What is particularly distressing about intimate relationships can be … the intimacy itself, depending on your attachment style. Your past wounds/hurts/insecurities/whatever you want to call it regarding being in any type of relationship and relating to other individuals emerge when you’re in an intimate relationship. “Emerge” may be too soft a word, sometimes your issues are catapulted to the surface and it feels as though neon lights shine around them for everyone to see, like:
Hi, I’m insecure and readily feel abandoned, how are you?
It’s hard to overcome some intense feelings of emotional pain, insecurity and abandonment, especially when you likely have good reason to feel them and be afraid. Maybe you were mistreated and abandoned in the past. It’s good that your brain is on the look out to protect you, but going on overdrive robs you of peace.
One of the first steps toward managing and healing attachment wounds is recognizing your triggers. One big one for me surrounds planning to hang out with friends or a significant other. If I feel as though I am the one who plans, or initiates hanging out the majority of the time, I will eventually begin to feel as though that person really doesn’t want to see me. I will start to over-analyze and wonder if the friendship/relationship is one-sided. And heaven forbid they change plans on me or ask to meet earlier or later, I will think they want to fit me into their schedule of infinitely better or more interesting things. In reality, I am an organized person, the people around me know this, and likely fall into the routine of just taking for granted that I will make the plans or initiate talking about hanging out. However, knowing that does not always stop my emotions from running wild and from me getting annoyed/hurt. I value time and attention immensely because I’m so busy. When people do not reciprocate, I feel like they don’t want to put themselves through the hassle of planning to see me. It feels good to have someone say, hey, can I see you tonight? How about lunch Wednesday? I’m usually the one who does that for other people, and while I enjoy doing it for the most part, when it’s not reciprocated, I do end up feeling empty.
So what to do?
Try to develop a plan or protocol for when you recognize that your old attachment wounds are being triggered (aka you start feeling insecure, icky, about something related to a current situation/relationship/friendship with an intensity that is likely because of past attachment issues rather than solely because of the current issue). No matter what you end up deciding should go in your plan, start with
- Acceptance of your reaction/feelings, because if you try to resist, stuff, hate, tantrum your feelings away… you’ll feel worse and prolong your reaction. Give your reaction a sort of “nod” or acknowledgment: “Yes, I see you fear of abandonment and mistrust … I’m familiar with you.”
- Treat yourself with kindness. This can be really hard especially if you find yourself angry or filled with hate from current experiences that are intensified by past ones. Oftentimes when I feel emotionally triggered I want to say “Fuck this,” and just cancel plans with whoever I had them with or withdraw from whoever triggered me. Try to keep your reactivity in mind in a compassionate way by noticing your tendencies: “I want to withdraw right now because this feels like this is too much. I need time to myself and probably shouldn’t make any decisions while I’m like this. This touches on a spot that is raw and tender and I’m not thinking clearly right now.” Try to get to a place like that within yourself… it is hard… I often automatically go to places like “I can’t stand this, I should just be alone forever, this is why I don’t have friends, this is why I don’t trust people,” and on and on and on… which isn’t helpful, but it’s what can come out of old plain. Acknowledge the feelings behind the words, but acknowledge they are likely untrue and come from hurt.
- You may need to tell someone that you’re triggered and need time. Or you may need to figure out what you need from that person in the moment. Do you need a hug? Do you need them to give you space (careful with this one… give yourself time to gather thoughts, not to isolate)? Do you need words of assurance that you are not too much to handle? Figure out how people involved might be able to help you and ask for it. Don’t assume they know what’s in your head or know how to comfort you.
- You may want to find grounding exercises or short meditations that help you that you can do anywhere. This can help you stay in the present.