When we’re emotionally attached to a person, they begin to feel like a part of us. However, sometimes that feeling can backfire, and it can be draining.
According to experts, here are ways to stop being emotionally attached to someone:
Jennifer Hettema, PhD
Senior Clinical Director, LifeStance Health
Emotional attachment is a normal and healthy component of fostering interpersonal relationships and enables us to sustain these connections. However, if you find that this attachment interferes with your ability to pursue your goals and values, it may be helpful to explore your thoughts and feelings.
If you are wondering if your ability to control your emotional attachment is causing depression or anxiety or if you have tried to work through an unhealthy attachment and are having trouble doing so, it may be helpful to consult with a mental health professional.
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a treatment modality that therapists often use with individuals who are struggling with unpleasant emotions. In this approach, instead of trying to stop thoughts or emotions, individuals are encouraged to be aware of them and recognize that they do not define them or dictate their choices.
For example, someone could frequently think about or miss another individual and still choose not to pick up the phone to call them. Similarly, that person could instead choose to do other things that align with their values, like exercise or engage in self-care.
If you feel as though your emotional attachment to someone is unhealthy or impacting your ability to live a life that is consistent with your values, you might consider:
Clarify your values
It can be easy to move along in life without setting aside some dedicated time to think about what truly gives your life meaning and matters to you in the long run. These could be important characteristics you want to embody, relationships that you’d like to foster, or obstacles you’d like to overcome.
Values clarification can be done through self-reflection, journaling, talking with a trusted friend or family member, or with the help of mental health professional. Once you are clear on what you want your life to look like, it can be a lot easier to move towards that vs. away from something like an unhealthy relationship.
Revisit or discover hobbies
Finding or rediscovering your personal passions and can help you reconnect with yourself and focus your attention on activities that bring you joy.
Lean on friends/family for support
Building on healthy relationships in your life can be an invaluable tool for overcoming loss. If, for example, you’re going through a breakup with a romantic partner, looking to close friends and family for support can be instrumental in navigating the challenging emotions that you’ll likely experience.
Give yourself time
It’s important to remember that emotional attachment to a meaningful person in your life will not disappear overnight. In most cases, the passage of time does help these feelings to become more manageable and less intrusive.
Keep a regular schedule
It may sound trivial, but sticking to a regular schedule (going to bed/waking up at the same time) and finding ways to work in healthy habits like exercise or spending time with friends can help focus your mind on other activities while prioritizing self-care.
Speak with a licensed therapist
If you find that you need additional support developing healthy coping skills, please know that there are resources available to you. Even just a few sessions with a licensed therapist can help equip you with the tools to navigate challenging situations.
Men’s Dating & Relationship Coach | Host, “The Self-Confidence Project” Podcast
Slow things down and work on developing positive habits
Why do we get emotionally attached?
Getting close to someone can be a wonderful feeling and activates important emotional responses in us. But if you feel too attached to someone, you might be asking yourself why this is?
Our emotional attachment style largely resembles the attachment style we had as children and often falls into one of three categories: Anxious, Secure, or Avoidant.
Understanding your attachment style is going to help you find, keep and experience the joy of committed love. Let’s dive into each attachment style:
If you’re a bit of an anxious attachment style, you are going to crave a lot of closeness and intimacy with your partner. You are the type that falls hard and fast. You may also need to hear a lot of reassurance from your partner and feel very sensitive to your partner’s actions and moods. You tend to be an overthinker and worry that your partner will leave you.
With avoidant attachment, you have learned to rely on yourself and find that your sense of independence and freedom is more important than a partnership. You may find your partner too clingy or overly attached to you, which can cause you to pull back and retreat from the closeness you’ve created with them.
You may even engage in deactivation strategies, which cause you to look for flaws in your partner to create a justification as to why you should leave them or they are not for you.
With secure attachment, you are able to form loving and close relationships. You can trust others, and you’re comfortable with closeness and intimacy. You feel comfortable relying on your partner, and you also know how to enjoy time away from them. You have a strong sense of self.
How to slow down those feelings of attachment?
If you’re feeling really attached to your partner, you may wish to slow down and ask yourself if this is your anxious attachment talking.
