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Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy
January 16, 2019

A client of mine recently told me that when her partner withdraws, she feels punished and believes she has done something terribly wrong. She does everything she can to fix it because it feels like a survival issue for her—that her partner is the "parental umbilical cord" responsible for her survival. Her fear is so intense, she told me, that sometimes she feels like she is going to die.

The source of this woman's terrible attachment problems was actually something from her childhood—a similar dynamic in which her parents' unavailability registered to her young mind as the result of something she herself had done wrong. Without the support from her parents, that dynamic turned into a gaping wound, one that had still not been healed even now as an adult.

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An attachment wound occurs when you were brought up by parents who were not emotionally present and not there for you, which resulted in anxiety and insecurity. As an adult, you begin to unconsciously attach to people—often in the context of romantic relationships—and subconsciously attempt to have them fill the role of the loving parent you never had. Because of your experience as a child, you might feel huge anxiety if the partner doesn't call on time or is out of town or, like this woman's partner, withdraws. Their behavior picks at your old wounds from childhood, and the pain feels unbearable. Aside from being difficult on you, this anxious attachment style also causes you to be very controlling with your partner.

But the most crucial problem I've observed while dealing with people suffering from attachment wounds: They are often completely unmotivated to take care of themselves unless they are in a relationship. Then when in one, they take care of themselves only to try to have control over their partner, not because they value themselves. Their value of themselves is attached to getting love, and they completely abandon themselves when they are not getting the love they seek.

For example, another client recently told me that when she's dating a man she likes, she takes very good care of herself. She feels "alive and sexy," and she eats healthy, exercises, wears nice clothes, puts on makeup, and even sings and dances alone. But when there is no one special in her life, she lets go of all self-care. She gains weight, hardly ever goes out, and feels very bad about herself. "It's like I need a love object to feel alive," she told me.

This might be hard to accept, but here's the truth: There's no person out there who can heal your attachment issues.

Even if you found the perfect partner who gave you everything you ever wanted, this would not heal your attachment wound. When you make a partner or any other person responsible for your feelings, you are recreating your original abandonment that caused your attachment wound.

Moreover, if you're not taking care of yourself and only seeking to see your value within the context of a relationship and dependent on another person's love, you are the one abandoning yourself the same way your parents once did. Others' love can help you heal but not if you are abandoning yourself in the same ways you were abandoned by your parents.

The four central ways people's self-abandonment manifests in their lives are by judging themselves (the way you may have been judged as a child), ignoring your own feelings (the way your feelings may have once been ignored by your guardians), not taking physical or emotional care of yourself (i.e., using various addictions like alcohol or fleeting intimacy to numb your feelings), and of course—the big one for most people with attachment wounds—making another person responsible for your feelings. These are all forms of self-rejection, and each time you abandon yourself with these behaviors, you are re-traumatizing yourself.

The only way to heal your attachment issues is by learning to take care of yourself.

To heal, you need to learn to take loving action for yourself—and not only when trying to control another person. True healing occurs when you learn to be the loving parent that you never had to yourself. In what ways did your childhood hurt you? How can you give yourself the security, support, and validation you never had?

You need to take responsibility for your feelings instead of trying to get someone else to do this for you. That means becoming present with your feelings instead of avoiding them, moving toward them rather than away from them, and opening to learning about what your feelings are telling you. Focusing within and learning to connect with your higher self can bring love to your wounded inner self—your hurt inner child.

If you have no idea where else to start, think about how you would treat a child whom you dearly love—this is a clear way to clarify what it would look like to treat yourself with love.

As you begin to heal that core attachment wound, the intense feelings of insecurity and anxiousness around your relationships can in time start to fade. When you recognize your own worth independent of other people's validation and love yourself regardless of what's happening in your relationship, you'll no longer feel the constant need to get love from your partner—and start being able to share love with them instead.

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