“I get emotionally attached to people too easily. What can I do to change this?”
Your emotions have a very important purpose- to guide you towards the things that your mind thinks you need, and to guide you away from the things that your mind thinks will hurt you.
We describe these experiences as pain, and pleasure.
When it comes to relationships, we have two primary social-attachment emotions, which have different purposes.
- Love & pair bonding ( which is Oxytocin )
- Social acceptance & approval ( which is Serotonin )
Like all emotions, both of these are ultimately about improving survival, but in different ways.
However, since you can feel attachment in both situations, let’s look at both.
Love & Pair-Bonding ( Oxytocin )
The feeling of love is primarily about oxytocin, which is the pair-bonding chemical responsible for forming families, and for parents and young to stay together.
Oxytocin has an important job, which is largely about creating security ( by keeping people that you like and trust close by ), and in a romantic relationship, it maximizes the chance of having children. Oxytocin is also what keeps parents and children together, so that the children have the best chances of survival to adulthood. If you notice, reptiles lay eggs and walk away. Mammals raise their young until they can be independent. We're driven to do this, because of is oxytocin.
In modern society, we use the word love to describe the emotional sensation of being "in love," which is all about Oxytocin.
And it feels incredible doesn’t it?
Except when that relationship ends. Then it's the most horrible feeling imaginable. You miss that person so badly, that you just want to end it all.
If you’re finding that you easily fall in love, what you’re experiencing is entirely natural. However, it's very likely that you're falling in love with more than the person in front of you- you're falling in love with the idea of a future with that person, the fantasy that this will last forever, the belief that they're perfect, and that you will never feel pain or loneliness again, ever.
Your emotions react not just to this other person, but to your thoughts about this person, and your imagined future with this person.
You can manage that, and make love more real, by carefully avoiding fantasy.
If this is you, don't feel bad- we were raised to believe that the fairy-tale is real, and to want it. Even expect it. This is why people can fall in love with people they’ve never even met face-to-face, the mind is crazy-powerful this way.
Manage that with a splash of reality. I’m not suggesting you look for flaws exactly, but more that you continually seek truth & perspective. You don’t know this person as well as you think you do. You don’t know whether they really want what you want. You don’t know what the future holds. You don't know how they will change, or how you will change. Anything you’re thinking about those things, is a fantasy because none of us knows what will happen.
In a way you’re probably experiencing this learning process now- because if you fall in love and then feel heartbroken when it doesn’t work out, you’re learning the difference between attachment to fantasy and living in reality.
I find it easiest to seek out and let go of expectations.
I don’t expect this person to love me forever. I don’t expect this relationship to last until I die. I simply let myself love them, and enjoy each day for what it is. Being together tomorrow is an important goal that I’m working towards, but not something that I expect, and that's a crucial distinction. The universe has its own plans.
I find this helps a lot. It allows me to love deeply, fully, and fearlessly, but without attachment or expectations of the other person.
Social Acceptance & Approval ( Serotonin )
The second type of emotional attachment you can feel is often a bit less intense, but also very important.
Mammals - including humans - form social groups because there is strength and security in numbers. We want to be around people who will look after and protect us. We can sleep better, knowing someone is watching out for us. We have better food opportunities, mating opportunities, etc. It’s why we feel loneliness when there’s no one around- and reptiles don’t.
Serotonin is largely about feeling secure, accepted, and validated.
Serotonin is also about our status within a group. If we are liked and well-regarded, we feel great! Ever won a competition? How did that feel? But if we are ignored, or rejected, we feel terrible. All Serotonin.
The ones with the most serotonin are often the leaders or the "alphas" of the tribe.
It feels good to be king.
If you feel needy for the approval of others, then what you’re really looking for is a sense of security, and self-worth. Both of those, you can improve by yourself - you really don’t need other people to give you these things.
The way I recommend people approach this is to first identify exactly what they feel in-secure about, and then work on that area specifically.
- Do you feel physically vulnerable when you’re alone? Learn some martial arts, and you’ll feel much more emotionally secure, that you can defend yourself if needed.
- Do you feel socially vulnerable when you’re around strangers? Take up public speaking with Toastmasters, or do some stage performance, or build your social skills. Soon you’ll feel confident even when you’re not with your own tribe.
- Do you feel the need for approval and validation, that your life matters? Here I recommend discovering your core values, and investing effort in hobbies that align with them. Very quickly, you’ll have your own approval in a deep way, that others can never provide. You’ll enormously appreciate yourself, when you become someone that you respect & admire.
- Do you often feel lonely? Improve your social skills so that you can make friends anytime, anywhere. When your mind knows that the world is full of friends, any time you want them- it becomes far less anxious and needy about the few friends you usually hang out with.
There are other things I’m sure you can identify as well, and ways to develop yourself in those areas.
When you develop these, you’ll notice loneliness disappear, as well as a lot of social anxiety. These are replaced with happiness, contentment, self-confidence, joy, enthusiasm, fearlessness … such great feelings.
One final, important point
Your emotions aren’t your enemy. They might be a pain sometimes. Loneliness, anxiety, heartbreak, jealousy, frustration, rejection… but all of these have opposites, which feel fantastic.
Uncomfortable emotions are like the engine lights on your car dashboard, pointing out things that may need to be fixed before they become a real problem. Pay attention to them.
“Why am I feeling this?”
“What is my mind telling me that I need?”
“What can I do to give myself what I’m missing?”
With attachments to other people, ask,
“What am I imagining will happen here?”
“Why is that important to me?”
“How can I create what I need, without this person / people?”
Soon, you’ll have mastered your own emotions, and that’s a wonderful place to be.
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