How to overcome neediness, grasping and withdrawal in relationships

Written by Chantelle Raven.

We’re wired for attachment – that’s why babies cry when separated from their mothers. Depending especially on our mother’s behaviour, as well as later experiences, we develop a style of attaching that affects our behaviour in close relationships.

We seek or avoid intimacy along a continuum, but generally we fall into one of the following three attachment styles whether we’re dating or in a long term relationship. (We all have an element of each of these styles too.)

The question is, what is your predominant attachment style? That’s where majority of your work, your GOLD will be. This is what we explore and heal in my upcoming Melbourne workshops, Teachings from a Tantrica: Taster workshop and Weekend workshop (March).

The three core attachment styles:

  • Secure: “Being close is easy!” This is the ideal where people remain together for life and have a supportive, well functioning relationship.
  • Anxious (love addicts): “I want to be emotionally intimate and close, but I always have this feeling of not being enough and not getting enough”. These individuals can be needy, fearful, clingy, and depend heavily on the partner.
  • Avoidant (love avoiders): “I’d rather not depend on others or have others depend on me”. Those with this kind of attachment style keep distance from the partner, and from others in his or her life.

Anxious and avoidant attachment styles commonly attract each other in romantic relationships. Their relationship becomes co-dependent and they characterise the feelings and behaviour of love addicts and love avoiders (I talk about this in our ebook, The Song of Tantra).

Love addicts are usually disinterested in someone available with a secure style. They are however unconsciously attracted to someone distancing themselves (a love avoider), as the relationship teaches them what they need to know (i.e. their true emotional need for time alone and self-reflection). The relationships also enlivens the familiar, though uncomfortable, feeling of abandonment. It validates their fears about relationships and beliefs about not being enough, loveable, or securely loved, and the compulsive behaviour of clinginess, desperation and neediness follows.

Love avoiders unconsciously attract someone pursuing them (a love addict) in order to sustain their true emotional need for intimacy and connection, which they would largely disown and not experience were they with another love avoider. The relationship then duplicates similar patterns of relating as adults that we had as a child - enmeshment or a feeling of not being free to be ourselves, and the compulsive behaviour of defensive, blaming, shaming or withdrawing can arise.

In this sense, we set ourselves up by finding partners that confirm our models and the co-dependent relationship cycles through the story—the love addict starts being clingy or needy in a relationship and it’s likely only a matter of time before the love avoider starts to pull away. And the moment the love addict notices the love avoider withdrawing or losing interest, they become even more needy and attention-seeking. It’s a vicious circle. This kind of behaviour often ends up ruining relationships.

Love addicts who are on the anxious side of attachment fight in and for relationship, feeling incapable of calming until another person meets their needs for assurance. The neediness is of course exacerbated by the fact that a love avoider is often incapable of meeting the needs of their partner. This then triggers the love avoider whose thoughts then go something like: “S/he is attacking me and shaming me. I can never keep her happy. Nothing is ever enough. This relationship is full of drama. I’m better off on my own. I need to withdraw or I’m going to get swallowed up.” This withdrawal then perpetuates the love addicts negative beliefs: “I am not loveable. I have to make my emotion bigger to get a response. My needs never get met. What is wrong with me.”

Even people who feel independent when on their own are often surprised that they become dependent once they’re romantically involved. This is because intimate relationships unconsciously stimulate your attachment style. It’s normal to become dependent on your partner to a healthy degree. When your needs are met, without the other person sacrificing who they are (that is the balance) you feel secure. Compromise is key to a healthy relationship.

You can assess your partner’s style by their behaviour and by their reaction to a direct or indirect request for more closeness. Does he or she try to meet your needs and are they open? Or do they become defensive and uncomfortable, and perhaps accommodate you once and then return to distancing behaviour? Or do they give up their own needs to meet yours because they are so afraid of losing love?

By becoming aware of your attachment style, both you and your partner can become aware of your own patterns and each other’s, and move towards secure attachment for sustaining a satisfying, loving relationship.

3 ways to overcome Anxious Attachment

You can change your needy and clingy behaviour. Wean yourself away from neediness and start being a secure and confident individual. Here are few tips to help you to shift from being needy and clingy in a relationship to feeling whole within yourself.

1. Give Space

Give space when it is covertly or overtly being asked of you. Read the signs. Needing space or time doesn’t mean he is pulling away, but if he is pushing you away—be patient and use the time to connect to yourself.

2. Enjoy time alone

Relish the time and freedom of your own space. Enjoy your own company. Maintain your own separate identity and understand that everybody needs some time of their own.

3. Self-worth

Be confident of your value to your partner. If you are being possessive, jealous or insecure in your relationship, take a step back. Become aware of how you enhance your partner’s life to build your confidence. Write a list!

3 ways to overcome Avoidant Attachment

You can change your isolating behaviour and fear of others depending too much on you. Start to move towards love and connection and an ability to share your feelings, particularly your vulnerability. Here are few ways to help you to shift from depriving yourself of connection and trust in your relationships, to feeling as though it is ok to depend on someone, share your feelings and have your needs met.

1. Heal the past

Think about the reasons that you started avoiding in the first place. Until you have healed, or grieved out all the reasons for needing to isolate yourself, it feels as if the very dangers of the past exist now, as well. Heal your past so that you don’t have to keep recreating it.

2. Stop pulling away to keep safe

You feel the need to pull away from others in order to keep a safe, but ironically, safety is found when you can maintain a strong sense of yourself even when others are trying to influence you. Stay true to yourself even in the company of others. What would happen if you stayed? What would happen if your trusted yourself enough not to get lost in the other persons emotions and to stay solid within yourself? If you still need space, you can ask for that but try staying first and moving toward love rather than away from love.

3. Let go of the ideal ‘Perfect Relationship’

Let go of the need for your partner to be perfect: “a thing of beauty is never perfect.” Everybody has flaws, practice accepting that your partner will sometimes let you down. Let go of the expectation that a healthy loving relationship is always easy or that your partner is always going to be “nice”. When love is present, everything that is not love shows up to be healed and sometimes this can be extremely difficult but if you use the challenges as stepping stones of growth, you will not resent them. Use these steps as a home practice. See the effects!

To learn more, go deep and be guided through healing this at its core, join me for my upcoming workshops in Melbourne, Teachings from a Tantrica: Taster workshop and Weekend workshop (March).

Find out more about Chantelle here.

Image credit: BOYTOY