- Are you taking care of yourself?
- Are you spending time with friends and family?
- Are you doing the things you enjoy in life?
If your answers to these questions are no, this is where you must start.
A strong foundation for healthy attachment is to make sure you are coming from a strong foundation yourself—a place of confidence and self-love. If you rely on getting all your love and affection from your partner, this is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for disappointment.
Slow things down if need be and reach out for support from friends and family. Work on developing positive habits and give yourself some love, kindness, and compassion. Start a meditation practice to slow down your racing thoughts and invite in security, calmness, and peace.
Dr. Bethany Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Author, “For What It’s Worth – A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting Ages 0 – 2“
Detaching oneself from someone else (regardless of whether you feel the relationship is healthy or toxic) is never easy. Sometimes people we really care about decide they don’t want us in their lives anymore, and we are forced to create an unwanted separation. Other times we are well aware that we are engaging in a toxic relationship, and we consciously want to detach and move on.
Regardless of the reason, you need to stop being emotionally attached to someone. Here are some concrete activities to help you onto the road of recovery and distance.
Write a list of “whys”
In moments of rational thinking, when you aren’t feeling emotionally triggered by the individual, write a list of objective reasons you need to move on.
Examples could be:
- “This person has done X to me repeatedly, which indicates a lack of respect.”
- “This person continually disregards my perspective and makes me feel foolish.”
- “This person decided they don’t want to date me anymore and won’t return my calls.”
Writing the list provides a quick “go to” reminder when you begin to become overwhelmed by feelings and memories.
Reading the list will help bring you out of the emotional center of the brain and back to your frontal lobes, where reason, logic, and understanding are housed.
Find someone/something to fill the void
Make a concerted effort to actively think about what/who can help fill the void created by the removal of this person in your life. If you don’t think about how you will fill the void, you more than likely will develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the emptiness you feel.
Even when we leave a toxic relationship, we are left with a “void” this person used to fill. You want to fill that space with healing and positive energy. Start mindfulness activities, get involved with yoga or meditation, or call up friends you’ve been neglecting and rekindle relationships, etc.
Buy nasty candy
Make the metaphor real! You’ve been left or left someone who wasn’t good for you, and you more than likely have bad taste in your mouth about them/relationships. One way behavior modification works is by creating and pairing positive and negative associations with the stimulus you’re modifying.
Long story short, when you think of this person, pop a nasty tasting candy in your mouth (black licorice, super sour candy, spicy candies, etc.).
Suck that candy as long as you’re thinking about this person. Force yourself to reframe negative thoughts and push through the emotional responses this person evokes. Spit the candy out when you’re functioning from a place of reason instead of feelings and/or no longer think about the person.
Wellness Coach | Founder, VP Exclusive
Recognize the void we want our partner to fulfill
Many people seek relationships expecting the other person to bring happiness into their lives. The truth is that no person can make you happy until you personally choose to be happy from within. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Emotional attachment comes from our need to fill a void within us. It’s often a reflection of the attention, love, support, and appreciation we craved as a child that we either lost or didn’t receive, typically from a parent, sibling or someone else important to us at the time.
The void comes from the disconnect between what your soul knows to be true and the emotions you’re experiencing. This disconnect causes us to attract a partner-like version of this persona in an effort to fulfill the void we craved then and still need now.
It’s our ego proving to ourselves that we are, in fact, worthy, but we’re seeking validation from a person who doesn’t feel that worth themselves and likely can’t love or treat us the way we need them to. And we go from relationship to relationship, attempting to find that lost part of ourselves.
It can be a long journey. That is why the beginning of a relationship seems magical, as both partners attempt to impress the other and make each other happy. However, sustaining this kind of dynamic can be extremely depleting for either individual, and we wonder why the other person has changed.
Here are the steps to free ourselves from emotional codependency:
- The first step is recognizing the void we want our partner to fulfill. Take a piece of paper and write down all the things and feelings you want and need from your partner. The more detailed you can get, the more this exercise will work.
- Identify where in your childhood this need is coming from. The quickest way would be to use a timeline therapy journey with an NLP practitioner, soul healer, or clinical hypnotherapist.
