5 signs your dating drama might be from attachment trauma
Ah, the end of another short-lived relationship. They were so into me in the beginning—we hung out 3 nights in a row after our first date. Why are they no longer texting me or making plans? What did I do wrong? We’ve all been there. It feels incredibly frustrating and disappointing. What we don’t realize, is that it often isn’t about us at all. When it comes to relationships, we subconsciously try to recreate our very first relationship---the one with our parents. It may sound trite and even cliché to talk about a young woman dating men who are like her father, but there is some truth to it. The ways in which we attached to our parents as a child create an imprint in our nervous system. We log that information as to how we create other relationships in the future. If you experienced love, patience, and healthy boundaries from your parents as a child, then you will seek relationships with love, patience and healthy boundaries with others. This is called secure attachment. What if you didn’t receive this kind of care though? Or what if you’re unsure about the attachment you had with your parents? Here are 5 signs that you may have experienced attachment trauma.
1.)I don’t know how I feel, and if I do, I don’t know how to express it
Adults who experienced insecure attachment often report feeling numb or nothing at all. That is because feeling your emotions led to pain and more traumas. It’s best if I shut down and dissociate because the pain is too much. We learn that the world is an unsafe place and in order to function, we need to lock away emotions
2.)I am highly sensitive to any kind of perceived rejection
Rejection stings for all of us. However, it is particularly earthshattering if you’ve experienced insecure attachment. As a child, you were never shown authentic love and affection for who you were as a whole person. Love always felt conditional to you. You learned what behaviors would get you the attention you craved and created a persona around those “good parts.” When someone rejects you, or you feel as if someone rejects that persona, then you feel worthless. Your confidence and self-worth plummets and you feel as if your entire existence is insignificant.
3.)I don’t know how to create or follow boundaries in relationships
Love is conditional is a strong message for those who experienced attachment trauma. The notion that there is an infinite source of love is seen as false. Therefore, if a person feels that they have managed to find love, then they will do whatever it takes to hang on to it. This may mean clinginess, neediness, and reassurance seeking---or it could result in aloofness, stoicism, and passivity. However it may present, these behaviors may lead to unhealthy boundaries. Ideally in a relationship, we want to feel loved and cared-for while still being able to express our own individual personhood. This balance is incredibly difficult to create and/or follow with someone who experienced insecure attachment.
4.)I need constant attention and validation from others
If we think of each person as having a light bulb inside of them, self-worth and good ego strength cause that bulb to shine and glow. Occasionally, life’s challenges may slightly dim the light, but we have the knowledge and wherewithal to know that it is still shining and present. However, Those who experienced attachment trauma view their bulb as dark, defective, or even non-existent. They believe that the only way for it to glow is through attention and praise from others. These people depend on others to show them that they are worthy because they were raised believing that they were innately worthless.
5.)I react impulsively
Those who have experienced trauma have a quick response when it comes to their brain’s fight or flight instinct. When our brains think that we are in danger, it floods hormones into our bodies to help us act appropriately. This kind of wiring was incredibly helpful in the Stone Age when a saber tooth tiger would come running towards us. Our bodies would get the message to either fight the tiger or run. While this response was useful back then and in true life or death situations, it can be harmful in incidents when our life is not actually at stake. Those who have experienced attachment trauma may view criticism or judgment as being just as harmful as a dangerous predator running towards them. Criticism can be seen as disapproval and cause a person to run away or hide. Or it may cause a person to become aggressive and physically/verbally combative. The third response is to freeze; this is what can lead to dissociation. From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem as if their partner is incredibly sensitive with a quick trigger to overreact.
These are just 5 signs to look out for, but there are many others. It can be helpful in forming a healthy relationship to discuss each other’s upbringings and the subsequent emotional/cognitive pathways that were created. While being open and non-judgmental with your partner is a great start, it is often necessary to seek assistance from a trained mental health provider to facilitate processing these traumas and develop useful coping skills.