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Anxiously Attached and Finding the Love You Want

Here are the steps to finally heal and stop pursuing avoidant partners.

Key points

  • There are clear reasons that anxiously attached people are attracted to those who are more avoidant.
  • You can learn to stop projecting your experiences of the past onto current relationship partners.
  • Learn action steps you can take to heal your past wounds and find love in relationships.
  • It will be easier to find the love and support you want from others after learn to find it within yourself.

You are sitting there wondering what could have gone so wrong… again. Maybe this time, you really thought it would be different. The new person you met was great: attractive, fun, kind, and interesting. You were a bit gun-shy going into the first couple of dates, having been let down before.

If you have an anxious attachment style, you might even have done your homework and realized that you seem to be attracted to unavailable, avoidantly attached people. You also know that you can be sensitive and so you were being careful not to be too forward or eager. But then they started backing off, not returning a text soon enough, acting excited and then going silent for days, not seeming that interested in your day or activities but eager to share their own. And you didn’t think you pushed too hard. But here you are again, about to give up on relationships or dive back into the online dating pool.

Are you ready to be done with this pattern? Many people keep pursuing unavailable partners because they have a magical, often unconscious, belief that if they can get this person to love them, it will make them whole and erase their wounds from childhood. Try healing the original wound instead of attempting to find your reprieve in a romantic partner.

And how do you find the original wound?

  • Backtrack your felt emotions. If you are emotionally activated, center in on the physical aspect of the feeling (like the ache in your heart area or the vacuum feeling in your solar plexus). Remember other times you have had this feeling. Follow the memories as far back as you can, preferably to childhood.
  • Accept the memory you settle on as a “representative memory.” Don’t worry if it is accurate or not because most memories are not totally accurate anyway. We are not looking to prove an external set of facts here or how bad it really was. What we are looking for is the core theme that is impacting your present-time emotions and behaviors. So, accept what comes up for you.
  • Give a name to the core message or theme that you derived from that wound.

Examples of themes, original wounds, and core conflicts:

  • I’m invisible.
  • I’m not special and don’t matter.
  • I’m a bad person.
  • I’m fat and ugly.

Where did the wound come from?

If you feel invisible, you may have taken a backseat in childhood to a (or multiple) more needy, vocal, or sick sibling(s). If you feel that you are not special and don’t matter, then you may not have been celebrated while you witnessed celebratory accolades being showered on others. If you are flooded with guilt and think you are a bad person, you may have been made to be responsible for your parents’ emotions and been scripted into a caretaker role. If you feel fat and ugly, you may have been pervasively shamed by a parent who made a habit of commenting on your body or appearance.

A central theme in all of these wounding scenarios is not having been seen for who you are by your parent. They didn’t see how special, deserving of love and affection, or talented you were. They didn’t see how much joy and happiness you could have, so they did not reflect these things back to you.

Peter Fonagy, a pioneer and expert in the field of attachment and mentalizing, asserts that when we feel an emotion, what we are really experiencing is the memory of our parents looking at us when we were young children… and us seeing our reflection in their eyes (that they got us and our experience). If they did not see us (denying, ignoring) or if they did not share in our joyful experiences (most babies smile and laugh) and reflect that in their faces, then we may struggle to find that experience within ourselves as adults. By extension, we may spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find ourselves reflected in the eyes and faces of our romantic partners.

We may be continually looking for proof that we are valued, that we are seen and not invisible, that we are special and worthy of being celebrated, and that we are good people and can be viewed as attractive and desirous. But what we tend to see (if we have an insecure attachment style) are our memories of the faces of our attachment figures from childhood—faces that say we are not understood, valued, wanted, or celebrated… faces that say our connections are tenuous and that we may not be able to count on them to meet our needs for love and care.

So, we need to find new faces that will reflect our true value and worth. But since we project our memories of the past onto the new faces we see in the present, we need to go back to the past to find a face that will consistently and unconditionally reflect that we are loved and valued. So, what do you do now?

Healing the original wound:

Build new memories of being loved using your imagination. If you can come to see that loving face looking back at you clearly, you will remember it. If you remember it, you will feel and perceive more love and acceptance from others. Here is what to do:

  1. Get a picture of yourself in young childhood, preferably from before the more significant wounding happened.
  2. Look at that picture and develop a sense of love for that child. If you can’t bring yourself to love the child yet… then see if you can be willing to find love for the child.
  3. Imagine meeting your child. You can look at this as daydreaming on purpose. Remember that your emotional system doesn’t know the difference between what you imagine and what is real. So, imagine the meeting as if it were real. Find your child sitting on a log in a park, or in your old treehouse, or in your childhood bedroom. Be in your adult body in your daydream and imagine introducing yourself to the child. Tell them that you are their future self who has come to love, adore, and take care of them. Feel the love and compassion on your face as you look at the child and the child looks back at you. Let the child learn to trust in your love and gentle-loving-kindness.
  4. Provide a new message that counters the original wound and resulting core belief. Say, “I see you. You are not invisible to me.” “You are beautiful and lovable.”
  5. Practice! One encounter probably won’t be enough if your inner child is distrusting and hasn’t been in contact with you for a long time (if ever). Do your imaginal exercise regularly… and don’t stop doing it the second you start feeling better. This just tells the child that you are as insincere and inconsistent as the rest of the adults they have met.

You will never find the love and support you want to see in the eyes of another until you can find it within yourself.


Jain, F. A., & Fonagy, P. (2020). Mentalizing Imagery Therapy: Theory and Case Series of Imagery and Mindfulness Techniques to Understand Self and Others. Mindfulness, 11(1), 153–165.

Hestbech, A. M. (2018). Reclaiming the Inner Child in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: The Complementary Model of the Personality. American Journal of Psychotherapy (Association for the Advancement of Psychotherapy), 71(1), 21–27.

Bradshaw, J. (1992). Homecoming : reclaiming and championing your inner child. Bantam Books.

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