- Feel your emotions first. Let yourself feel the hurt from the neglect in childhood, then find a way to forgive the person for not being able to fulfill that need for you when you needed it. Write on a piece of paper everything you are forgiving them for; be detailed; then burn it.
- Once the emotional turmoil is cleared, you can begin to give yourself the very things you were looking for from your partner. If it’s attention, then take the time off to do things that bring you joy. If it’s gifts, then take yourself on a shopping spree, etc. Do that weekly to fill yourself up and build the muscle of being complete without a partner.
Another element is having a group of friends that you can interact with on a weekly basis without putting all the pressure on yourself to fill up your cup with love. Picking up new hobbies and things to learn are very beneficial for this step.
If the first four steps have been completed successfully, now you will be able to attract a partner that is as whole and complete as you are. And you can enjoy an interdependent relationship where you feel happy with them and without them.
Jeannine Rehberg, LMSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Jeannine Rehberg Counseling Services
Notice your triggers and eliminate them or prepare for them. Triggers are the body’s response or emotional response to something in the environment that will bring back a memory or emotion connected to the person that you are emotionally attached to.
So, in this instance, it may be a post on social media, running into them at the grocery store, or going to a place where you shared memory with them. It may be easy to eliminate such a trigger by not going to the shared place or blocking them on social media.
It may be more difficult if you work with them and see them on a daily basis.
If this is the case, then you can prepare for such a trigger by coming up with a game plan, such as trying to talk to another colleague at a meeting, taking breaks at different times than they do, etc.
Set boundaries and limits and stick to them
Boundaries are the personal rules we set for ourselves in personal relationships. Know your boundaries before entering into a situation.
So, if your boundaries include emotionally detaching from someone, your behaviors will reflect this. For example, people that are emotionally unattached do not speak to each other daily, spend time together daily, share intimate thoughts and feelings, and have parts of their lives that are shared.
The boundaries should be clear and concise with no wavering, especially when stopping being emotionally attached to someone.
Most people struggle with stopping these behaviors as they are a habit. Changing habits is hard, and most people don’t like change. However, if someone is serious about stopping the emotional attachment, they must stick to the boundaries they set for themselves at all times in all ways; only then can change occur.
Pareen Sehat MC, RCC
Registered Clinical Counselor, Well Beings Counselling
Emotional attachment can sometimes be harmful to your mental and physical well-being. When people leave or particular relationships end, it is often easier to let go of the individual, but emotional attachment is difficult to tackle.
When attachments begin to control our lives by influencing how we think and act, they become toxic. It is a red flag when our emotional attachments begin to dictate our choices and decisions.
There are several ways to stop becoming emotionally attached to someone:
Do not become engrossed in the realm of fantasy
It’s easy to fall into this trap when everything appears ideal and gorgeous at the outset of a relationship. You have this fantasy that your lover is wonderful in every aspect.
If you don’t recognize reality at this point and continue fantasizing, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise later on because you have to understand that the person is not a nice human and not good for you.
Don’t ignore the imperfections in your partner’s personality
Human people have both strengths and weaknesses. Your relationship is no different. Allowing the initial excitement of the connection to blind you to the negative aspects is a mistake. Keep your eyes wide open and be aware of the flaws. It will help you move on and heal on your terms.
Dr. Brenda Wade
Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Advisor, Online for Love
Stay true to yourself, do not change who you are for anyone, and do not lose your identity
- Identify the emotion and determine whether it is positive or negative.
- Be clear on what you want out of the relationship.
- Do not abandon people in your life that are important to you.
- Do not rush into a relationship. Relationships take time to mature, and rushing into a relationship with blinders on will only bring you sorrow.5. Be clear about what you need from the relationship (yes, need—not want). Be sure to re-evaluate this from time to time to make sure you are still on track.
- Stay true to yourself, do not change who you are for anyone, and do not lose your identity.
- Set boundaries.
- Open up about yourself only when you feel comfortable doing so and not because you have to.
- Make time for yourself outside of your relationship.
