“A little space, time, and distance can often be just what a relationship needs to bloom at its best.” ~Karen Salmansohn
You may feel anxious about the relationships you have with people. There are many triggers that can cause you to panic or despair.
It is the fear or actual separation of the relationship you have with the other person.
That lingering uncertainty when you don’t know when you will see your love interest next, when your partner tells you they have booked a weekend away, or when you receive the dreaded text that they need to postpone your date.
You’re suddenly flooded with images of them meeting someone new (someone “better” than you), thoughts that they don’t care about seeing you, worries that they are mad at you, feelings of being left out and not important to them, and deep concern that you will be left alone.
You don’t know what it is, a day you thought was good suddenly turns into a nightmare.
I know for me, there have been times when I didn’t recognize myself in these moments. It felt like I had left my body. I couldn’t think clearly or have a conversation.
Now, in hindsight I can see that my fear about the future of this relationship and me was what I had been highjacked. The goal in those moments was to feel okay again, and the only way that was going to happen was if I could establish contact and “save” myself from the possibility of history repeating itself and being left. It’s almost like I didn’t care about anything else.
The most complicated aspect is how this inner conflict plays out. You know that despite the negativity in your relationship, there’s a part deep within you that believes you are fine and this isn’t the end.
This is especially true if you have dedicated time to “the work” and healing. Even though you know this, it is nearly impossible to get control of your anxiety when your stress levels are high.
In a sense, it feels like you have “lost” yourself.
Prior to becoming aware of my anxiety and insecure attachment style, I used to act in ways that left me with shame, guilt and embarrassment.
Sometimes I found any reason to text, and sometimes over-text. Sometimes I’d fight them or seduce them. Other times, I’d withdraw from them and just give them the silent treatment. There have also been instances when I checked my phone in constant hope that it would somehow lead them to me.
Without saying anything, I tried to make contact with the same person. These behaviors are common for the anxiously attached and are known as “protest behaviors.”
An abrupt change in plans could be an indicator that separation anxiety is on the rise. When my ex-partner texted me to let him know he’d be home sooner or that he was planning on going for spontaneous drinks later in the evening, it was a trigger that caused me to become very upset. We would wind up in a familiar argument, them unable to understand the problem and me unable to explain (unless you count the accusation that they didn’t care about me or our relationship).
The other problem is when your partner tells you they’re leaving. The partner may become convinced that they will cheat on you and find someone new. To me, this would be one of two options: I could seek out reassurance in my partner, ask endless questions and then go into panic mode until it was time for the actual event.
Finally, another common scenario is during the early stages of dating when you don’t know if or when you are seeing your date again. You are constantly on the go and dating is becoming boring. You are in full detective mode—looking for red flags, seeking advice, questioning their motives, stalking the girl in their latest social media post, wondering how they are spending their weekend, and asking why they haven’t asked you out again.
While these are some of the ways separation could trigger anxiety attachment, others can be more common.
As someone who works to heal my anxiety attachment, I’ve noticed a significant, positive shift in the way I react to these triggers. So I feel confident that it is possible to make positive changes.
It is the greatest feeling when I can share my partner’s joy about the exciting plans they have that do not include me.
These are some tips to help with separation anxiety. These are the strategies that I continue to use.
1. You can identify separation as a trigger for separation and give it a name.
Knowing separation is a huge factor that influences anxious attachment supports you in remembering you are not alone, and you are not “crazy.” When you are in the moment and feeling triggered, take a moment to acknowledge that separation could be a contributing factor. The simple act of acknowledging and listing what is going on can ease some of the tension. It will also allow you to be more clear-headed and make it easier for yourself to see things clearly.
2. Refrain from believing, justifying, or figuring out what you think when your mind is activated.
When you realize that the separation issue is real, it’s time to remind yourself repeatedly that your mental images and thoughts are likely not reliable and that they come from the past.
A pact can be made with yourself to promise that, no matter how persuasive your thoughts may seem, you will not judge another person nor make any decisions during activation. It is possible to trust that your intuition will guide you in deciding how you feel about the steps you should take.
3. Keep in mind that time will pass, and this won’t always be a problem.
The problem is not that you can’t control time if your anxious attachment activates. Sometimes three hours feels like three days. Other times it seems like just three seconds. It’s important to re-build your relationship with time. The situation will unfold and you won’t be able to intervene.
If you are feeling rushed and feel like your speed is increasing, it’s a good time to take deep breathes. If you feel dissociated and numb, it is time to get more active. These options will increase your chances of regaining control over your body and the moment.
4. Accept your body’s sensations.
Your physical response to something, whether it is shallow breathing, nausea or shaking, heart thumping, overwhelming lethargy, is a sign that you need help. This is the best way to heal. To reduce physical symptoms and ease your mind, you can change the conditions that affect your breathing, temperature, and activity. It is important to go inwardly to self-regulate, before going outwardly to co-regulate.
5. You can co-regulate if you are allowed to speak your mind without being asked.
Sometimes you may need to be reassured or have additional questions. You can seek out support from your attachment figure and other people. Fear of feeling too dependent or needy, many people won’t allow themselves to use this tactic. However, remember that it is okay to be heard. Communication is better when you have the freedom to speak your mind without being compelled or held accountable. Self-regulation is better than co-regulation.
6. Imagine how you’d like to feel in your relationship.
You can imagine how you both would like to be treated in your marriage. It would be so wonderful if you and your partner had a supportive, safe place to go. You will find that space helps you miss your partner and fosters a stronger bond. Cultivate that feeling and revel in it; you will then be more likely to call on your imagination and this feeling when activated—again, giving you a bit more space to move from away from the reactive state.
7. Visualize greetings and separations regularly.
In relationships it is normal to regularly say hello and goodbye; however, the goodbye can bring up “stuck” energy for the anxious attached. It can be difficult to part ways without worrying about the future. It is useful to “train” yourself to feel more okay about the flow of separating and parting ways. This can be done by imagining yourself saying goodbye to someone or an attachment figure you love.
Here are some suggestions to help you feel more secure during separation. You may not know where to begin. Pick the one that resonates with you and move forward. It doesn’t have to be all at once.
While I recognize that there are always negative outcomes, these tips can help you feel less anxious about separation.
I want to leave you with the knowledge that there was a time where I thought I was broken and self-soothing just didn’t work for me. That wasn’t the case at all. It’s just change didn’t happen at the fast pace I wanted it to. Maybe this is something you relate to? The problem with anxious attachments is that it requires us to slow down, even though everything inside of us feels like it should be moving fast.
Carly Ann, a Holistic Attachment Coach is passionate about helping people to change their attachment styles so they feel secure and can have more fulfilling relationships. It is her mission to help you stop feeling too crazy or dependent by showing you why love can change your feelings. Visit carly-ann.co.uk for more information and to join her online membership.
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Tiny Buddha’s 7 Tips for Soothing Separation Anxiety originally appeared on Tiny Buddha.