Here’s a trick question:
How do you stop an emotion?
Answer: you don’t.
By the time you try to stop yourself from feeling something, you’ve already felt it.
But here’s the thing:
The thing about emotions is that even though we can’t control how we feel about many things, we can control our decisions and what we focus on in response to those emotions.
That’s especially true when it comes to getting emotionally attached to people too quickly or intensely, in a way that hurts us.
Here’s how to stop getting emotionally attached to people, and learning to relate to those we’re attracted to in a more empowered, non-attached way.
1) Find out what attachment style you are
The theory of attachment styles was first developed by the late British psychologist and psychological researcher John Bowlby.
He looked at how separation from our parents at a young age affects our later style of relationships and intimacy.
Attachment styles are the way we give and receive love.
The main categories are anxious, avoidant, secure, and anxious-avoidant.
Take the time to find out what attachment style you fit into most.
The anxious individual worries that their partner doesn’t love them and seeks reassurances of validation and intimacy.
The avoidant partner feels stifled by too much closeness and intimacy and feels threatened when somebody gets too close.
The anxious-avoidant individual cycles between the two reactions, often changing their polarity depending on their partner’s type.
The secure individual, meanwhile, loves their partner and receives love happily but doesn’t feel dependent on intimacy and validation nor afraid of it.
Which attachment style most closely describes you?
The book Attached by Dr. Amir Levine is one I heartily recommend here. In it, Levine discusses how we can optimize our chances for love and successful relationships by understanding our attachment style.
You can also take this free NPR quiz (which is based on Levine’s book) to find out your attachment style.
2) Be clear on what you want from a relationship
Now that you know what attachment style you are, think about what you want from a relationship.
Perhaps you are more in a state of seeking out friendship, something casual or you are oriented toward a serious relationship that will go somewhere?
Keeping in mind your attachment style, take out a journal and write down what you want from somebody in your intimate life, as well as your dealbreaker factors.
For example, included in your list you might write:
I want a girlfriend who is loving towards me and will accept me for who I am without judging.
I want her to have some career goals but also love to do fun things together and have time for activities with me like drop-in sports and cooking classes.
Among dealbreakers you might include:
I won’t date anyone who drinks heavily, even casually. Somebody with at least one interest in common with me is also a necessity.
3) Focus on your own goals and wellbeing
Next up is that you need to focus on your own goals and wellbeing. Many times, those of us who get overly emotionally attached to people fit under the anxious attachment style.
We meet somebody we like a lot and then become dependent on them reciprocating our feelings. If that doesn’t happen or falls through, we become despondent.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
But we all need to relate to those around us in some way and have our own way of relating to intimacy and relationships, right?
So how do you do it if you’re the type who tends to get unhealthily attached?
I want to emphasize the importance of finding your purpose and focusing on your own goals here.
You also want to really care about your wellbeing in a serious way, both physically and emotionally.
I’m talking about what you eat, getting a good sleep, the entertainment and information you consume and how you live your daily life.
When you respect yourself to a higher degree, you are less likely to place your happiness or sense of wellbeing in the hands of anybody else, no matter how much you may like them.
4) Make very good friends with the present moment
Many of us become emotionally attached to people for a very simple reason:
We meet somebody we like and we create an avalanche of expectations about what might happen with them or might not.
We create expectations and hopes around how they feel about us, how they might one day feel about us, and so on.
We picture the future together with them and a lifetime by their side, feeling euphoric in daydreams that never end up coming true.
The antidote to this, as I’ve said here is to identify your attachment style, have strong self-knowledge of what you want in a relationship and focus on your own goals in life and on being self-sufficient.
You also want to make very good friends with the present moment.
After all, as people like author Eckhart Tolle have pointed out, the present moment is really all we have.
When you radically embrace the present moment, you become empowered, because the present is your locus of control and the place from which you can make decisions and take action.
It’s also an expectation killer. When you’re in the present and dealing with the here and now, you could have the man or woman of your dreams sitting across from you and you may feel love for them…
…But you won’t be attached, because you’ll be in the present, not lost in a desire for the future or anxiety about losing them in the future.
5) Let go of dreaming of ‘the one’
Is “the one” somewhere out there who’ll we one day fall in love with and be fulfilled on a level we never knew possible?
I do think there are a small number of people we are highly compatible with and can fall in love with in life who will change us forever.
But I also think the idea of the one can be very tricky and even dangerous, especially in terms of emotional attachment.