Relationships are never easy, but making sure your emotions are in check upfront and evaluating that over time will help build a strongly rooted relationship that is made to last over time.
Parenting Coach, Full Circle Hypnotherapy
We need to form an attachment to our authentic selves
Firstly, being emotionally attached to others is a healthy, normal human response. So, start there.
Accept that your attachment to someone is actually very normal. This is something that we all need from when we are tiny babies. We need our caregivers to give us all those things that equal attachment- love, care, attention, affection, being present, accepting of us exactly as we are, and more.
What happens when we don’t form healthy attachments as children
When we don’t get this as children, it creates a wound which may mean that we seek attachment from people who are not willing or able to fulfill that unmet need in us.
We almost seek out those people and magnetically draw them to us, as if we are trying to heal that initial wound and have them fulfill the role that our caregivers failed (this isn’t about blaming our caregivers, who may have done the best they can and may be playing out their own wounds).
Our behavior as an adult is a conditioned response from our childhood
The only reason we would want to stop being emotionally attached to someone is if they cannot give us what we want. The more we seek it, the more they will not be able to respond in the way we need (this may have happened to us in childhood; the more we behaved in ways to get attention, the more we were ignored, berated, or worse).
If you avoid this person or try to find some way to cut off ties with them, chances are another someone will be on their way to you (at first, they may appear very different from the previous one, but usually the story ends in the same way).
The first step, then, is to accept your response to your original wound as being very normal and that you are just seeking healing as an adult. Through rejection or indifference from someone of significance, we are then made aware of this need to heal.
Start gently with self-attachment
By beginning to love, accept and care for ourselves, we can start to heal this wound. By being fully present with all of our emotions, thoughts, feelings, and actions, without necessarily trying to change any of these, we show up in a way that doesn’t create additional abandonment.
When we hide, dismiss, or are in contempt of ourselves for needing others, we are abandoning our true selves and our desire to form healthy attachments. We need to form an attachment to our authentic selves and not shame ourselves for wanting to meet this very human need.
This may be very difficult for some, for how can we give ourselves that which was denied and never modeled to us? This is no mean feat!
So many people take other routes, short cuts, such as attaching themselves to food, alcohol, etc. However, life is often about coming back full circle, coming back home to ourselves. Start slowly, and the ride may be bumpy, but perseverance is the key; never giving up on yourself.
The amazing thing is that when we stop abandoning ourselves and become attached to all of us, especially those parts that have caused us to feel shame, guilt, or evoke feelings of failure, we start to form healthy attachments to others. Then, we no longer want to stop being emotionally attached to someone because we realize the freedom in healthy attachment.
Eileen Conroy, MSc
Former Therapist | Mental Health Writer, Find a Therapist
Focus on you
If you haven’t ever tried spending time by yourself, now is a prime opportunity. Go to the movies alone or take a solo hike in nature. Many people don’t like being left alone with their thoughts and depend on others for a distraction.
If this sounds like you, try and unlearn this habit by challenging yourself to some quality alone time. Learning how to genuinely appreciate being alone and becoming your own best friend is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.
Socialize with other people
That doesn’t necessarily mean dating someone else or jumping into another relationship. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to hold off on that – you don’t want to date someone else just as a distraction.
Reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while, or start having lunch with your mom once a week. Ask a couple of your co-workers to happy hour or join a MeetUp group – there are a ton of different groups on there, from hiking and board game enthusiasts to book clubs and food lovers who meet for dinner every month.
Learn something new
Try a new hobby, learn an instrument, or read a book on a subject you don’t know much about. Challenging yourself to evolve in this manner will help you unlearn your old habit of emotionally attaching to another and help you become comfortable standing in your own power.
Clinical Psychologist | Creativity Coach | Author
Let the emotions out of your system
Our emotional attachments to others can be difficult to let go of, whether this is in regards to romantic relationships or long-standing friendships. One strong way to begin the process of releasing our attachment is to write a letter to the person.
This does not have to be given to the individual, but in the letter, you are acknowledging what you are letting go of and why.
Let the emotions out of your system: the sadness, anger, frustration, but also some of the joy and love you experienced together. You can then choose to burn the letter or do something ceremonial with it.
