Emotional attachment is the feeling of close affection that helps sustain relationships.

emotionally attracted couple talking on the beach

Emotional attachment refers to the feelings of closeness and affection that help sustain meaningful relationships over time.

Attachment plays an important role in human connection. The earliest bonds you form with parents and family members can guide and shape the attachments you develop to friends and romantic partners later in life.

“Even without sexual or romantic attraction, you can become emotionally attached to people. It’s easy to bond and increase your sense of connection by simply being close to someone.”

This attachment could help you feel safe, comfortable, happy, or even euphoric in their company.

Some level of attachment is healthy and normal in relationships. But how can you tell if you’re too attached? What do you do if that happens? Can you develop attachments to places or things?

We have answers to these questions.

There are different types of emotional attachment, some healthier than others. Each type of attachment serves a different purpose and can lead to different outcomes.

Secure attachment

Secure attachment is one of the most common types of emotional attachment. It develops when you feel comfortable with someone and confident in their ability to meet your needs. The bond you share is strong, and you’re able to rely on each other both physically and emotionally.

Anxious attachment

A subtype of insecure attachment, anxious attachment develops when you’re constantly worried that your partner may leave you or won’t be there when you need them. This can lead to clinginess and needy behavior.

Avoidant attachment

Avoidant attachment is another subtype of insecure attachment. It develops when you’re unwilling or unable to get close to someone. You might distance yourself emotionally or physically from your partner. This can lead to feelings of rejection and loneliness.

Disorganized attachment

Disorganized attachment is a third and less common subtype of insecure attachment. It’s characterized by mixed feelings of approach and avoidance toward your partner. This can lead to feelings of confusion, fear, and anxiety in relationships.

Attachment and love are not the same, and lasting love relies on healthy attachment to flourish.

“Over time, your emotional attachment to your romantic partners and friends helps them thrive. When you feel like you’re not compatible with someone, you might want to look for a new partner.”

Oxytocin, a natural hormone that promotes bonding and trust, contributes to the development of attachment. In other words, it helps create a sense of security in the first stages of a new relationship.

The hormones that come into play in the early stages of love are related to desire, euphoria, and tension.

Attachment helps you feel safe and secure, and promotes feelings of lasting love, even though the intensity of these emotions fades in time.

Consider the driving factors

The factors behind love and attachment are different.

Generally, you don’t love someone because of what they can do or provide. You love them regardless of these things, simply because they’re who they are.

“Romantic relationships do fulfill important needs, but they involve mutual giving and support. You don’t love someone just because they meet your needs.”

Attachment, in contrast, can develop when needs for intimacy, companionship, validation, or anything else go unfulfilled. When you find someone who fulfills those needs, you might develop a strong attachment to them.

Everyone wants to get their needs met. Seeking a partner who can fulfill important needs is not a problem. It is important to know how to meet these needs yourself. You can create difficulties for yourself and someone else if you decide someone else will complete.

Emotional attachment can sometimes get a little too intense and become more of an emotional dependency. This dependency can negatively affect the relationship and your well-being.

The following signs can be a sign of an attachment problem.

You rely on their approval

If you struggle with self-confidence, others might see you differently. Your sense of self-worth may be dependent on your partner.

When you disagree or experience other conflict, this might entirely disrupt your perception of yourself. You might believe they hate you and no longer support your needs.

As a result, you might feel hurt, empty, anxious, or depressed, and your self-esteem might diminish.

They can persist until they show they care about you, whether that is giving a gift, offering physical affection, or compliment you.

This can become a dangerous dynamic because people with toxic or abusive traits may intentionally manipulate your needs and feelings to control the relationship and keep you dependent on them.

You’ve lost your sense of self

“You might find yourself doing whatever it takes to get their affection and support, if you believe you need someone and can’t live without them.”

You might change your habits, interests, and behaviors by a small amount.

A partner might push you to do this in a toxic or abusive dynamic, but it’s important to understand that unhealthy attachments don’t only happen in abusive relationships. You might find yourself remolding your identity to match your partner’s on your own, even somewhat unconsciously.

