Emotional attachment is a strong and lasting emotional bond that forms between people, though sometimes the term can be used to describe clinging to possessions, habits or beliefs.

It includes a desire to be near the person or thing we’re attached to and returning to the same person or thing for comfort. Absence of the attachment figure results in anxiety.

While attachment is normal for human beings and involves an exchange of comfort and care, it’s true that sometimes it can mean a lack of freedom and unhealthy clingy behavior.

When you create an attachment, you might find it hard to let go when something goes wrong. When we’re used to our comfort zone, we don’t like forced changes.

Psychological research show that early experiences in childhood are important for development and behavior later in life, which means we learn our attachment style while we’re still babies and later on in life, they can change.

Why should we learn about our attachment style? It’s not to confine love into strict categories but rather to easily understand where we’re coming from.

Different Emotional Attachment Styles

Attachment theory (described by psychoanalyst John Bowlby) differentiates four main attachment styles that each says a lot about the person and his or her needs.

The main four styles are the following:

Secure

couple having coffee break while having a good conversation in a cafe

When a person has this type of emotional attachment, that means they’re starting off with great assets.

They have no problem in communicating with their partner, they don’t hesitate to ask for help or emotional support and do the same for their partner in return, which results in a healthy relationship.

That’s why someone with this attachment style has equal and understanding relationships that help them grow together.

Having the same pace in a relationship gives stability, which is very important for a long-term connection.

They don’t engage in so-called fantasy bonds that give a false sense of safety but instead genuinely support their partner and meet their emotional needs.

All of this doesn’t mean secure relationships are perfect but what it does mean is that there’s an effort to understand, listen and solve problems together instead of putting blame on each other, passive-aggression or abandonment.

A secure attachment style means both of the partners have great self-awareness, which helps them see past any problems and focus on mutual goals and attaining well-being.

Anxious-preoccupied

man sitting next to a crying woman sitting in a sofa inside living room

Unlike the previous style, anxious-preoccupied individuals do engage in so-called fantasy bonds.

A person with this attachment style tends to fantasize about romance but fails to meet the expectations in reality.

They overthink and overanalyze, which makes them clingy and sometimes obsessive.

Instead of real love, they feel a strong emotional need that originates from the deprivation they experienced earlier in their life.

This emotional void makes them emotionally hungry and that hunger can’t be fully satisfied by their partner if the person doesn’t work on solving their issues first.

They’re likely to fall for a partner whom they can save or in some cases who they think can save them and that’s usually the wrong person.

A recurring theme with a person with this type of personality is low self-esteem, which stems from growing up with no boundaries.

Their insecurity causes relationship problems because more often than not, they perceive their partner’s independence as a threat.

For example, if a partner spends time with their friends or other people, they perceive it as a lack of care or abandonment and they become desperate or passive-aggressive.

Unfortunately, they have a tendency to mistake a toxic relationship for passion.

Dismissive-avoidant

behind view of a woman sitting on the rocks facing the vast ocean

A person with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style tends to be emotionally unavailable in a relationship.

They usually come across as self-sufficient and independent and often avoid intimacy.

They’re focused on themselves and seek isolation, have a hard time being vulnerable and frequently look and act unbothered by things that happen in their relationship.

Even after their partner hurts them or leaves them, they tend to block feelings, which does nothing but bottle up their unexpressed feelings. In other words, they shut off emotionally.

This type has a few genuine relationships in their life as a result of their avoidant and dismissive attachment style.

‘I don’t care’ is their mantra, even though that’s almost always untrue because full independence is an illusion.

Every human being craves genuine and meaningful relationships; even if you’re an introverted person who doesn’t like crowds, to have a quality connection with other people is essential.

Fearful-avoidant

woman laying down on bed closing her eyes with one hand on her head

A person with this kind of attachment style has a mixed approach. They fear being too close to or too distant from their partner and usually have a hard time understanding their own emotions.

Their inability to understand their emotions makes them feel overwhelmed, which only makes things more complicated and occasionally forms a problem with their mental health.

They want to be close to the other person but at the same time, they’re scared of being hurt.

When they’re hurt, they tend to be clingy, while other times, they experience fear of intimacy and withdrawal. In other words, they’re confused about how to get their needs met.

This is followed by many ups and downs with their partner, which results in an unstable and sometimes abusive relationship.

Signs of an unhealthy emotional attachment

We can all agree that no relationship is perfect and there’s always an occasional argument or problem that needs to be solved. However, there are many red flags that need to be brought to light.

A healthy romantic relationship shouldn’t support the following behaviors, as they are signs of an unhealthy attachment:

Need for constant reassurance

black and white photo of couple kissing focused on the lower part of their faces

It’s normal for human beings to be concerned with how others perceive them, especially their loved ones.

Nevertheless, if we do it constantly, it’s a sign for concern.

‘Do you love me? Why won’t you tell me you love me? How much do you love me? Are you sure about it?’ and similar questions are just some examples of clingy behavior.

In addition to this, the need for other types of affection like kissing and hugging are usually overemphasized too.

This type of behavior overwhelms the other person and pushes them away. It puts too much pressure on one person, who can’t fill the emotional hunger of the other person.

