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If you had asked me one year ago whether or not I was emotionally unavailable, I would have replied with an emphatic no.
In fact, I would have even gone so far as to say that I was one of the most raw and accessible individuals I had known, and as far as I was concerned, few people wanted love and connection more than I did. For me, love was like nicotine, a drug of choice, and I craved the oxytocin rush like a cat did meat. Ironically, however, despite wanting it so badly, I pursued people I labelled as emotionally unavailable and felt needy, in comparison.
I played the role of the consummate chaser, faithfully pining after those who ran whenever things either became too serious or difficulties began to arise after the honeymoon was over.
Why couldn’t I feel attracted to secure people? Why did I feel so drawn to avoidants in spite of my own self-assessment, which had me convinced that I was so open to giving and receiving intimacy?
I’ll admit that sometimes these questions still gnaw at me, consuming nearly all of my focus and attention until I collapse, weak and worn, in an acute state of analysis paralysis. However, for the past several months, I have been on a journey of inner healing, determined to face past traumas and shadows, boldly and with integrity. I knew that I had to address one of the key aspects of myself, which made relationships challenging for me: my anxious attachment style.
I soon realized that I was far from alone: an estimated 20 percent of the population has this pattern of programming and many others either remain unaware of attachment theory and of how their upbringing has affected their lives or has another insecure adaptation that manifests itself in its own manner as well as in its own timeline across the six stages of a relationship.
Having an anxious attachment style is like holding a half-empty cup of water while standing in the desert and feeling as though at any given point in time, the cup will be empty and you’ll be left parched. Furthermore, for all you know, the vacuous space surrounding you, alone, could very well eat you alive.
Few things feel more sinister than being left high and dry. Love and connection never feel entirely safe, but regardless, you feel you can’t get enough of it. You cling to avoid abandonment, believing that if only you knock long and hard enough, your partner will soon realize just how much you want him or her and how deeply invested you are in the connection.
You keep your volume turned up loud, insisting that they hear you because, as far as you’re concerned, you may shrivel into nothing without them in your life. In fact, you probably love them more than you love yourself, and the very thought of losing them strikes sheer terror into your heart.
If they don’t text you back as quickly or as lovingly as they did yesterday, the day before, or the day before that, you may begin to wonder whether they are losing interest. If they for some reason forget to call or do not sound as enthusiastic around the prospect of spending time with you, you may worry that you’re simply not enough in one way or another—or even that they’ve found someone else.
Nevertheless, you continue to pound harder at their doorstep, in the hope and expectation that if you do, you may earn their love.
If they reject your knocks, then inevitably, your own worst fears have been confirmed: eventually, love always leaves and that, for some reason or other, you’re never good enough for the person you want most. You’re abandoned and alone, and that isn’t a comfortable experience for you. In order to be worth something, you must be loved by the person you love. If they do not reciprocate, you’ve failed.
Then, the vicious cycle ensues, and once more, you knock. This time, you knock harder. After all, who are you without them? Without love? They are the only person who has made you feel so over-the-moon. You may never find a love that deep again.
From their descriptions and outward behaviors and characteristics, avoidant and anxious-preoccupied individuals seem as different as night and day. They appear to have opposite and incompatible goals and intentions. While the avoidant can only handle closeness to a certain extent before feeling suffocated and wanting to flee, anxiously-attached individuals seemingly can’t get enough of it.
When I first joined personal development school groups on Facebook, I saw a barrage of questions, complaints, and frustrations voiced by fellow anxious people regarding what they referred to as mixed signals from their avoidant partner.
“Sometimes I wonder whether or not my needs will ever be met in this relationship when he or she turns their back on me and rejects bids for quality time and connection,” or “I worry that he or she no longer loves me.”
Avoidant partners withdraw and anxious partners often protest. Anxious partners want to feel assured of their partner’s unwavering investment, and unfortunately, the more perceived pressure the avoidant partner takes in, the more they begin to withdraw and thus question their feelings. The more they withdraw, the harder we anxious types tend to knock.
Like the vast majority of anxious-preoccupied people, I tend to feel drawn to avoidants. When love comes too easily my way, I begin to lose interest in and respect for the giver as I sit on the receiving end. I start to become the emotionally unavailable person I’ve accused other people to be.