The end result is often the same. You and your partner become more of a unit, and you lose sight of who you really are.

It is important to share things with friends and partners, but it is also important to spend time apart and keep your interests in mind.

You don’t know how to function without them

“It’s not uncommon to have trouble meeting your needs on your own.”

Attachments typically develop for this very reason. If you don’t feel secure, loved, or accepted on your own, you’ll look for someone who can offer comfort and security and help you feel less alone.

It is not possible to meet these needs yourself if you rely too much on support from someone else.

If the relationship or friendship doesn’t work out, or other commitments or relationships temporarily prevent that person from meeting your needs, you might feel completely at a loss.

“You might wonder what would happen if I didn’t have them. It can become so intense that you might have to dig into their past or keep a constant eye on their social media activity.”

The relationship is unbalanced

Healthy relationships demonstrate balance and interdependence.

Interdependence represents a middle ground between independence and dependence. Interdependent partners can fulfill many of their own emotional needs, but they also feel comfortable turning to each other when in need of support.

When partners need help, they might not be able to reach out to each other, while a dependent partner might always ask for help.

In an unhealthy attachment, one person typically looks to another for emotional support, usually without offering much in return. The partner who consistently provides support without getting what they need may feel drained, resentful, and unsupported.

When to be concerned

Making changes can be difficult, but recognizing attachment behaviors in yourself is the first step. There are signs of attachment disorders.

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) may cause the following symptoms:

  • Being unable to form close relationships is something that is avoided.
  • “Positive emotion can’t be experienced.”
  • Anger or withdrawal from those who try to get close to you.

If you notice these patterns, ask yourself if your attachment is causing problems in your life.

If you think your attachment to someone is not healthy, you can do a few things to change that.

First, consider some potential reasons behind insecure attachment, such as:

  • fear of being alone
  • When not in a relationship, there are some things that are emptiness and insecurity.
  • vaguely defined sense of self

You can begin exploring solutions once you have a better idea of the underlying triggering factors.

  • Dedicating some time to self-discovery can help you reconnect with your personal identity.
  • Creating time for yourself to do things you enjoy can help alone time feel more rewarding than scary.
  • Even without a romantic partner, you can feel secure by building positive relationships with friends and family.

Keep in mind, though, attachment issues often begin in childhood. Your earliest relationships can have a huge impact on how you form bonds as an adult. Insecure attachments to caregivers can result in patterns that keep repeating in your relationships.

These patterns can be hard to address on your own, but support from a mental health professional can help.

In therapy, you can:

  • Understand your attachment style.
  • Learn relationship skills.
  • develop a stronger sense of self
  • Explore strategies for meeting your own needs.

There are a lot of questions about emotional attachment.

What is an emotional attachment?

An emotional attachment is a loving connection between two people. It can be between people.

What are the different types of emotional attachment?

There are three main types of emotional attachment. A fourth type called disorganized is also present. Attachment styles can be characterized by fear of abandonment or difficulty trusting others, and can be represented by a healthy balance of independence and dependence.

What are the signs of an unhealthy emotional attachment?

There are several signs that your emotional attachment to someone is not as healthy as you might think. When your partner or friends are busy, you may feel lonely, and you may have to give up your own plans to accommodate them.

How can I break an unhealthy emotional attachment?

If you think your attachment to someone is not healthy, you can do a few things to change that.First, consider some potential reasons behind the attachment, such as fear of being alone or insecurity.

You can begin exploring solutions if you have a better idea of the underlying triggering factors. Attachment issues can be hard to address on your own, and can begin in childhood. Mental health professionals can help.

Emotional attachments are a normal aspect of human relationships. Friends and loved ones provide emotional support, which can have a positive impact on physical and mental health.

Asking yourself if you offer emotional support can help you determine if your attachment is healthy.

Have you noticed that you have an attachment to someone that is not healthy? As you begin exploring these patterns, a therapist can offer guidance and support.

Crystal Raypole worked as an editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. She is committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.