(By Kyle Benson, article first published on www.kylebenson.net)
You’re only as insecure as the relationship you’re in
For many of us, myself included, being unaware of how our clingy attachment system works prevents us from creating or finding a secure relationship.
After four years of therapy, reading hundreds of relationship books, and creating a long-term, healthy romantic relationship, I have come to view my insecurity as a superpower designed to strengthen my relationship.
Here are the 7 lessons I learned on my journey:
1. Find secure sidekicks
Even superheroes need sidekicks to support them during difficult times. On your journey, I would recommend finding a sidekick, if not multiple, who will give you positive experiences to help you with building strong relationships.
As the research highlights, a secure attachment style (read more about secure attachment HERE) is a result of internalising multiple experiences of comforting individuals who help foster a sense of security, positive self-esteem, and the ability to calm oneself in order to reach out in a healthy way.
Lucky for clingy folks like me, our current relationships can support us in earning security and rewiring our brain in such a way that we can regulate our emotions and be direct about what we need to be happy in a relationship.
Examples of trusty sidekicks
Looking back, investing in a therapist has been the best decision I’ve made in the past five years. My psychoanalyst has helped me develop a more balanced perspective on my relationships and insecurity.
With his support, I took risks to assert my boundaries, left unhealthy romantic partners, and took ownership of what I needed in a relationship to be happy. All of this work was extremely difficult, but it’s changed my life for the better.
Secure romantic partner
A loving, caring, and emotionally available romantic partner will respond to insecurity with attentiveness and care. The trust built in that relationship will encourage you to be more direct about your feelings and needs rather than using protest behaviour. If you are dating and find yourself attracted to potential partners who are unavailable, read this article.
If you are married and feel insecure on a regular basis, I’d recommend recruiting a couple’s therapist/coach who can guide your relationship to a more secure place.
After I read Attached, I reached out to a friend who I knew was secure and started spending time with her. When I texted, called, or requested something she was responsive, direct, and clear about what she could and couldn’t do. I could tell she valued our relationship and me.
Over time I internalised these experiences and was able to replicate these secure thoughts and behaviours in other relationships.
2. Turn insecurity into a superpower
Clingy lovers have a hypersensitive attachment alarm and are often aware of subtle threats that others are not. The problem is this alarm can also be a false alarm. It can lead to a person misjudging a situation or a partner which leads to hurt feelings and relationship problems.14
The research has discovered that if the clingy partner waited a little longer to react and gained more information about the situation or their partner’s intent, they have an advantage. They would know when something is wrong and could constructively use that awareness to reconnect in a relationship. 15
3. Know your go-to clingy thoughts and protest behaviours
By becoming aware of your clingy thoughts and protest behaviour, you can pause. Then ask yourself, “What would be a better way to respond to this situation to get what I need?”
4. Ask what would super secure (wo)man do?
Attachment research highlights that all of us have experiences of people who are secure. Whether that is a friend, a distant relative, etc. When I’m working with insecure clients, I often ask them, “How would your super secure [aunt] respond to this?”
Doing this flips the internal script on how to think and behave at any given moment that determines how people are likely to think about relationships or be motivated to act.”
(Source: Gillath, O., Mikulincer, M., Fitzsimons, G. M., Shaver, P. R., Schachner, D. A., & Bargh, J. A. (2016). Automatic activation of attachment-related goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(10), 1375-1388.//dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167206290339])
The more times you ask this and act on it, the more you strengthen secure thoughts and behaviours. That includes those related to expressing feelings, asking for what you need, and being vulnerable about your fears.
5. Honour and express your clingy insecurity in a positive, actionable way
Clingy lovers often neglect their needs in relationships because they don’t believe they deserve to have them met. As Brene Brown puts it “if we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.”
Learning to accept what I deserved, putting up boundaries, and asking for what I needed in my romantic relationship was hard initially. But now it feels authentic and has actually improved my relationships.
The first step is to recognise your needs as valid. The next is learning how to transform them into a positive, actionable tool.
For example, if I fear my partner is going to abandon me, I might say “Hey babe, I’m feeling disconnected from you and would like to grab some ice-cream with you later tonight and just talk. You in?” See how that’s better than trying to manipulate her?
I’m making a clear request and taking ownership of what I need in the relationship to be happy. If you notice, I’m also putting a plan in place so I can make that happen. This makes it much easier for my partner to say yes. For a framework on how to do this in your relationship, read this article.
6. Enhance your emotional intelligence
As Justin Bariso states, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.”
While clingy lovers tend to be aware of their emotions, they often struggle to manage their emotions in a way that achieves their goal of closeness and emotional connection. Not to mention clingy lovers struggling to manage their relationship in a way to get the most out of their connection.
Improving the two pillars of emotional intelligence, self-management and relationship-management, can greatly increase the security in your relationship.
7. Improve self-compassion and self-care
Clingy lovers tend to internalise criticism from others and talk to themselves in the same way. I used to beat myself up ruthlessly. But beating yourself up is never a fair fight. That’s why practicing self-compassion will help improve your self-worth.
Then, this improves how you express your emotions and honour your needs. For exercises and lessons on how to increase self-compassion check out Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
When I used to be clingy, I did not take care of myself well. I rarely got enough sleep, I overworked myself (100-hour work weeks), I drank alcohol practically every night, and so much more. As I started to become more secure in response to therapy, I developed healthier habits. I began eating healthier, making a consistent bedtime for myself, and giving myself healthy amounts of exercise.
Our self-worth is often reflected in how we care for ourselves.
By improving the various ways you care for your body and mind, you’ll start to feel more loving towards yourself.
As I’ve come to hone my insecurity into a superpower, I’ve noticed dramatic differences in my relationships and personal life. My current relationship is secure, emotionally connected, and fulfilling, for both my partner and me.
From clingy to content
Comparing who I was five years ago in a relationship to who I am now with my current partner is like comparing Mars to Earth. It wasn’t easy to get here. In fact, I suffered a lot of pain to grow and heal. I had to confront myself. To challenge myself. To reach out for support. And I had to try things that were unfamiliar and difficult.
The reason I did it was because I realised I had two choices. The choice of suffering in an insecure relationship or the choice of suffering to improve myself and my relationships. I took the latter route and looking back, I’m glad I did.