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Is it love or attachment?

It’s a timeless question, one that most of us have asked ourselves at least once in our lives: Is it love? How do you know? Meeting someone new and starting a new relationship can be thrilling, exhilarating, and wonderful…as well as complicated, stressful, and downright nerve-wracking! In these uncertain times we are living in, many of us have found ourselves spending either more time (hello, lockdown!) or less time (locked down apart) with our partners than we might have otherwise expected. These situations can result in a closeness and bonding over shared challenges, or alternatively, force us to wonder whether our feelings are real or simply a result of our unprecedented circumstances. So, to help you answer the question ‘Is it love or attachment?’, we’ve put together a few things to keep in mind.

What is attachment?

Attachment refers to a deep and lasting emotional bond that connects one person to another. It is a fundamental aspect of human relationships and is particularly prominent in a parent-child dynamic. Attachments are formed through consistent and responsive interactions between caregivers and children, creating a sense of security and trust. The nature of these bonds play a crucial role in shaping an individual’s way of relating in other relationships in their life. These attachment experiences as children, influence how they perceive and engage with others throughout the rest of their lives, especially in their relationships with life partners.

The difference between love and attachment

Feeling a strong emotional bond with another person can indeed be love. Love and attachment are interconnected. But they have a distinct difference. So, is it love or attachment? It’s often hard to tell the difference.

For starters, attachment is a one-way, or ‘selfish’ feeling. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s selfish in a bad way (although it can be). What it means is that the feeling is self-centred, meaning that it’s about your own feelings, and fulfilling your sense of desire. Your attachment to chocolate isn’t echoed by the chocolate and isn’t done in the chocolate’s best interests. The same can be said for your attachment to your favourite television show, or your workout routine, or your favourite restaurant.

Love, on the other hand, is an emotion that is directed towards another person or thing. It is a positive feeling, which takes into account the needs of the object of your love. For example, you can feel love for your favourite football team; In that you want them to succeed, you know that your attendance to their games makes a difference to them, and that you feel their losses as your own. Romantic or platonic love for another person is a two-way street, where not only do they make you feel fulfilled, but you are also concerned with their fulfilment and needs. This can be a tricky concept to grasp, and more complicated than it sounds. So, lets delve into this idea further.

1. Need versus neediness

Your needs, and the needs of others, are valid and important requirements for our physical, emotional or spiritual wellbeing. Not only are they necessary for survival, they also make it possible to thrive and live a fulfilled and happy life. Neediness on the other hand, is a desperation. It’s insatiable, it’s not a two-way feeling, and it generally ends in despair. Attachment is based on neediness, not on meeting (or fulfilling for someone else) real needs

2. Attachment means sticking around when we know something isn’t right

Feeling attached to someone or something makes it hard to let go. In relationship terms, attachment means feeling a desperation to keep seeing a person, and being validated by that person, even when we know they’re not right for us. We may see red flags and warning signs everywhere, but as we’re having our desperation fulfilled (temporarily and superficially), it can be difficult to recognise these and make the decision to leave.

3. Love is freeing. Attachment is possessive

Being in love with someone is a liberating feeling that makes you feel empowered, confident, fulfilled, and stronger than ever. On the flip side, attachment can make you feel vulnerable, insecure, jealous, and desperate for someone. It gives you that sinking feeling in your stomach when you haven’t heard from them, rather than an ongoing feeling of joy, even when you’re not with someone, like love does.

4. Attachment doesn’t mean they’re bad for you

Whilst attachment isn’t the same thing as love, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is bad or wrong for you. We can form attachments for all sorts of reasons, including a deep-seated neediness we’ve held for many years. For anyone who’s struggled with abandonment, with insecurity, or low self-esteem, attachment can be very powerful. Having an attachment to someone is more about you, and your relationship with yourself, than it is about the other person. If attachment is something you’re feeling, taking a look into your own thoughts, beliefs and behaviours is important. Seeing a counsellor can be incredibly helpful in uncovering your reasons for certain attachments and help uncover the basis behind recurring patterns in your life.

5. Just because it’s not love now, doesn’t mean it won’t be

Just because you’re feeling attachment instead of real love for someone now (especially if things are new) doesn’t mean that love isn’t around the corner. It’s very easy to become attached to someone, but by being honest with ourselves about our real needs, the suitability of our partner, and our desire to fulfil their needs, it can indeed turn into the real deal.

6. Attachment feels hard. Love takes real work

Finally, although attachment feels hard (you’re never quite sure of yourself, you feel torn up about things, you’re insecure), love develops over time, takes real work, and is incredibly rewarding. You might fight with your partner, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love them. Love means having equal concern for your loved one and their needs – not simply fulfilling their needs to make them stay.

We’ve all wondered at one point ‘is it love?’, whether for ourselves, or for friends or family in new relationships. Love is a wonderful thing that adds joy to our lives. Attachment, although something that we all feel, can instead detract from our lives and cause us emotional distress. If you’re wondering, ‘is it love or attachment?’ it’s time to sit down and have a talk about it. Get it touch today to speak with an experienced, non-judgemental, and objective counsellor who can help you uncover the truth.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen