both planned gets canceled or pushed back with no explanation, and you are left questioning your worth and what you possibly did wrong. I know because I have been there before.
In a way, your subconscious is trying to recreate the experiences you had growing up. If, for example, you told your parents you loved them and tried to hug them, and they responded with “Stop being so touchy” and “Get off of me,” you began to normalize being rejected when you expressed love. So now, your subconscious is drawn to avoidant partners who react in the same way your primary caregivers did.
Our attachment styles play a huge role in our relationships, and our relationships impact our mental health. If you are a person with an anxious attachment style and you’re subconsciously drawn to avoidant partners, you will go from one toxic relationship to the next.
If you are someone who is anxious, you tend to:
- Quickly attach; you go from 0 to 100 when you like someone.
- Worry constantly if they will stop loving/liking you.
- Worry they don’t feel as deeply for you as you do for them.
- Fear if they get to know the real you, they will no longer love you and will leave.
- Think “I will never ever find anyone else” or “This is as good as it gets” when thinking about your relationship, even though you know deep down inside you’re not getting your needs met.
Back in 2018, I decided to seek out therapy for the first time. I was a young grad student with a bright academic future ahead of me, but this was also the time I decided I was ready to date—and oh boy, did that open a can of worms.
I went from being this super cool, calm, and collected young woman to constantly feeling anxious. “Why hasn’t my date texted me yet?” “It’s been four hours since I texted him.” “Does he not like me anymore?” These were just some of the ruminating thoughts that kept echoing in my head. I was losing it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I kept attracting men who were avoidant, and the more I felt them trying to put distance between us, the more obsessed I became with closing the gap. I wanted to feel close to them; I wanted them to love me because if they didn’t, it meant something was wrong with me.
You know how people say, “If they’re not into you, it’s their loss?” To me, it didn’t feel that way. To me, it felt that I had to win their love, and if I didn’t win it, it meant I wasn’t worthy of their time and attention. I began to hyperfocus on every detail of our interactions. I began to notice if they texted me back with a period at the end of a sentence or if they added an emoji.
I would even time how long it took for them to reply to me. If I was dating someone and they usually responded to my texts within two hours, that meant that I was able to feel safe and relaxed for that first hour, but as soon as it was getting closer to hitting that two-hour mark, I would feel the anxiety creep up.
I could feel the anxiety in my body, starting with my stomach. It would feel tense and tender, then my shoulders would feel tense and my appetite would disappear. I lost about twenty pounds during this time in my life from the stress and anxiety I couldn’t get under control.
I even developed a bald spot at the top of my head. I was baffled at the quick deterioration of my mental and physical health. A few months ago, I had been a new grad student, excited about life and building a successful career, and now I was barely holding on and smiling to seem sane.
I have an anxious attachment style, so I become hypersensitive to the tiniest of shifts within somebody’s tone, body, facial movements, the words they use, etc. If my date said, “I love you” one day and the next “I like you a lot,” that was enough for me to ruminate on for the rest of the week.
I knew that something was wrong and that I needed to get my emotions back under control, so I began to look for help online. I landed on Tiny Buddha many times, and it was extremely helpful to read other people’s experiences so I could better navigate my situation.
Since I couldn’t force my romantic partners to meet my needs, I thought, It must be me. I need to chill out and not expect so much from them. I can change. And change, I tried. I read countless articles on how to let go of expectations.
I convinced myself that I was the problem, that I was expecting too much from a boyfriend. I thought that men were just incapable of meeting my needs and showing up for me the way I did for them. Because up to this point in my life, I had never experienced a man being consistently loving. At one point, I even tried to cleanse myself of my “bad energy” by doing a Limpia (cleansing).
I really wanted to be the issue, because if I was the issue, I could be in control and fix it. But the harder I tried to change and loosen my expectations, the more deeply I fell into a depression.
As you can see, the way we attach ourselves to romantic partners can affect our mental health, and if we’re not aware of the type of partners we are attracting, we can fall into a cycle of going from one toxic relationship to the next.
Going to therapy and seeking help was the best decision I made for myself. I was able to have someone point out to me the toxic cycle I found myself in. If you find yourself in this same toxic cycle and are ready to break out of it, there are a few things you can do.
1. Admit to yourself that you are ready to break the cycle.
Be honest with yourself. Identify the ways in which you have betrayed yourself by choosing partners that only hurt you. Be committed to ending this cycle.
2. Begin to do inner child work.
When you feel hurt and lonely and want to reach out to those toxic partners, instead, visualize the you that you were at five to seven years old and connect with the little you. Write them a letter. What would you tell little you if you were feeling hurt and lonely? I would tell myself I love you. You are safe. I will always be here for you.
3. Write a list of all the negative feelings and emotions your partner triggered within you.
Write a list of all the reasons why you need to stay away from this person and reference it anytime you feel like you want to reach out to them.
4. Regulate your nervous system.
When our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, our fight-or-flight response turns on and that makes it so hard for us to tolerate the discomfort of separation from the person we’re anxiously attached to. A breakup can feel like imminent danger, so we begin to panic and go back to our comfort zone, staying in a toxic relationship.
Some simple ways to regulate your nervous system include taking a barefoot walk in nature, doing a moderate to intense workout, practicing breathing exercises, and/or listening to music that soothes you.
5. Begin to develop a self-love and self-care routine.
You can begin to journal daily for ten minutes as a way to reconnect with yourself, work through your feelings, and identify thought and behavior patterns. You can make a list of your physical, mental, and emotional needs and identify small ways to meet them each day. You can go on weekly dates with yourself; go out to eat and watch a movie.
Do whatever it is that will make you feel happy and full. When you feel better about yourself and more comfortable being alone with yourself, you’ll be less apt to turn to another person to fill a void inside yourself.
You get to create the life and experiences you want to live. And while it may feel like you will never find the right partner for you because of your anxious attachment style, that is simply not true. When you begin to fill yourself up with love, even if you attract an avoidant partner, you will leave at the first sign of trouble rather than staying and trying to fix it.
Eventually, you will meet a partner who is secure and/or willing to become securely attached to you.
You will find someone to whom you can voice your anxiety, and instead of them dismissing you and telling you to “stop being so sensitive,” they will respond with “What can I do to ease some of the anxiety you’re feeling?” or “What can I do to help you feel safe?” Remember that you are always in control of creating the reality you want to live in.