If you are one of those people who really, really hates it when your loved ones have to leave, whether for weeks or days or minutes, you may be interested in a piece in today's Wall Street Journal that deals with the topic of separation anxiety in adults. Remember the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme that was so popular a few months ago, so head-slappingly hilarious? There's a kernel of truth in it, apparently. As we had suggested back then, albeit humorously, we all have different "attachment styles." And, per the researchers, people do range in their attachment styles, which emerged as evolutionary processes. These styles, as reported by Elizabeth Bernstein, are secure, anxious, or avoidant. Only one of them is the one you want to have.
The majority of us (a full 55 percent) are secure, fortunately—"warm, loving and comfortable with intimacy." We probably had OK parental figures, got a decent amount of nurturuing, weren't admonished for being insecure or needy, and, hence, aren't too terribly anxious when our loved ones go away for the short or medium-term. But the other 45 percent of people have "a sometimes problematic attachment style, meaning they are anxious, avoidant or a combination," per psychologist Hal Shorey. As usual, you can blame Mom and Dad for your ills. You can also blame the Internet (we can always blame the Internet!). Bernstein points out that these anxious and attached feelings may be heightened with the potential for omnipresent interconnectivity. We get used to constant check-ins and a digital kind of relationship monitoring, and the more we get, often, the more we want and expect. Who hasn't waited for a text or phone call or email thinking, It's not like the person I'm waiting to hear from is out of range or in another country (or even if he/she is!), why haven't I gotten a message already?
That sort of annoyed anticipating and impatience, though, is different from the worries that Bernstein's sources felt, which may be largely involuntary: "When we are scanning for signs of danger in a relationship—such as abandonment—our brain often can't distinguish between a real or imagined risk, Dr. Shorey says. The brain structure that picks up on threats, the amygdala, triggers the release of adrenaline faster than the thinking part of the brain, the cortex, can analyze the threat." Even if you know you shouldn't feel or behave the way you do, anxiety in those cases is an automatic response. You can't, exactly, help it.
Bernstein shares the stories of some full-grown adults who evidence the troubling sorts of attachment. Robert Sollars, 51, "feels nauseated and finds it hard to concentrate" when his wife leaves for anything more than her night job at a local hospital. Before she leaves, he hovers, she gets annoyed, and they tend to fight. After she leaves, he's flooded with worries that something bad will happen to her. Meanwhile, 45-year-old Rosita Alvarez feels fear when her phone rings that she's going to get bad news about her kids, and has worked out a "separation ritual" for Sundays when her boyfriend leaves after a weekend.
On the plus side, missing people is, the researchers say, a good thing, when it's not taken to extremes. There's that whole thing about "making the heart grow fonder," for one, and, indeed, people who missed their partners were, according to the scientists, "more committed to the relationship, worked harder to take care of it and avoided damaging behavior such as cheating." That's not so bad. Also an up side: Comfort in adult numbers. It's not just little kids going to camp who experience such anxieties. These are real things, and if you feel them you are not crazy; that's always a bit soothing to know. If you see yourself exampled by the problematic attachment styles above, read the tips Bernstein provides—that old nugget of wisdom about staying busy to distract yourself turns out to be rather true. Because, at the end of the day or the long weekend, "your partner hasn't forgotten you—he or she might simply be busy." Whew.
Image via Shutterstock by Serenethos.