What Is Emotional Attachment and Is Yours Healthy?

Shot of a young couple having an argument while sitting on their couch at home

PeopleImages / Getty Images

What Is Emotional Attachment?

Emotional Attachment

Emotional attachment is the sense of connection and affection you may feel for people you are close to. It is a basic human need.

“When we are close to other people, a natural and important emotional response arises in us,” says Adi Avivi, PsyD, CGP, a psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center.

“Emotional attachment helps us survive. Especially when we are young, if we are scared, hungry, or hurt, it is important that we engage with others who can keep us safe. Just like children, adults also feel safer when they are with someone they trust. Adults too might feel distress and discomfort if they are separated from the people they are attached to,” says Avivi.

Apart from people, it’s also possible to be attached to animals, objects, places, habits, beliefs, dates, and memories.

Emotional Attachment Styles

Emotional attachment can encompass a range of experiences and emotional responses, says Avivi. 

Adi Avivi, PsyD, CGP

You might have a different emotional attachment style with different people in your life.

— Adi Avivi, PsyD, CGP

Avivi outlines the different attachment styles below. According to her, your emotional attachment pattern might lean toward a particular style, depending on your inherent disposition and your experiences with caregivers.

Secure Attachment

People who are secure in their attachment feel comfortable relying on others and letting others come close to them. They are also comfortable when others rely on them and enjoy becoming a part of others’ lives.

Being securely-attached means that one can also be separated. Times apart are tolerated and even enjoyed.

When the loved one returns, it is easy for a securely-attached person to welcome them back and feel close again.

Avoidant Attachment

If one tends to be avoidant in their attachment style, they might feel uncomfortable with closeness. 

Avoidant-attached people have an extreme need for self-reliance. Feeling dependent on others causes them distress. They might keep their distance and even ignore others’ attempts to create closeness and intimacy. It might be tough for them to meet others’ needs for security and comfort, and when a loved one pulls away, they might actually feel relieved.

Anxious Attachment

Anxiously-attached people tend to want a lot of closeness and become hurt, scared, and emotionally dysregulated when a loved one is not close. They might try to push for closeness because any separation feels like a rejection or abandonment to them.

Anxiously-attached people often worry that they are not really loved. They repeatedly seek reassurance that they are wanted and might therefore come across as insecure, demanding, or even clingy

When the loved one is away, an anxiously-attached person might ruminate about it, feeling angry and disappointed with their partner. When the loved one comes back, it is hard for the anxiously-attached person to trust again. They might “test” their partner or even punish them, even though they long to be together and feel intimacy and warmth.   

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Emotional Attachment

If you’re wondering whether your attachment style is healthy or unhealthy, Avivi recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are your emotional attachment style and patterns working for you? Are you pleased with the way your relationships are going? 
  • Is your attachment style effective in helping you start, establish, and maintain the relationships you want with others? 
  • Are you able to enjoy the people you love? Do they enjoy their connection with you? 
  • Do you have as much closeness and space as you need? Can you tolerate—or even enjoy—others’ need for closeness and space?
  • Are you able to ask for what you need? Are you able to respond to others’ needs and accept them?
  • Do you expect others to take responsibility for your emotions?
  • Do you want to find love, but you feel suffocated every time someone comes close and break it off?
  • Are you able to be close to others if they are a good match for you?
  • Do you want an intimate and caring partnership but become so demanding that others often pull away from you?
  • Do you always—or rather never—want to talk about the relationship?
  • Are you devastated by conflict or disagreement?
  • Are you able to let go of people if they are not right for you?

Consequences of Unhealthy Attachment

There are certainly negative outcomes if you are engaged in an unhealthy attachment style with the people in your life. For example, Avivi mentions that people who have not found the connection they are looking for often feel lonely and disappointed. And, some people stay in toxic relationships because they fear being alone.

Adi Avivi, PsyD, CGP

If you are unaware of your attachment style, you might find yourself frustrated and confused when it comes to relationships—especially romantic relationships.

— Adi Avivi, PsyD, CGP

Avivi notes that if you’re scared of closeness, you might have distorted ideas about dependency and not let yourself rely on others, even when letting them in could bring you joy and fill your life with meaning.

Working on Your Attachment Style

“Your attachment system is hard-wired; the way you engage with others is rooted in your survival mechanisms. However, you can learn to trust it when it is effective and slow down and choose to act differently when it is not,” says Avivi.

Working on your attachment style can help you cope with your urges, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, so that you can develop the interpersonal connections you want, according to Avivi. She says it can also help you make wise, long-term choices in your relationships. 

Avivi suggests some steps you can take to improve your emotional attachment patterns.

Seek Psychotherapy

Working with a compassionate and thoughtful psychotherapist can help you better understand why you act in certain ways and make certain choices. Psychotherapy can also help you learn new interpersonal skills. 

Try Group Therapy

Group therapy is a highly effective way to explore and work on emotional attachment. In a group, your interpersonal style will emerge naturally and you can enrich your understanding of how you affect others and how they affect you.

Ask Friends and Family

If you are unsure of your attachment style, you can talk to important people in your life about what it’s like to be close to you.

You can ask them if they feel comfortable relying on you, whether they feel like you rely on them, how you manage disagreements or conflicts with them, and what it’s like for them when they need some space from you or when you need space from them.

Their answers might tell you if you should invest in exploring your emotional attachments more deeply.

A Word From Verywell

Emotional attachment is the basic need for closeness that everyone experiences. The way you seek attachment and your behavior in relationships is shaped by the forces of nature and nurture.

Introspecting about your attachment patterns or discussing them with people close to you can help you determine whether your attachment style is secure, avoidant, anxious, or some combination of these three. 

Being mindful of your attachment tendencies or seeking therapy for them can help you work on your interpersonal skills and improve your relationships with the people you are close to.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hong YR, Park JS. Impact of attachment, temperament and parenting on human development. Korean J Pediatr. 2012;55(12):449-454. doi:10.3345/kjp.2012.55.12.449

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.