Breaking up proves challenging in anxious attachment

StaceyNHerrera

My first love broke up with me out of the blue. He said, “I think we would be better off as friends.” He didn’t elaborate or tell me why he felt that way, and I didn’t probe him for more information; I just accepted his decision. I did not beg or plead for him to stay, although I wanted to. And while my heart was crushed, I never let him know how devasting the breakup was for me.

Breakups are hard, no matter what. This is mainly because breaking up means giving up on someone you’ve invested a lot of time and energy in. When you break up, the relationship that once felt good ceases to exist. And it can feel like you’re losing a piece of yourself when a connection is unraveling.

Even more than that, the end of a relationship means giving up all the hope, excitement, and anticipation for the future together. Any expectations for happily-ever-after with the other person instantly wash down the drain. And if things appeared to have been going well, like it was for me, breaking up can be even more difficult. 

The time immediately following a breakup can feel excruciating and unbearable, but after the dust settles, it’s not uncommon to feel relief. At least that’s how I felt. 

Once time has passed, and you’ve grieved all there is to grieve, there is space to start something new. And hopefully, you will self-reflect and do things differently the next time. But moving on is challenging when you have an anxious attachment style. 

What is the anxious attachment style?

“The anxious attachment style is always concerned about the stability or security of the relationship. People with this attachment style tend to agonize over the meaning of words or actions by a partner. They read negatives into otherwise neutral or positive interactions. They also tend to crave constant reassurance that the relationship is secure, and the affection and love are still present.” — Sherry Gaba, LCSW,

Some people with anxious attachment styles worry obsessively about their relationships. They often feel like they cannot cope when their partner isn’t around and are sometimes easily devastated. 

The insecurity that can plague people with anxious attachment can cause them to be codependent and controlling. This can make it hard for people with an anxious attachment to let go of previous partners. 

The root cause of anxious attachment often comes from experiencing emotional or physical abandonment as a child. The feeling of being left in childhood can lead to clingy behavior in adulthood. People with anxious attachment styles find it challenging to trust others as well. 

When you are sensitive to separation and loss, breaking up can lead to feelings of stuckness and inadequacy, even if you are the one who initiated the breakup or divorce. 

Why do breakups hurt more if you are anxiously attached?

“Attachment styles are often activated at times of distress and they can either help or hinder one’s ability to effectively transition out of the relationship.” — Robert T. Muller, Ph.D.

As I previously mentioned, it’s harder to handle the loss when you're anxiously attached. When you are anxious/preoccupied, that overwhelming fear of being left is exacerbated during a breakup. This makes it challenging for an anxious person to self-soothe and regulate. 

People with anxious attachment styles are often very attuned with shifts in mood and behavior in the people they care about most. So when someone breaks up with them, they feel like the world is falling off its axis, and their worst fear is coming true. 

In the world of the anxiously attached, breakups can bring up pain and fear that is years or even decades old. Fear of being unworthy and unlovable. The pain of being left behind or ignored as a child. The feeling of loss and upheaval can feel intense to preoccupied individuals, making them feel like they’ll never recover. 

The fear of being abandoned can be so extreme for people with an anxious attachment style that they may tend to remain in unhealthy relationships and situations longer than they should.

3 Tips For Getting Through a Break Up If You’re Anxiously Attached

If you’re anxiously attached, there are a few things that you can do to help yourself through the breakup.

  1. First, it’s essential to understand that your partner is imperfect and will make mistakes. This doesn’t mean that they were never suitable for you or that you were never right for them. 
  2. Secondly, try to focus on your own needs and don’t become too obsessed with your ex. This means spending time with friends and family, doing things that make you happy, and being kind to yourself.
  3. Finally, try to avoid ruminating on the past or what went wrong in the relationship. Accept that it’s over and move on.

So if you are breaking up, or have broken up recently, know that it is not easy — but it is possible to get through it. Remember that you are not alone in this, and there are people who care about you and want to help. Lean on them, allow yourself to be supported, and improve your emotional awareness and communication skills. With time and effort, you will eventually move on from the past and build a healthy relationship in the future.

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/addiction-and-recovery/202009/recognizing-the-anxious-attachment-style

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201402/loves-end-attachment-and-the-dissolution-relationship

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA
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