I've come to learn through much self-development that I can be an anxiously attached partner.
If you aren’t familiar with this, in a nutshell it means I struggle in relationships to trust that my partner won’t just up and leave. Now if you know my story, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why that would be. I was left at the most vulnerable time in my life, while I was pregnant, and you don’t just bounce back from that. In fact I’ve decided I hate the term ‘bounce back’. I remember a doctor… yes, a DOCTOR… telling me I had ‘bounced back’ in reference to the fact that I was wearing ‘skinny’ jeans on my 6-week postpartum check-up. She had no idea that the ‘skinny’ jeans I was wearing were maternity jeans and her commenting this made me feel like a piece of shit and a fraud. And no one bounces back from trauma, and if they seem like they have, it’s likely all they have done is numbed the pain and a lot of processing needs to happen. Who votes we delete ‘bounced back’ from our vocabulary
However, I can recognise that whilst my reaction to this moment in my life is understandable and not my fault, I can also understand it is my own responsibility to become aware of my patterns and do what I can to ensure I am in the healthiest emotional state to enable me to contribute to my relationships in a way I want to.
I came across this term originally on Tik Tok (don’t shame me), and then subsequently in the book Attached by Dr Amir Levine and Rachel S.F.Heller, M.A.. It states there are three main attachment styles: Anxious i.e. me; likely to abandon my own needs to ensure my partner will stay, only as secure as my last interaction with the person, but also a genuinely loving partner who doesn’t cheat or emotionally detach, (it’s not all bad). Then there’s Avoidant; those who are scared of emotional attachment because it indicates to them a lack of independence and freedom, and a vulnerability to being hurt meaning they draw away from people when it feels too intense. You wanna know the real fuckery of this, Avoidance and Anxiously attached people are super attracted to each other… WHAT THE FUCK! The third style is the Secure; they love fully without losing themselves, they show up for their partner without expecting their partner to fix them or to be fixed. These are the ideal parts, especially for me. However, I also came to learn that if you experienced a traumatic childhood or life event, your actual brain chemistry changes and you can associate the chaos of mixed signals and toxic behaviour as chemistry and connection because it’s familiar and all you know. As humans we are all looking to feel safe, and safety is familiarity even if that thing is unhealthy, so in theory a Secure person can come across as lacking in chemistry and an Avoidant person can come across as exciting. Thus summarising my relationship history for my entire life.
As an anxious person I have often put my emotional safety into the hands of my partners, because if they love me, then I am lovable right? Well, that was my thinking. But I realised I had the exact same line of thinking with my ex-husband, so whilst this major life event during pregnancy will have exacerbated this anxious emotional feeling in relationships in a significant way, it certainly didn’t create it, so I found myself doing more digging.
It occurred to me that as the daughter of an addict, I never felt chosen, often felt abandoned, and therefore would place that need for safety, which often comes from your Dad, at the door of those who chose to be with me. Because if they chose me and loved me, then I’d be worth something, and more than that, it would undo that shitty feeling little me felt. I remember begging him not to drink, begging him to choose me, begging him to stop shouting, begging him not to throw the dinner across the room, and then I remember begging him to leave. Because if he did any of those things, then I’d be loved and worth something. If a partner chose me, I could somehow rewrite the past.
I used to beat myself up for the way I felt about breakups; I’m not someone who falls in love easily, but I don’t fall out of it easily either.
It’s a whole process. I know now that in that process it’s not just the person I am getting over. It’s that wound from childhood, the not-quite-enoughness. It’s abandonment. It’s knowing that I had abandoned pieces of myself to make them happy and not only is there a tonne of shame attached to that, but I am also grieving the parts of myself that left with them, leaving behind a hollow, fragmented person.
This is obviously a very hard realisation because it feels weak and not in alignment with the powerful woman that I want to be, and often am in lots of other areas of my life. It takes strength to do a one woman show, it takes strength to be a single mother, and it takes strength to get yourself out of a dress which was on a hanger mislabelled two sizes smaller than your actual frame, (I cannot confirm nor deny whether this happened last weekend in New Look).
I didn’t really know what to do about this new-found knowledge, but my sister wisely told me that ‘sometimes, awareness is enough’.
Once I surrendered to being aware that actually I was responsible for choosing the partners I had, and I held myself accountable for abandoning myself and my needs, which was so incredibly painful, what I found on the other side was blissful. Because once I knew I played a part in these toxic patterns, I also realised I could make different decisions which would mean I could have different outcomes.
But more importantly than that, I realised that there is no one who can or should attempt to be my safety; that is on me. I am an adult and building self-trust and a safety within myself is the only way I am ever going to feel truly safe; I will not sacrifice that for anyone. So should someone walk in and out of my life, I’ll feel all the sadness of losing that person, but I’ll never lose me again.
I’ll show up in the world as me, with boundaries, knowing I am whole and complete and safe within my own mind, body, soul and within my own skin, and know that I am deserving of love, just as I am. Not a few pounds lighter, or with more money, or after telling the funniest jokes, (although this will still happen because I am a hoot). But I am love. All of me, even the bits, in fact especially the bits, that society has conditioned me to hate. I’m a big old love bug and whether my relationships work or not, it doesn’t detract or add to my worthiness. I’m whole, powerful and, arguably most important, I’m safe.