Starving For Love: How Our Attachment Style Affects Our Relationships
When we talk about starving we’re usually referring to food. Imagine if you will, that you are stranded on a deserted island and this island is barren of anything edible. You are ravenous and you start to wonder what sand tastes like. Suddenly, you’re rescued and the only thing on your mind is food. A meal is placed in front of you, do you grab a knife and fork and daintily cut your food into tiny bite size pieces, or do you just start shoveling it in? You probably would want more and more until you’re ready to throw up and you’d probably even lick the plate too.
When we have been deprived of love and affection as children, where there has been neglect or abuse in some fashion, we generally grow up to feel like we are starved, but not for food – for love.
As a young girl, I grew up in an environment where both of my parents worked evenings, nights and weekends. Our care was left to older siblings, or elderly and feeble relatives. This neglect, paired with an emotionally unavailable and highly critical mother, who never showed affection or uttered any words of love or support, molded me into someone who was ravenous for love and attention and I went looking for it outside the home, at a very early age and with no real idea of what love was supposed to look like.
When I was a teenager and well into my twenties, I exhibited what psychologists would call a clingy type of attachment style. In his book, They F*** You Up, Psychologist, Dr. Oliver James, describes the four types of attachment styles as follows:
Avoidant: I am comfortable without close relationships. It is important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me,
Clingy: I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. i am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.
Wobbler: I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.
Secure: it is relatively easy for me to become close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.
Throughout my healing I can honestly say I have exhibited every one of these attachment styles at different times. As we mature and heal I think it’s normal to go from one to the other, as one tries to achieve autonomy and eventually learns to open up again and trust. Some people remain in one attachment style throughout their lives, jumping from relationship to relationship with always the same outcome.
Many of my readers and clients now find themselves as Avoidants, not looking for anyone or ever permitting themselves to be vulnerable again. Pema Chodron, Author of When Things Fall Apart, warns of the dangers of closing ourselves off, “ When we protect ourselves so that we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, imprisoning the softness of the heart.” It’s ok, a good idea really, to avoid relationships as we recover, but the end goal should always be to achieve a level of healthy attachment.
As a clingy teenager, desperate for any showing of love and affection, it made me quite susceptible to the love bomb. I can recall countless young men lathering me up with compliments and wonderful feelings that I was loved, cherished even, feelings that I had never experienced before.
I recall one particular day my father had forbidden me to see my first “true love.” He was waiting for me in the park and I was grounded, not allowed to see him. What did I do? I snuck out the window of course. No amount of punishment could ever match the intensity of feeling that I, as a love starved child, was being offered. I loved and respected my dad, but what he didn’t understand was I needed what this young man was offering. I ate up everything he said and everything he promised. I had never seen the likes of these emotions and there was nothing my dad could of said or done that was going to keep me away from him.
My need for love at all costs, inexperience and complete lack of any idea of what love was really all about, exposed me to some pretty shady characters. James says that Clingers and Avoidants seem to be drawn together, because the Clinger forces the Avoidant to open up and the avoidant exhibits the typical distant behaviors of the Clinger’s childhood.
“(As Clingers) our relationships are subject to highs and lows, to jealousy, conflict and dissatisfaction. We are liable to mother our partners, protecting, feeding, smothering, We are looking for unqualified closeness, eager to move in with new partners and to share their life as soon as possible.” James
Although James never uses the word Codependency in his book, I’d say that’s a pretty good description. Most Codependents typically start out with a Clingy attachment style and this makes them prime candidates for emotional manipulators who use love bombing as a technique.
As a child of emotional neglect grows and starts to get their needs met outside of the home, the intense emotions can become like a drug. The Clinger so desperately wants to be loved, but they subconsciously keep choosing partners that are incapable of ever giving them what they need. My sexual experience started early at 15. Before I hit 20 my sexual kill count was up to 6. I kept searching for love and because I had no clue what actual love looked like I kept looking in all the wrong places. Each partner was distant, and had varying degrees of emotional unavailability. They all hurt me desperately and I had definitely established an unhealthy preference for unobtainable men, who had no interest in meeting my needs.
Because I didn’t know what love was, I was mistaking it for sex. I thought that if I gave myself to a man and quickly, it meant that we shared a bond. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the glow of love I was feeling was not shared by my partner. He was feeling the walls closing in and a need to flee the premises and my life. Early on, I would put up with any kind of misbehavior, just as long as they came back to love me. They usually did come back, not to love though, but to hurt.
I have been in relationships where my partner’s commitment was so obviously not there, but I so often refused to see the very noticeable signs. I would make mountains of out of crumbs of good behavior and molehills out of real relationship crimes. I would imagine that if I could only be more this or less that, then my partner would truly want me.
I even had a long distance relationship that I pretended was real. It went on for a long, long time. I met him on line, we shared pictures, we talked, or texted, or emailed every day. We planned a future together. We even said, “l love you.” All of this and we never even met. I pretended it was real and he would repeatedly stop talking to me when he came across another girl in his hometown. I would get upset and freak out like I was a real girlfriend. I’ve since learned that long distance relationships aren’t real, especially if you’ve never even met. You need to be geographically close to someone to know who they are and how they operate. When you are so desperate for love, you would be amazed at the lengths you will go to obtain it.
After that relationship ended I spent a lot of time as someone with an Avoidant attachment style. I was done with relationships and I wanted nothing to do with men. I had been hurt too many times and I created my own space where I was safe and happy and where nothing could touch me. Staying away from relationships and not letting people get close to you is a good idea under certain circumstances and situations, but it should just be a stop over while you get your act together and not somewhere you want to stay permanently.
Our attachment style is learned early in life. Our relationship with our caregivers from 0 to 6 months of age will have a lasting effect on us as we mature and start to have adult relationships of our own. Even if our parents were distant, or inattentive, or even abusive, the effects doesn’t have to be a life sentence. We can rewrite our own scripts and we can change how we relate to people and the type of behavior that we deem acceptable in relationships.
I always advise people to stop dating while they are healing. It’s imperative that you learn how to be whole all on your own, without the interference of someone else. I know some of you have entered into relationships with loving and caring individuals and healed while you were involved, but those are the exceptions, not the norm. Move through the different attachment types, avoid relationships as you heal, become autonomous in every aspect – learn how to meet your own needs, financial, emotional, physical and spiritual. When you don’t need anyone to make you feel like you’re enough, then you’re ready to slowly open up and start trusting again.
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