The reason is that if all you have is a hammer you’re going to go around treating everything as a nail, if you know what I mean.
If every new person I meet is potentially the one, I’m going to get fixated on that and put them on a pedestal.
I’m going to try to fit them out for a role instead of truly getting to know them and appreciate them.
And that’s no good at all! (Plus it doesn’t work).
The irony is this:
If there is a chance of really meeting and loving “the one,” it almost always comes out of letting go of the need and fixation on finding “the one.”
And letting go of this fixation is very much tied into learning how to get less emotionally attached to people and having more restraint over your own reactions romantically.
6) Stop going ‘all in’ all the time
I have a pattern:
When I become very emotionally attached to people, I then drive them away by being too needy for their attention.
As you can guess, I fall into the anxious attachment style.
Whether or not your attachment style is the same, becoming emotionally attached is the root of the problem here.
Because as soon as you do this, you’ve placed the locus of control outside of yourself and hired someone else as the CEO of your happiness. Do you really want someone else who may barely even care about you to have power over your happiness?
The cure to not getting so emotionally attached is to respect yourself and play it slow.
I received this advice from a friend recently, and I find it excellent:
Stop going all in, all the time.
To think of this as a poker metaphor:
Let’s say the dealer is the person who represents the object of attachment.
You ignore what’s in your hand and go all in on the basis that the dealer’s hand will be good and match up with yours. Fingers crossed!
But if you push all your chips in every hand, nobody is going to believe you have any self-control, and they won’t take your hands seriously. You’ll also be completely dependent on the dealer having something good that happens to line up with your hand.
You may even interrupt the game so much with this reckless behavior that other players eventually get annoyed at you.
Think of emotional attachment this way: when you go all in on someone and aren’t aware or appreciative of what’s in your own hand, you end up losing almost all the time.
You also end up eroding away the self-respect that you should have for yourself and which will be your real mainstay in any successful and loving relationship!
7) Go slow on physical and emotional intimacy
As you go about dating and meeting people, go slow on physical and emotional intimacy.
In general, follow the rule of letting them come to you rather than trying to pursue too much or too intensely.
If you are the pursuer, you’re much more likely to fall into the anxious behaviors of becoming emotionally attached.
If you make sure the dynamic of how you are with people is more balanced or even more on the side of them approaching you, then you retain more of your own power and control.
You may feel strong emotions and desire for someone, but if they’re equally or more interested in you than you are in them, it gives you much more control over the interaction and much greater ability not to become emotionally dependent on them.
Try not to get too physical, too early. Don’t express strong interest unless you’ve seen reciprocal signs of the same thing from them.
Don’t get too attached to the affection of this person by ensuring that you have your own life, your own goals, and your own priorities which aren’t only oriented around finding love and intimacy.
This ties directly into the next point about the most important ways to stop getting emotionally attached to people:
8) Don’t confuse sex and lust for love
I have many friends who’ve unfortunately fallen into this trap:
They meet someone they feel strongly for and then go all in on them without really knowing whether the other person feels the same.
It often turns out the other individual was in it for kicks and basically just for something casual.
It’s crucial not to read too much into an interaction other than what’s there, because in doing so you just become your own worst enemy.
If you sext a couple of times with someone, they’re not your boyfriend.
If you have a drunken escapade with a guy at the beach and he says how special you are, he probably is talking more about the special hangover he’s going to have the next day.
Sex and lust often trap us into giving ourselves away too easily and also lead to one party getting badly hurt.
As much as Hollywood and the media want to “pornify” everyday life and make sex into no big deal, that’s not really how it works in real life.
What may have been a meaningless hookup for you could have been a deep and impassioned experience for the other person and vice versa.
It’s important not to sleep around too much and too quickly if you don’t want to get emotionally attached to people or have them latch onto you in ways that can be difficult.
Sure. But also true.
At the same time, you also want to ensure that you’re not taking dating too seriously too early…
9) Stay away from one-itis and hyper-focusing on one person
One-itis is a serious condition affecting many people around the world on a daily basis.
What is it?
One-itis is when you get hyper-focused on one person you’ve met and begin to shift your mood and your whole world on the axis of them.
If you don’t end up with this person, you’ll never end up with anyone…
They’re the most compatible, perfect individual you’ve ever met and you just know you’re meant to be together (if they’d just answer that goddamn text already…)
One-itis is really easy to fall into, for the simple reason that it can be very convincing. The reason it can be so convincing is if you have allowed yourself to place your hopes in someone or fall into the idealism of “the one” I warned of above.