The solution to this problem is facing unresolved inner conflict. Instead of clinging to a partner for reassurance, the person needs to learn to address his or her own issues.

We will never be fully satisfied unless we learn to respect ourselves and realize our self-worth. When you know your self-worth, you don’t need the approval of others.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t care about their opinions but you already know what’s best for you and what you are capable of.

Obsessive love

woman checking cellphone wearing earphones lying in bed

Obsessive love is an extreme infatuation that’s usually accompanied by delusional jealousy and controlling behavior (not to be confused with feelings of infatuation that are normal for a new relationship).

It’s love that never matures enough to attain a healthy emotional connection. Instead, it almost becomes a personality disorder.

What makes things worse is the fact that obsessive love is romanticized in popular culture through books and movies.

Some of the unhealthy behaviors are normalized and problematic adult attachments are excused.

Unfortunately, obsessive love is viewed as something worthy of praise when in reality it’s just toxic behavior.

Some of the warning signs of obsessive love are obsessive thinking about their object of desire, intense attention on the subject of their love, obsessive calling and texting, trust issues, excessive joy and relief when around the subject of love, trouble focusing on other things and so on.

Being overly concerned by their partner’s feelings

concern woman sitting on the edge of the bed with hands on her head and a man sitting near the headboard

Social psychology tells us how significant and impactful the presence of others in our lives is. It affects our thoughts, feelings and behavior.

That’s why many people are concerned about how they look in the eyes of others and sometimes even to the point of altering their own life and behavior to fit the needs of their partner.

The problem with this kind of behavior is that we’re sacrificing our authentic self, which eventually leads us to feel unhappy about ourselves and our relationship.

It also reflects low self-esteem and makes us feel unheard.

If we’re too concerned or fearful over our partner’s reactions, especially when it comes to everyday things, it’s possible that we’re trapped in unhealthy emotional behavior.

Another way this problem manifests is when we feel responsible for other people’s feelings, so let me say this again:

You’re not responsible for other people’s feelings. That’s exactly what keeps us in a difficult relationship; thinking that everything bad that happens is our fault is damaging to our self-esteem.

Avoiding intimacy

woman pushing a man with her hand outdoors wearing winter clothes

In order to have a close relationship, two people need to acknowledge each other’s feelings and work toward mutual contentment.

That means constant care, support, trust and vulnerability. There’s no real intimacy without vulnerability.

A fear of sharing a close emotional relationship is a fear of intimacy, which is the most important thing between romantic partners.

There are numerous reasons for this fear, including difficult childhood experiences, a history of abuse and many others.

Intimacy is the ability to share yourself with another person and we can do that in various ways.

For example, in an intellectual way (sharing thoughts and ideas), an emotional way (sharing deep feelings), a sexual way (sharing physical intimacy) and an experiential way (sharing experiences).

Different kinds of emotional attachment

When we hear the term emotional attachment, we usually think about attachment to people, so life partners, children, family members and friends. However, there are many more kinds, such as:

Attachment to material things

Do you have a hard time when some of your material possessions break down or when you need to give them up? Do you ever ask yourself why?

The fact is, we’re attached to material things. If we weren’t, why would we buy unessential things in the first place?

Almost every significant purchase is emotional.

Think about if you left your phone alone for a few days; I’m sure you would miss it and feel a certain amount of frustration at times.

Of course, it’s normal to enjoy material things but we should be aware that they’re all replaceable.

There’s the idea that the less attached we are, the happier we are. Everything in life is transient, so learning to let go is a useful skill.

Attachment to habits

Other than people and things, we get attached to habits. The easiest way to notice this is seeing people who smoke, overeat, obsess over working out, etc.

It’s possible to have healthy habits but it’s easier to have unhealthy ones. That’s why in order to break a habit, one needs willpower and discipline.

Attachment to places

For many people, changing their environment is a nightmare.

They get overly attached to certain places; for example, their home town or the family home and sometimes, even when they desperately need change.

Refusing change when it’s good for us is a big sign of an unhealthy emotional attachment because it stops progress and growth.

Attachment to memories

Dwelling on the things that happened in the past is another type of attachment. There’s no point in daydreaming or crying over the things that already happened because we can’t change them.

What we can do is focus on the things we can do now and do the best we can.

How to break the unhealthy cycle

woman kicks water during sunset/sunrise in silhouette

While emotional attachment is a normal and expected thing for humans to feel, sometimes it gets out of control.

In order to keep our emotional balance and personal freedom, we need to detach from the things that no longer serve us.

How do we do that? Firstly, it’s good to work on your self-esteem. It’s crucial to get comfortable with yourself before anyone else in order to experience happiness, freedom and emotional balance.

Secondly, it’s good to find new things to focus on.

Don’t rely on other people to make you feel good; find out how to do so on your own. Engage in things that make you less stressed. Make some new friends, try new things.

Don’t think of yourself as someone who needs something or someone else to feel fulfilled, as you’re already whole.

Don’t forget that you have the power to change your life every day, starting from today.

“Renew, release, let go. Yesterday’s gone. There’s nothing you can do to bring it back. You can’t ‘should’ve’ done something. You can only DO something. Renew yourself. Release that attachment. Today is a new day!” – Steve Maraboli

What Emotional Attachment Is And How To Recognize If It’s Unhealthy