Attachment and Anxiety: Relationship Problems

Attachment and Anxiety: Relationship Problems

I mentioned in a previous post that I suffer from insecurity in relationships because I don’t know how the other person feels towards me. In terms of Attachment Theory this would be described as preoccupied or anxious-preoccupied attachment, characterized by worrying about what others think of you and a need for approval and validation.

In my case I am aware that I have a disposition towards clinginess: I can become dependent on the other person for validation of my self-esteem, sometimes to the point of obsession. Being aware of this does help to a degree because it means I can moderate my impulses. I don’t mean that I’d stalk somebody, following them around everywhere – nothing that scary – but I without that self-restraint I’d quite probably be getting to the point of harassing them with the frequency of contact. This is not good. Obviously it can destroy a relationship if one party is too clingy and constantly seeks reassurance of their worth – it can be very wearing for the other person involved.

The trouble is… even though I am aware of how I am, I still feel insecure; still feel a need for the approval of others. It’s such a good feeling when I receive attention from somebody I care about, and they appear, to me, to reciprocate the friendship. And then, after we go off our separate ways and carry on with our lives, my doubts start to creep in and the insecurity builds: am I reading too much into the relationship? Do they care or were they just being polite? Am I, in reality, just a pain in the ass to them? Are they secretly glad to get away from my clingy behavior? And so it goes on.

I catastrophize (thank you Musings) when I send a text and get no response. The reality is most likely that they are every bit as bad as me when it comes to checking for messages and then remembering to reply when I get the free time to do so, but in my mind I imagine that they are sick to death of being pestered by me, that I’ve offended them, or even that the relationship exists only in my mind. I worry that I am being too demanding for attention and driving them away.

All these negative fantasies are distressing, driving my anxiety and dominating my thoughts to the extent that I struggle to concentrate on anything else. Recently I have begun to work on handling this situation by focusing on the positive facts about the relationship: remembering occasions and incidents that provide evidence of reciprocation. I also regularly remind myself that this negative speculation is groundless, that I have no reason to harbor such doubts. And I also reflect on the fact that somebody as poor at reading others as I am can certainly not draw those worrying inferences with any confidence – I simply do not know for sure how the other person feels and so rather than assume the worst I try to keep a balanced view. It’s not cured my anxiety but it does help prevent the self-destructive downwards spiral.

Now, if I could just work on developing a healthier attachment style I’d be happy! Still, any progress is a help and at least I recognize that a problem exists which is the first step in fixing it.

Kindred Spirit

Kindred Spirit

Come sit with me and we can watch the world go by;
That’s all I ask. I won’t mind if you want to try
Some light discourse, then later we might take a stroll
And pass some time there by the river as it rolls
Beneath the trees and winds its way down to the sea:
A quiet time. And if in turn you ask of me
Just company, why then I should feel truly blessed
For I’ll have found a soul to share my time of rest.

To My Friend

To My Friend

I’ve said before that I don’t form attachments easily; well, over the past year I have been fortunate enough to gain a new friend. There are very few people to whom I feel close enough that I would call them friends as opposed to acquaintances: I rarely feel comfortable enough to drop my guard with somebody – to take off the mask behind which I hide my vulnerabilities.

To me a friend is somebody for whom I would drop everything in an instant if they needed help. My best friend is my wife, and beyond her I can count my friends on the fingers of one hand. I accept that this is a very narrow definition of friendship – the word is much devalued these days by Facebook and overuse in popular culture. Our Antipodean cousins have the culture of mateship which most closely matches my meaning here, but the rest of the English-speaking world have to make do with the term “friendship”.

How did this newest friend of mine  move from being simply another person I talk to socially to being someone I care about very deeply?

To my friend: we first met at work; you were friendly from the start, you had been told about my condition and had taken the trouble to understand – that meant such a lot to me. You were explicitly approachable and made the effort to make me feel part of the team. I always felt that I had your support and after only a matter of weeks I came to trust you.

You have never given me cause to doubt that trust.

I don’t know if I appeared cold or aloof – I expect I did because that’s just my way. To illustrate: there have been a few occasions in my life when I have been confronted with somebody who was visibly upset and, although I wanted to just hug them and try to comfort them – to demonstrate my feelings, I was unable to do so. I was afraid that it would offend, that it would be perceived as inappropriate or over-familiar. And I feel ashamed that I perhaps was seen as unconcerned or uncaring. That I could have done something to help them feel better and did not.

I have trouble with physical contact. Apart from the sensory issues it is my difficulty reading non-verbal signals that causes me to err very much on the side of caution. My mother knew: I believe I shocked her the last time I saw her before her death by kissing her.

I so rarely tell people how I feel about them. Privacy. I have a deeply ingrained habit of secrecy where my feelings are concerned – if I don’t speak of how I feel then nobody can use that knowledge to attack me. Don’t get involved, remain on the edges: the outsider. Play my part. Stay in character. Keep the illusion of control. Smile! It’s like the saying about clowns: “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.” I sometimes wonder if I’m fooling anybody as I carry on as if everything is all right. “Yes, I’m fine.” Even while I am hurting inside I can appear my “normal” self.

But back to my newest friend: we have had good times – so many enjoyable shared experiences. Although I had been drinking I can remember the night I said to you, “You are a friend.” A good friend indeed. Always a smile in greeting and a kind, understanding word. You have a good heart.

After a while I felt a bond between us: a degree of comfort where I could be myself without fear of censure. Cheeky at times I know – I can picture that look now. But that was an indication of how comfortable I feel around you – that I felt able to push the boundaries.

We no longer work together but I still hold a special place for you in my heart. Mere miles cannot stop me from caring about you as much as the day I last saw you. It was a lot of fun, as I said the other day. Perhaps it is only me that feels our friendship is something beyond the ordinary. That doesn’t matter to me – you made a lasting impression on me and I will be forever thankful for the twist of fate that caused our paths to cross. My life would have been poorer had I never met you.

All that remains is for me to again wish you the best of luck for the future, and to hope that you can find happiness and stability in your life. Know that I will always be here for you – you once offered an ear to me when I was in a bad place and I will not forget that. Many people have offered advice over the years; very few have offered just to be there when I needed it and, even though in the event I did not feel the need to take you up on your offer, I cannot thank you enough for the support it gave to me. That is the true measure of friendship.

I thought long and hard about what I would say to you before you left on your awfully big adventure, the next chapter in your life. In the event I either didn’t find the opportunity or the courage to speak my mind – I don’t know which. I was afraid I might upset you or else give the wrong impression: you appeared so close to tears a number of times and I could not bear to be the cause. So I have written this for two reasons: to express how I really feel and to try to assuage my own guilt at failing to speak my mind. This has been very difficult for me to write and I have found myself reduced to tears several times. I hope it is not too selfish of me to wish that you had not had to leave. I miss you and worry about you: you are never far from my thoughts, my friend. I give you my word that we will meet again, which is why I never said “goodbye”.