All superheroes have a weakness that can cripple them
Like Superman’s kryptonite, my clingy insecurity in my relationship five years ago brought me to my knees.
When I met Crystal, I fell head over heels instantly. She gave me just enough to show she was interested, but not enough to show that she was as invested as I was in our relationship. The mixed signals drove me crazy.
As weeks turned into months, I found myself addicted to thoughts of her and ways to keep her interested in me. At work, I struggled to focus and would freak out if she didn’t respond to my text messages within a few hours. I would look up what to text her and buy the ‘How to be Funny and Keep Her Interested’ type of book and devour them because I was starving for love
I would hang out at places I knew she frequented in the hope of ‘accidentally’ running into her.
I was obsessed.
I was crazy.
I felt a drive to prove my worth to Crystal, I invested more in the relationship than she did and saw her emotional unavailability as a problem with me, rather than our opposing intimacy blocks colliding.
Clingy thoughts, emotions and behaviours
When my partner dismissed my insecure feelings or blamed me for having them, my attachment alarm went into hyperactive mode and hijacked my brain, filling it with thoughts and feelings to seek closeness, including:
- Obsessively thinking about my partner’s unavailability, making it difficult to focus on other things. When I was at work or even out with friends, I would check my phone every three to five minutes to see if my partner had responded to my messages. My mind was addicted to seeking closeness because I rarely got the reassurance I needed.
- Highlighting my partner’s good traits and neglecting to take note of her negative ones. My friends who talked with me about my relationship problems often responded to my complaints with, “Why are you with her? What she did was messed up!” I would respond with, “I know but she’s so interesting and attractive.” My activated attachment system prevented me from seeing a realistic picture of my partner, and my low self-esteem (common in clingy lovers) prevented me from creating and enforcing healthy boundaries to create a relationship that met my needs.
- A feeling of anxiety that goes away when I am around my partner. 4
- Ruminating thoughts about being too needy or focussing on my inadequacies. During this relationship, my self-talk was abusive. I hated my body (it wasn’t fit enough and my muscles weren’t big enough), I hated my finances (I actually went into debt trying to impress this partner), I wasn’t funny enough (I bought a handful of books on how to be funny). 5 Brene Brown says, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
- Believing this is my only chance for love.6 The kinds of thoughts that went through my head included: “This is the most interesting and attractive person I’ve ever dated. If we break up, I’ll never be able to date someone like her again,” or, “If I leave, she’ll be the partner I wanted with some other guy. I have to stick it out.”
- Blaming myself for my partner’s unavailability and lack of care.7I used to tell myself that the reason my partner didn’t want to spend time with me was because I wasn’t fun to be around. This mistaken belief reinforced my unlovable self-image and created more doubt about what I deserve in my relationships. 8
These thoughts and emotions became worse the less responsive my partner was. While the attachment system is designed to keep you close to others, it also has a dark side that leads you to beat yourself up, because it cares more about your short-term survival by maintaining closeness to your romantic partner than about your long-term well-being. As Levine and Heller state in Attached, “Even if your rational mind knows you shouldn’t be with this person, your attachment system doesn’t always comply.” 9
The worst my thoughts became, the crazier I behaved. Since I couldn’t achieve my goal of gaining the security I needed in my relationship, I resorted to ‘protest behaviour’.11 Protest behaviour unhealthily protests the relationships connection in the hope of getting your partner’s attention.