Another thing one can do is also let go of gifts given by this person, letters, photographs, etc. After this is completed, reflect on how you want to feel after letting go of this individual.
Neuropsychologist and Owner, The Narcissistic Life
Cultivate your own identity
Often, when we become attached to someone, we embody their interests, personality, and daily routine. In a sense, we aim to mirror their identity. That’s why detachment often requires focusing on building your own sense of self. Take time to focus on how you can prioritize your needs and consider your personal passions and interests.
Detach on social media
It’s easy to feel attached to someone when you constantly know their whereabouts or life updates. Delete, unfollow, and consider blocking the person altogether. Finally, make your own information private- they don’t need to see what you’re doing, either.
Lean on your support system
Don’t isolate with your feelings. Aim to embrace people who can understand and validate your experience. Let them know your goal to detach and ask for help with their support when you need it.
Codependency may signify greater problems with low self-esteem, trauma, depression, or anxiety. Therapy can help you untangle some of these issues. Consider meeting with a licensed professional if you’re struggling.
Recovery & Mental Health Advocate, Rehab 4 Addiction
Create healthy boundaries
Emotional attachments can be healthy, keeping us close to the ones we love. On the other hand, these attachments can sometimes run rampant. For example, when a relationship ends, you find yourself unable to move on.
People become emotionally attached for many reasons. Perhaps they are highly sensitive and connect emotionally to people who make them feel things deeply. Or because they need emotional support that they believe only one person can provide.
Sometimes people become extremely attached to one another because they feel that they are the only people who understand one another. This can put a strain on a relationship and cause co-dependencies to form.
Creating healthy boundaries is the first step in stopping yourself from remaining emotionally attached to someone. If you know that you don’t want to be emotionally attached to a specific person, be clear about what you want from the relationship you have or their presence in your life.
Limit your contact both emotionally and physically can help you from forming a dependency
I also advise that if this is a constant problem in your life that you seek professional help. Forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals to examine why they become so easily attached to others.
Founder, Personality Max
Some ways you can stop being emotionally attached to someone include:
- Stop spending all of your time with them. The more time you spend with someone, the less likely you are to stop being emotionally attached.
- Start engaging in activities that don’t involve them. You should have a life that exists outside of a person. Your whole world doesn’t have to revolve around them, and engaging in activities that don’t involve them will help you lose the attachment.
- Spend more time with your family and friends. When you spend with family and friends, you come to realize that you have other people who love you and want to spend time with you.
- Find a new hobby. A hobby is the best way to keep yourself engaged and busy. When you indulge in your hobby, you find an attachment in something else that is not the person.
- Practice self-love. No one should love you better than you love yourself. You should give yourself all the love and attention that you want from that other person. This will help you stop being reliant or dependent on the other person.
- Keep yourself busy, especially when you find yourself turning to them. The busier you are, the less time you spend thinking of them.
- See a therapist if it becomes unbearable. If none of the above works, you should see a therapist, especially if it begins to affect your mental health.
Relationship Expert, My Ex Back Coach
Remember their unkind words, unmet needs, or inconsiderate actions
Though this isn’t an exercise that I suggest doing constantly, or even daily, remembering times when the other person hurt you is one way to decrease feelings of emotional attachment and closeness.
Remember their unkind words, unmet needs, inconsiderate actions, or feelings of rejection associated with this person.
When someone is trying to get over an ex, I often suggest that they make a list of as many of those past actions and events as they can remember, and whenever they start to feel that one-sided warmth toward the ex, to take out the list and go over it.
It isn’t pleasant to think about, but it can help someone feel less close to their ex and see through the romantic fog we often have where we think of someone as perfect.
Remember that you got through past breakups and were able to love again
Remember past relationships and breakups and how close you felt to that person or how difficult the breakup was. Remember that you got through it and were able to love again.
The takeaway from that is that you can recover again to love someone again just as you did before. A list of those past relationships and breakups to review can be mighty helpful as well.
Learn about limerence
Limerence is a common response and a chemically-induced state produced by your own brain when you feel that you are madly in love with someone. It is primarily fueled by dopamine and makes you experience emotional highs.
