When the table is set correctly, love is everyone’s favorite subject. The inexplicable nature of prolonged happiness’ inevitable destiny is so pure and real, we willingly collapse all pragmatic thinking for the virtue to run its course.
When love is present, life is present. There are few rational comparisons, as most all positive experiences or feelings are delineated from some type of love.
So it’s no surprise that such a perplexing emotion tears the rug out from under us and triggers cognitive fog when that very love has a stake driven through it. We handle heartbreak about as well as being laid off from our dream job without warning or explanation.
Maybe it’s the feeling of loss. Or hurt, loneliness, disappointment, and so on.
All of the aforementioned are valid, but perhaps the most difficult feeling to wrestle with is ambiguity — not knowing where we went wrong. Failing to understand where or why things went awry is the fastest way to shredding all hope and commit oneself to a lifetime of defensiveness. We fear what we do not understand and with something as precious as love, you bet your ass that wall is getting constructed higher than ever before.
I’m no expert, but I’ve fucked up enough relationships to be willing to take a hard at myself and examine some of the sources of my behavior. Apart from various ego trips (these are not unique and do not deserve to be digested — combating insecurity with arrogance is wildly unremarkable), a natural tendency would show up for me with relationships that I truly wanted to work. When I was allowing me to be my hopeful yet fearful self, a distinction arose — one of four attachment styles that we all fall within.
Here, I’ll unpack each type and highlight the saving grace available amongst your natural default setting.
The anxious-preoccupied attachment style can be characterized by its leading term: anxious. This ongoing fear and discomfort with how the relationship is faring can only be mitigated by contact with the attachment figure. The anxious-preoccupied often tend to overdo it, try too hard, overanalyze, and showcase feelings or actions of self-doubt.
This was me. Any relationship is desperately wanted to work, I would push to the point of diminishing returns, collapsing into an ominous cloud of worry perpetually looming nearby. This diffidence resulted in a desperate overcompensation that didn’t take long to suffocate my partner, quickly leading to the relationship’s demise.
Antidote: The reason this doesn’t work is you abdicate the responsibility of your happiness onto someone else. No one wants to do that type of emotional legwork — it’s hard enough trying to save oneself.
The solution here is to get secure with who you are. Strip away the facade and show-ready attractions and confront your insecurity. Find the root of the issue, make peace with it, and start taking various steps to owning your own happiness.
The worst attachment style to pair with an anxious-preoccupied, this was often the type I would seek out unconsciously. The fact that I could never get close to this type was enough to uptick my anxiety into hyperdrive — much to the chagrin of whomever I was with at the time.
The dismissive-avoidant can be described as overvaluing the desire to be independent and self-sufficient, often at the cost of emotional acuity. The view of being invulnerable to feelings of closeness is often an attempt to avoid attachment of any kind altogether. The potential for rejection is typically dealt with via distancing themselves from the potential source — a defensive response to keep from getting hurt, by never really getting started.
I fancied opting for this attachment style with my family for a number of years, most notably my parents. It was all an attempt to cover up the insufferable fear I had of losing them, and how much more it would hurt if I gave away my whole heart. Once I realized how much I was hurting them (and myself, indirectly) however, my perceived hurt — clearly a couple of dimensions removed from reality — became an afterthought.
Antidote: The dismissive-avoidant attachment style — although free from their emotions careening off a cliff — severely lack passion in their relationships because the certainty of what’s comfortable (withdrawing) overrides the uncertainty of what sets the heart on fire. Understands what the avoidance truly costs you is essential to stepping outside of this attachment style, as well as coming to grips with your existence — all relationships are fleeting to some degree and you might as well play full-out while you can. Losing people will hurt one of two ways: the pain of loss or the pain of regret.
It goes without saying, you know which one is harder to live with.
People that have experienced significant loss or trauma in childhood or adolescence can develop this attachment style. A natural discomfort with getting close to others is prevalent, highlighted by a lack of trust and anticipation for getting hurt. Because of this, many actions of the opposite party are interpreted negatively almost automatically, making it increasingly difficult for trust and closeness to ensue.
The double-edged sword of this attachment style and unlike the dismissive-avoidant, is the negative view of the self. Trust is so rare for them, they often cannot trust themselves. This inner conflict becomes increasingly difficult to manage and results in suppression or denying of feelings, along with distancing themselves from attachments.
Antidote: Easier said than done, generalizations regarding the past must be let go of to escape this underwhelming attachment style. It’s recommended to consult a professional to work through some of the heavier experiences but you need not develop a stigma about it — literally everyone has crap to work through during therapy or life coaching for a period of time.
It’s also critically important to seize control of what you can in relation to the ongoing improvement of your baseline mood (i.e. daily exercise, eating more green shit, hydrating sans alcohol, laughing uncontrollably a time or two per day, doing things you genuinely enjoy for their own sake — not your Instagram’s).
Don’t be envious of this attachment style, for this can be you in short order. These people have simply dealt with the shit we haven’t been willing to. As profit, it’s resulted in a positive view of both themselves and others — which makes for some pretty damn enjoyable relationships.
Just because both parties are secure within a relationship doesn’t guarantee it will work, however. Sometimes people’s interests shift dramatically. Sometimes the dynamic just isn’t right. Sometimes the spark is dimly lit. This is why we have so much respect for the couple that’s madly in love after 50 years of marriage — it’s daunting to think about all the factors that have to be in alignment for a relationship to thrive.
Regardless, it is worth pointing out those with secure attachment styles report greater satisfaction levels and adjustment within relationships, as well a comfort and ease with both intimacy and independence. #goals
Bringing It All Together
Whatever attachment style resonates with you (the real you, Kevin), don’t get too attached — couldn’t help myself — to it. You’re not stuck with it, by any means. Go back to the source of this behavior, have compassion for why it exists, and do whatever it takes to ensure you and only you are responsible for your happiness.
While self-love is key to realizing the kind of love within a relationship that will bring you to your knees, we all have blind spots. If you don’t have self-love because self-pity gets you more attention, it’s worth taking a look at. If you have self-love but only because it provides the certainty you know an on-fire relationship that thrives on variety would never bring, that’s worth taking a look at, too.
Whatever your situation is, don’t give in to the illusion that what you’re focused on is the complete picture of reality. To understand ourselves is to look at ourselves as objectively as possible. Even then we probably won’t have a full understanding, but you almost don’t want to — defining ourselves makes us lazy.
Keep working. Keep pushing. Keep stretching what you know to be your boundaries of comfort and locus of control. Forgive people and most importantly, forgive yourself. You’ve only been doing the best you can.
Oh, and stay hopeful. Your next opportunity to rewrite the story is right around the corner.