I distinctly remember the temperature of the day, the heavy weight in my chest, and how I could barely see the road in front of me as I drove away from my ex-boyfriend’s house after an explosive argument. When I think about the root cause, it concerns attachment. The way I attached and ricocheted violently back into a state of withdrawal, running away to seek safety when I felt triggered.
My ex, an artist, had painted a portrait of a woman he knew. It hung on the lounge room wall. A small disagreement about something else focused my attention on the real issue I was having—the portrait and my abandonment anxiety.
Anyone who has argued with a partner knows the feeling of burgeoning emotion. On that day, I turned my focus to the painting, and though my ex tried to explain that there was no attraction to the woman and no meaning behind the painting, I didn’t believe him. After the heated argument, I fled. I got in the car with a few of my things and left. He ran out to the street, begging me to stop and talk to him. This is how I handled every argument with a romantic partner until I was 32. I never stayed.
I hyper-fixated on issues and wanted desperately to make peace. But once the argument reached a certain level, my fight or flight response kicked in, and it was as if I had no option; I ran away.
I discovered a book in 2020 called Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller. I finished the book in a day and read it again over the three days following. The book breaks attachment styles into three groups: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and minimize closeness. Anxious people are often preoccupied and worried about their relationships. Each style causes us to show up in relationships in different ways, and there are other, less common attachment styles within these categories.
After some research online, I recognized that I had a disorganized attachment style, also known as anxious-avoidant. This meant that I craved intimacy and connection, but I also feared it.
I would become highly anxious, fearing anything other than peace in the relationship. As time went on, I would become distressed and shut down—freezing my partner out or running away to safety. Learning this about myself took me on a self-healing journey to find the root of the issue so that I could start paving the road to a secure attachment style. The road was long and hard. I only reached a point where I felt safe in my body and mind in a relationship when I addressed my triggers and what caused me to have an anxious-avoidant attachment style.
When I was a child, my parents separated. I spent most of my childhood years hopeful that my mother and father would reconcile and we would be a family, which never happened. My father married a woman and settled into a new life with her, and I lived in a state of wishful thinking. All the while, my eldest brother battled with multiple mental health issues and severe drug addiction, which tore through our immediate family unit like wildfire. Nothing in my childhood felt safe.
As I got older, when something did feel safe, I expected it to be fleeting and that it would be whipped away at any moment.
I grew into a young woman, angry, doubtful, scared. Though I spent years working on myself, it took until my 30s to recognize how my childhood wounds impacted how I connected in love. My journey to healing that part of my life started with one of my long-term partners. I made a conscious effort to feel more secure in the relationship. Thankfully, he gave me the space to do so. I had dated men who were not so kind before him, gravitating to those who triggered my inner core wounds because something about them subconsciously reminded me of the uncertainty of my childhood.
I craved love and connection and needed to find that within first.
Slowly, I started to love and value myself and was forced to appreciate the world around me. I had to learn to trust myself and my ability to trust a partner. This took dedicated daily meditation, creative processes, and cognitive behavioral therapy, where I finally felt safe to hear a therapist diagnose me without shame.
The road has been long, but I finally feel safe. The security I feel within allows me to understand not only my behavior but also how the other person is showing up. I have dated a narcissist in the past, and had I not felt secure in my sense of self I would have stayed with him and been manipulated, allowing my childhood wounds to be triggered and soothed repeatedly until I was completely worn down.
My biggest feat in this life has been overcoming trauma, which stood in the way of a deep and true connection with people, and true and deep connection with myself. If you are experiencing a similar story, let me confirm that the process is sometimes raw and terrifying, and you might feel like giving up.
Don’t. In the end, it’s worth it; you gain two loves. One for yourself and a safe, pure gift you can give someone deserving. Deserving of your safe love, a place where both partners can fall deeply while holding space for each other.