People experiencing limerence often say that they have “never felt this way before” and that there is simply something “magical” about their relationship with the one who they are with, who is scientifically referred to as the ‘limerent object.’
People are put into Functional MRI machines, and it is amazing to see their brains light up when they are shown a picture of their limerent object. In many ways, it is similar to drug addiction. The good news is, it most certainly fades.
Even if the relationship had remained intact, those intense feelings and emotions would fade in the near future. What is left from the ashes of limerence is commitment, companionship, and a feeling of family.
That is, unless the relationship ends and then you experience a type of withdrawal and either go into limerence with someone else or simply don’t receive the same high from the memory of your ex anymore.
After getting to the other side of limerence, many people even forget that they experienced such highs and will often again say, “I have never felt this way before,” about someone else in the future. So know that the pain you feel for this person isn’t because there was something magical between the two of you or because fate brought you together.
It’s just because your brain is wired to produce chemicals to motivate you to multiply the human species. It’s not nearly as romantic when you think about it that way, is it?
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to let go of emotional attachments?
Letting go of emotional attachment is important for several reasons:
• It allows you to focus on your needs and goals instead of constantly putting someone else first.
• It frees you from the negative emotions and behaviors that can arise from codependency, jealousy, and control issues.
• It opens you up to the possibility of new and healthy relationships in the future.
• It promotes personal growth and self-awareness, leading to a more fulfilling life overall.
Can I be friends with someone with whom I have an emotional attachment?
It’s possible to maintain a friendship with someone you’re emotionally attached to, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about your motives and boundaries. Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
• Do you genuinely enjoy spending time with this person, or are you hoping to rekindle the romantic relationship?
• Can you be happy for this person if they start seeing someone else?
• Are you able to set and maintain healthy boundaries in the friendship, such as limiting contact or avoiding certain topics of conversation?
• Does your friendship with this person keep you from moving on and forming new relationships?
If you decide to stay friends with someone with whom you have an emotional connection, it’s important to be open and honest about your feelings and boundaries. Make sure you agree on what the friendship means and what is and isn’t okay.
How long does it take to let go of an emotional attachment?
The process of letting go of emotional attachment is different for everyone, and there is no set timeline for how long it takes. Some people are able to draw a line relatively quickly, while others struggle with the pain for months or even years.
Factors such as the length and intensity of the relationship, the reasons for the breakup, and your personality and coping style can affect how long it takes to let go. The most important thing is to be patient and compassionate with yourself and trust that you will find healing in your own time.
How do I know if I’ve successfully let go of emotional attachments?
Letting go of emotional attachments is a gradual process, so it can be difficult to know when you have fully let go. However, here are some signs that you have successfully let go:
• You feel at peace with the breakup and no longer dwell on what went wrong.
• You’re able to think about the person without feeling a strong emotional reaction.
• You’re able to date and form new relationships without comparing them to a past relationship.
• You can focus on your goals and interests instead of constantly thinking about the other person.
• You’re able to be happy for the other person when they move on and form new relationships.
What if I still have feelings for the person I have an emotional attachment to?
It’s normal to still have feelings for the person you’re emotionally attached to after a breakup. However, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what those feelings mean and whether or not they’re healthy. Here are some questions to consider:
• Are you hoping to get back together with this person, or are you just nostalgic for the good times?
• Do you feel like you need this person in your life to be happy, or are you capable of finding happiness on your own?
• Are you willing to accept the other person for who they’re, including their flaws and imperfections?
• If you’re still struggling with your feelings, talking to a therapist or trusted friend may be helpful to gain clarity and insight into your feelings.
Remember that it’s okay to take time to heal and process your emotions, but it’s important that you don’t allow them to control your life or prevent you from moving forward.
Can emotional attachment develop in non-romantic relationships?
Yes, emotional attachment can develop in any type of relationship, whether it’s romantic or not. For example, you may feel emotionally attached to a close friend, a family member, or a mentor.
These relationships can be just as intense and difficult to let go of as romantic relationships. It’s important to be aware of your feelings and boundaries in any relationship and to practice healthy communication and self-care to live a balanced and fulfilling life.
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