Understanding Attachment Addiction

Attachment Addiction is the extreme form of codependency.

To understand Attachment Addiction, you have to ask: what does codependency feel like?

Well first, here’s what codependency doesn’t feel like.

Imagine you just got into your car, ready to drive to a far-off destination. For argument’s sake, let’s say you’re off to pick up a close friend and drop them at the airport for a flight.

Your sat nav tells you it’s a 100 mile journey. The digital mileage readout in your car tells you there’s approximately 100 miles worth of fuel in the tank.

It’s clearly going to be tight, you think. You tense up at the thought of what could go wrong.

Then you relax.

You realise there are a hundred different petrol stations along your route that you could drop in to at any time.

Considering the time, you tense up again… only to glance again at the sat nav and breathe easy. It’s a two-hour journey. Last check-in for your friend’s bags is in three hours. Everything is fine.

Another worry enters your head – a semi-irrational one. What if we break down! My friend is depending on me! 

You pause.

Your car broke down once last year, yes. But that was one time in seven years. It was, admittedly, a stressful day. But these things happen. It isn’t worth worrying ahead about.

Stopping to ponder on how much you really do rely on your car, you realise that there is a symbiotic bond there with this journey that just feels natural:

  • Your friend is relying on you to get to the airport
  • You are relying on the car to get you there
  • The car is relying on fuel to power it
  • And getting the fuel is reliant on your friend, who agreed to pay for it
  • The friend, of course, who is relying on you to…

… well, you get the idea.

And if any one of those things goes wrong?

If your friend runs late? Their problem.

If the car breaks down? Freak occurrence. Unforseeable and unlikely. Not your fault if it does.

If you can’t find a petrol station? You will. There are hundreds. Relax.

What if your friend has no cash? You’ll pay. You have your wallet with you. Your friend will transfer you the money later. No big deal.

This, my friends, is how a healthy mind works.

You consider the problems, address the anxieties with self-reassurance, remember your contingencies if needed, and get on with the task in hand.

Nine out of ten times nothing bad happens, and when it does you deal with the issue as calmly as possible, as an isolated incident, and based on its own merits.

Crucially, you acknowledge an interdependent bond between yourself, the car, its fuel and your friend where every element plays an equal part in a healthy, mature manner to mutual benefit.

How does that feel?

As you can imagine, pretty nice.

You’re secure, level-headed; with no major anxieties to speak of. Not taking too much responsibility for any one thing or person. You’re forward-thinking, without catastrophising. All in all, you’re having a pretty good day.

And even if more than you’ve bargained for goes wrong, you’re pretty sure you can handle it. You know yourself. You’ve done this journey before. You’re doing everything to help your friend – and they know it. Barring an act of God, you got this.

Life is good.

… But not if you’re codependent.

The codependent mind is a place of worry and strife. So for the codependent driver, such a journey is full of anxiety triggers.

And the more addictively attached they are to the friend they are driving – the more self-esteem they hope to glean from helping them – the more extreme that anxiety becomes at the thought of letting that friend down.

So, the codependent driver begins the journey seeing the 100 miles of fuel issue, and immediately imagines running out mere minutes from their destination.

Because the human mind cannot differentiate between a perceived threat and a real one, it releases anxiety-inducing chemicals into the codependent driver’s body. And without the healthy person’s ability to self-reassure, those anxious thoughts run riot, giving the codependent a very visceral, physical feeling of impending failure that presents in their body as a fight-or-flight reaction.

This creates a chain reaction into their other thoughts, feelings and actions for the rest of the journey.

For the codependent driver, suddenly every potential problem poses a threat to their mission to help their friend.

So if they arrive to pick up their friend, and their friend is late?

They snap angrily and indignantly at them. The friend wonders why they didn’t ask someone else – heck, anybody else! – while the codependent fumes silently. ‘Can’t they see I’m trying to help them!’ thinks the codependent.

If they consider the car breaking down?

‘Well, it did last year. Oh God, that was so stressful!’ The codependent’s mind goes into full catastrophe at the thought – nay, the probability! – that it just might happen again.

What about finding a petrol station?

‘No time for that!’ thinks the codependent. ‘We need to get my friend to the airport pronto. There’s a petrol station there. I’ll fill up as I drop them off.’

And if their friend forgets the money to pay for the fuel?

‘They bloody well better not, after all this anxiety they’ve put me through…’ The codependent projects their worries onto the friend, who becomes responsible for causing this whole, imagined-up scenario.

At this point, so fixated is the codependent on solving the problems of their own anxious mind, they haven’t even noticed the one hour time buffer.

Or, perhaps they have – but they’ve discounted it.

After all, ‘anything might go wrong between now and then!’

And how does the journey go?

Awful.

Coiled like a spring, the codependent driver sweats on every twist and turn of the road the sat nav system guides them through, triple-checking the screen to make sure there isn’t a quicker way with less obstacles, and scowling when it doesn’t produce magic beans.

In this mindset, road works become a trigger for simmering, low-level road rage. Sunday drivers beget passive aggressive behaviour from the codependent driver; first almost hitting their rear bumper, then glowering through the window at the object of their ire as the codependent finally finds the space to overtake.

So their friendly passenger tries to diffuse the tension.

“Relax!” they smile, aware there’s plenty of time to spare.

“I’ll relax when I’ve gotten you to that plane on time!” responds the codependent driver, in sanctimonious fashion, hurt that their friend doesn’t really understand the full gravity of the situation.

‘Why are you trying to stop me helping you?!’ hums their internal dialogue – disappointed at being so misunderstood, scared to let their friend see the full extent of their anger for fear their friend might disapprove.

It’s a self-suffocating prophecy.

Of course, their friend feels it all anyway, and regrets ever enlisting the codependent for the favour. Silently, the friend wonders what happened to the driver, who was once such a kind and carefree soul. Or perhaps they know and empathise with the codependent’s pain.

Either way, the friend wonders what they have done to deserve such hostility, and finds themself wanting to be far, far away from such a toxic individual.

So, how does codependency feel?

In short, pretty awful and unpleasant – for everyone concerned.

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Breaking the chains of addictive attachment.
Understanding Attachment Addiction
About Attachment Addiction

Hi. I’m Mark. And I’m a recovering attachment addict. I didn’t always identify as an attachment addict. In 2015 I left an addictive relationship and ended up in 12-step recovery for codependency. After several months, when I realised the unbridled resentment weren’t dying down for me, I focused my recovery …