How could someone feel this head-over-heels toward me this quickly? Why aren’t they pulling away yet? I haven’t earned their praise, so why are they offering it so freely? Love must be earned, and I’m not that great a person. There must be something unstable about them.
Yet, the harder I have to knock, the more attractive the person becomes, once again despite my belief that I desire and am available for intimacy.
However, let’s examine the authentic meaning of intimacy a little further, shall we?
Intimacy is defined as “closeness between people in personal relationships” and denotes “mutual vulnerability, openness, and sharing.”
All too often, in our modern dating, quick-fix, ultra-convenient hook-up culture, intimacy seldom surpasses the physical, and subsequently, we mistake attraction for love and chemistry for compatibility.
But in order for intimacy to feel truly fulfilling to the core, we cannot bypass the more necessary, challenging, and time-consuming effort it takes to build a strong emotional foundation, which inevitably includes honesty and trust, and those things can only be gained with time and through practicing open communication.
Unfortunately, many of us are, on some level, afraid of this and as an anxious-attached person, I am not immune to that fear, myself.
Truth be told, anxious attachment itself could be a precursor to emotional unavailability for any number of reasons, but below are the five most prominent ones.
Anxiously attached people dread abandonment and are on the lookout for signs they may, in fact, be abandoned
As anxiously attached individuals, we structure our lives and relationships with others around our fear of abandonment, rejection, and not being good enough. We see holes in ourselves and in our relationships that we are forever trying to “patch up” in order to “pass” as being worthy and deserving of our partner and his or her love.
While we are not usually “fake” or “toxic” people at our core, we may not be above omitting a truth about ourselves due to the fear of the other person’s disappointment or disapproval. When we bypass the truth of who we are, we dishonor both ourselves and the relationship, eroding intimacy and connection in favor of approval. Subsequently, we sabotage the connection we feel and believe we so desperately want. We fear that if we allow ourselves to be seen and known, we won’t “make the cut,” so to speak.
Without enough self-love, we become a bottomless pit of needs
As trite as it seems, when we attempt to seek without what we do not already have enough of within ourselves, we approach love and connection from a place of poverty and lack. Why is this so destructive, you ask?
At the beginning of any relationship, both people tend to be on “their best behavior.” Love feels fresh and exciting, a shiny new object in our midst. If, for example, we do not have enough presence within our own selves, when we receive it from someone else who represents that unmet need, we hunger for it externally. Once someone slowly but surely begins to withdraw that surplus of affection and the “honeymoon” phase ends, we will be thrown entirely off-kilter. This could then become a major source of stress and even lay the groundwork for long-term resentment. This will inevitably wreak havoc on the relationship itself, with time.
We believe we are not loveable
At our core, anxiously attached people struggle with poor self-esteem due to deep-seated abandonment and rejection wounds, which stem from our earliest years. Our inner-working model sounds like: my partner is the better half of this duo. I can’t believe that they even chose me, in the first place. I must do everything I can to avoid their rejection later on.
This highlights similar issues and consequences stated in point number one. More often than not, however, these beliefs are unconscious.
Imbalance of give versus take
Anxious-preoccupied individuals tend to be excellent givers. However, we often have a more difficult time receiving in the form of compliments and praise, for example. We often yearn for them, and yet when they are forthcoming, it can be challenging for us to trust and believe in their validity in relation to our ideas about ourselves. In order to prove our worthiness to a partner or potential suitor, we continue to over-give in order to feel as though we’ve earned that praise or will not potentially lose that respect in the future.
We often catastrophize disagreements and “incompatibilities”
Anxiously attached people usually believe that disagreements are a danger sign. We see impending disaster in their midst. They confirm our core beliefs that our partner may abandon us. We blow arguments out of proportion and over-analyze gestures, facial expressions, statements, and reactions—or lack thereof.
We knock harder to seek the reassurance we feel we need when it is not forthcoming because we cannot adequately self-soothe. We can’t sit in our discomfort when alarm bells are going off in our heads. Unfortunately, avoidant partners often perceive this as “drama” or “pressure” and easily feel intruded upon, which only confirms our negative beliefs about ourselves and our worthiness as a partner.
We alone are responsible for fixing those beliefs, but in the moment, the fear feels too intense to bear alone. As a result, we often tip-toe around our partner’s emotions, afraid of stirring the pot or causing any tension. When we sidestep conflict, we bypass vulnerability. When we bypass vulnerability, we erode connection.