This may be more of a personal rant than anything else, but I believe that society has recently started glorifying unhealthy attachment and thereby making it a desirable trait. Unhealthy attachment can be experienced a couple of ways. The way that I believe is most glorified is a kind of fearful attachment, the formal term being disorganized or insecure attachment. These are the people that will get close to someone (sometimes unnaturally quick and can overshare early in the relationship) and then back off (either by starting a fight, hurting the other person, or becoming emotionally distant). Rinse and repeat. Other forms of disorganized or insecure attachment can also have patterns of getting close and then cutting the other person down so the person with unhealthy attachment feels that they still have power and control in the relationship.
The underlying issue for people with unhealthy attachment is fear.
The glorification of unhealthy attachment bothers me for a few reasons. Reason one is because unhealthy attachment pretty much always stems from early childhood trauma. This isn’t something to celebrate or glorify. The only part that should be celebrated is the survival and overcoming of such events. If you ever meet someone with any of the patterns I previously described, please have very strong and healthy boundaries but also have compassion for them. Chances are, they did not have the most fantastic childhood and are struggling with figuring out how to be close to you. You having good boundaries will help correct some of their behaviors. And while attachment issues can be very frustrating for a friend or partner, it is very important that we have compassion since many of these behaviors stem from some very deep, traumatic pain that they had no control over when they were little ones.
Reason two that this glorification (cough cough Twilight cough Secret Life of the American Teenager cough cough!) bothers me is because we should not be striving for these patterns! These patterns are indicative of the need for deep, intense, and long-term healing. Happiness is difficult enough to achieve in this life. Instead of pining over being a moody, mysterious literary or cinematic character, we should be celebrating our ability to be close to other humans without trauma getting in the way! Be grateful that you’re not like those characters that can’t seem to ever really connect with anyone. Be grateful that you don’t have to go to therapy for something like parental abandonment or neglect or emotional distance. We all have our problems that are equally deserving of help, but this one takes a lot of time and a lot of work and repetition and struggling through fears that were likely hiding in our subconscious and acting quite insidiously until we came into self-awareness about them. It’s like making a freight train stop on a dime and proceed to go the other direction.
My last reason for disliking this glorification is that unhealthy attachment patterns are very real and quite serious. And no, finding a romantic partner or best friend is not going to help heal these deeper wounds long-term. I love stories where someone struggling with trauma and unhealthy attachment finds healing and restoration and peace. I would truly celebrate that kind of portrayal. However, most of the time the person with unhealthy attachment patterns finds all their healing nice and neatly in another partner/person. As someone who has her own wonky attachment patterns, I can promise you that these things are much easier to resolve without a relationship to make things more complicated.
Now of course, some of us reading this article are already in a committed relationship of some sort. I’m not saying to end that relationship, but since there is another person attached to you, the change will be a little bit more difficult simply because there are more moving parts to your relationship machine. We have a relationship with ourselves. When we add another person, it becomes more complex. Think of it like bike riding. It’s much easier to ride a single person bike rather than a tandem bike. A tandem bike takes way more coordination because there’s more than your weight to balance and you can’t actually balance for the other person. It doesn’t mean you stop biking, but it does mean that it’s going to take more work and communication than if you were just riding your own bike.
So overall, that’s my rant. If these are movies you enjoy, continue to keep enjoying them but please keep in mind that healthy attachment looks a little different than the media often portrays.
If you are struggling with unhealthy attachment, healing is real and attainable but it’s going to take some work. While it may feel daunting, it is very possible and if you put yourself to the task at hand may resolve quicker than you were maybe expecting. I would want to encourage you to not lose hope! We don’t want to talk about the ways some of us were mistreated as children, but the best part is we don’t have to let those wounds control us anymore. We can experience self-compassion in a very real and tangible way.
P.S. For those that don’t know, personality disorders have been strongly linked to attachment injuries which is what I’ve primarily been talking about in this post. If you’ve been diagnosed with a personality disorder and find your diagnosis confusing in any way, please try to think of it as an attachment injury. I believe it is less stigmatizing/insulting and communicates something useful. We can’t change our personality, but we can change our attachment patterns with some time, communication, and practice.