If you have built up your own life and goals and learned not to go all in too fast, one-itis will cease being a big problem for you.
That’s because you will move more slowly and avoid spending too much time or getting too involved with anyone until they show steady and sure and commensurate levels of interest in you.
In such a way, you won’t end up in that painful position of unrequited love and getting emotionally attached to people who barely know you exist.
10) Keep your dating schedule open
A big part of avoiding one-itis and not focusing too much on one person too early is to keep your dating schedule open.
Even if you’ve met somebody you potentially like, keep the physical and emotional intimacy at a fairly low-key level for awhile…
…And keep dating around for as long as you want unless and until they want to make things exclusive and you feel the same way.
Don’t restrict yourself or hold yourself back.
It’s like going to a restaurant and worrying about whether you’re being rude by taking too long looking at the menu:
You’re the customer with the money and the time to come to this restaurant. Take as long as you’d like and sip that ice water!
You can order a few appetizers and even send something back to the kitchen or leave it uneaten if it’s just awful.
You have the power, and you have no need to make a commitment or a firm decision until you actually do so.
Until then, let yourself remain a free agent.
11) Be discerning in dating
Dating is much more about quality than quantity.
I think most of us would rather go on one good date than 50 bad ones that mean nothing.
Yet at the same time, won’t this mindset just feed into the one-itis that I just warned about?
Well, here’s the thing:
Discernment doesn’t mean one-itis, it just means pre-screening and patience.
Avoiding emotional attachment is all about patience and discernment in dating.
You may go on a number of dates which are unremarkable, but you should try as much as possible not to waste your time going out with people you know you won’t like much.
Part of that is patience and discernment in who you choose to meet and talk a lot with in the first place.
In such a way you can narrow the field to a smaller number of compatible people and meet more of your “type.”
This will greatly decrease your potential desperation and allow you to stop meeting so many duds and going crazy with enthusiasm when you finally meet someone interesting.
So, how do you go about this?
12) You tap into the power of the p-word
Are you familiar with the p-word?
It has a lot of power and it can change your emotional and love life and help you avoid becoming emotionally attached to people.
I’m talking, of course, about…
What else would I be talking about?
Propinquity means the chance of interacting socially with someone by being in a similar environment or related activities with them. It’s social closeness.
By tapping into this idea, you can ensure that you start meeting more people you hit it off with…
Often, emotional attachment is the result of being very lonely.
Now, I’m not saying that being lonely is always a bad thing, but it can be quite disempowering and disorienting if it becomes too extreme.
It can also lead to desperation and becoming overly emotionally attached to people we care about and are attracted to.
If you believe you have only one shot at love and lose it, you’re going to be beside yourself.
But if you have a large group of peers and friends including various individuals you find emotionally or physically attractive, then your neediness will decrease.
And doing this is all about propinquity…
13) How to make propinquity work for you
Making propinquity work for you is all about spending time and energy in places that you’re passionate about.
If you love sports and being outdoors, join a drop-in league of people who play something you love, whether that be volleyball, tennis, or Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Even if you only meet people who become friends, what are the chances that they have friends you might hit it off with and form a strong connection with?
Also, propinquity is truly a win-win, because you get to spend time in environments where you love the atmosphere and subject matter while also drastically increasing your chances of meeting someone you strongly connect with.
Or multiple people.
If you want to meet a lawyer, start going to the law library and attend conferences on legal ethics at your local college!
The p-word can do wonders for decreasing your neediness and emotional attachment levels.
Attachment vs. attraction
The most important ways to stop getting emotionally attached to people are all about respecting and empowering yourself.
Finding your own purpose and becoming centered in your own story is crucial.
Feeling strong emotions and attraction for other people is great: it means you’re alive and kicking.
The issue with emotional attachment is that it places you in a subordinate and weakened position. It makes you dependent on outside validation and reciprocation.
Learning to stop getting attached to people is about becoming more conscious of your own process of commitment and your own power.
You have the right and the power to move at your own speed in your interactions with other people.
You have the right to focus on your life goals, stick to your beliefs, and center yourself on your own life story.
You have the absolute ability to wait until somebody else shows interest to make any commitment or move of your own.
Your attraction for others is fine and healthy, and the emotions you feel come naturally.
Just ensure that you are acting on these emotions and attraction in a way that’s consistent with your goals in life and your personal power.
You got this!