How To Overcome An Insecure Attachment Style — Because It's Really, Really Unhealthy

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Due to a childhood filled with emotional neglect, absentee parenting, emotional abuse, or domestic violence, you may have developed an insecure-avoidant attachment style. If so, then you may have avoided real relationships for most of your life. If you have been in any relationships, they likely have been relationships you could control.

When partners try to get too close to you, you feel torn. You may have an irresistible urge to end your relationship if your partner comes too close and demands "access" to your thoughts and feelings. You may literally feel like lashing out your arms to create space around you. 

Where does this type of avoidant behavior come from? Usually, it is grounded in a deep fear of trusting another person. You feel that your partner is never going to understand you anyway and that they wouldn't love you if only they knew who you truly are.

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People with an avoidant attachment style do not erase boundaries or change their values or beliefs for the sake of others. They are unable to trust other people, they dislike confrontations, and they have control issues.

To resolve avoidance behavior you need to see a professional therapist who specializes in these issues, so they can get resolved once and for all. Don’t expect a miracle when working with a therapist. It is hard work and can take years to resolve hidden issues.

In the meantime, there are little things you can do on your own. First, you have to realize that trust should always be treated as relative to a person. Some people can be trusted, some not. You need to find out who you can trust and who you cannot trust.

This is not hard to do. Don’t reveal your deepest secrets to strangers or people you have only known for a short period of time. Some secrets are less important than others. Make a list of a large number of your deepest secrets, listing the most unimportant secrets first.

Your most unimportant secrets are those secrets people don’t know about but would not destroy your self-worth or reputation, were they to become widely known (e.g., having smoked marijuana in college or having thrown up after last year's company holiday party).

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Start by sharing these unimportant (or less important) secrets with people you think you can potentially trust. That way, you can find out whether you can actually trust them.

If people pass on your secrets to others (especially if you tell them not to), then you will know that cannot trust them. Here is the most important part: if the people you think you can trust use what you tell them against you later, then they are not in fact trustworthy.

If you use this approach, you will begin to get a sense of who you can trust and who you can’t trust. You can now go one step further (with secrets further down your list) with the people who seem to be trustworthy. This sort of gradual approach may just work to regain trust in people around you.

In terms of confrontations: Few of us like confrontations. But sometimes we have to confront people. You should always confront people when they invade your personal space or overstep your boundaries. Confront people by speaking up immediately (not ten days later).

Don’t ever change yourself for the sake of pleasing another person. Stick to your views whether they be religious, political, philosophical, culinary, or fashion-related. Tell people what you like and don’t like.

Of course, you should be able to listen to other people and be open to good arguments that can convince you to think about things differently. But if people are just trying to make you change sides for no reason that you can relate to, then speak up. Inform them that you have a (constitutional) right to your own opinion.

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As for your control issues, I think it may be helpful to practice some mindfulness. The core principle in the mindful approaches I prefer teaches us that life is too short to be strongly affected by little and unimportant issues.

There are big issues that really matter. Then there are little issues that don’t really matter, including subjective issues such as: whose children (according to the parents themselves) are the best in the class, whether your favorite political candidate did a good job during the last round of debates, whether you look tired, whether Mac is more user friendly than PC, and so on.

I am not saying that there could not be a fact of the matter in these cases, but only that in most cases of issues that cannot be settled and therefore are subjective, nothing hinges on the outcome. Debating things with people can be fun. But it can also lead to unnecessary anger and resentment.

When things don’t go anywhere, you have to learn to let go. Remind yourself that in many cases, life is too short to put a lot of energy into who is right or wrong or to be upset by little things that are without consequence.

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Berit "Brit" Brogaard is a professor at Miami University and the director of Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research. She is the co-author of The Superhuman Mind and the author of On Romantic Love.

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.