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- Attachment is how we create close bonds with each other.
- But some people have unhealthy attachment styles, usually because of a past trauma in childhood or a previous relationship.
- These people may be in the habit of entering into relationships that will inevitably fail, or pushing away anyone who is right for them.
- This way, they never let anybody hurt them – even though they end up alone anyway.
When you are dating – unsuccessfully – it can feel like you’re repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
Humans are creatures of habit, and out of a subconscious desire to re-live and correct the issues from our past, we may seek out the same sort of partners and find ourselves in a destructive cycle.
Some people may do this because they have an unhealthy attachment style, which is the way they form bonds and connect to others.
One style is called “avoidant attachment,” according to psychotherapist Allison Abrams. She told Business Insider that our experiences in childhood shape our style of attachment, which then becomes the template for how we behave in future relationships.
“Insecure attachment styles, such as avoidant attachment, usually stem from some sort of early trauma,” she said. “When our needs aren’t met consistently by our primary caregivers, we form the belief that they won’t be met by any significant other, [and] that we can’t ever rely on others.”
Essentially, it is a defense mechanism, and people with avoidant attachment style may completely avoid relationships altogether, or keep anyone new they meet at a distance. They may sabotage their blossoming romances out of nowhere, because they are scared their new partner will leave them – so they get in there first.
“This is an unconscious attempt to make sure that they never again go through anything like they went through with their original caregiver,” Abrams said. “The irony is that by engaging in these defenses that we’ve learned we are actually recreating the very thing we were trying to avoid.”
Avoidant people find faults in anyone
Rather than letting a relationship grow naturally, an avoidant person tends to dwell on areas they are unsatisfied with. While people with healthy attachment styles are able to compromise with their partners and focus on the positives, avoidant people cannot. They zero in on minor flaws and imagine how they were happier being single, or how they might be better off finding someone else.
And they don’t just harm themselves. They often attract people with an anxious attachment style, who give up all their own needs to please and accommodate their partner. Anxiously attached people become incredibly unhappy and worried about being too much or too little for the person they are dating, and take everything incredibly personally.
In an attempt to alleviate the anxiety, they sometimes play games in their relationship to get attention. They may act out, try to make their partner jealous, or withdraw and stop answering texts or calls.
Unfortunately, this makes them an attractive match for the avoidant people. Anxiously attached people are living out their past, because fearing abandonment and pursuing someone unavailable feels familiar. The avoidant one of the pair then has someone who is constantly after them, even if they put in little effort.
While the anxious person’s fears of not being enough are validated, the avoidant person is safe in the knowledge their partner won’t hurt them. It’s a familiar – yet toxic – cycle.
Close relationships are incredibly important
Without healthy relationships, Abrams said we are more likely to suffer from mental health issues like depression. But we’re not destined to keep living out the same inevitable mistakes, because our attachment styles are not set in stone.
“Like any other behavioral change, if you are aware of your tendencies, and you are willing to put in the effort to change them, you are more likely to have healthier relationships,” Abrams said. “We may not change our styles altogether, but we can learn to make adjustments and not allow them to destroy our current relationships.”
The most effective way to make a change, she said, is to start seeing a therapist and identify the source of your patterns. That means digging into your past and seeing how your life has shaped your beliefs about love. Over time, you’ll develop a new way of relating, find happiness in things outside of romantic relationships, and, most importantly, learn to have compassion for yourself.
“Know you are doing the best you can given circumstances that were not in your control,” Abrams said. “The good news is that you do have control now and if you do the work, you can make changes.”