What Causes Someone to Be Clingy to a Loved One?

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Close relationships are vital not only for humans’ emotional and psychological well-being, but also for physical health, according to social psychology expert Rick Nauert, in an article for PsychCentral. In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, social connection is in the third slot, just behind biological needs such as food, and safety needs such as protection from the elements. However, many people view clinginess as too much of a good thing. In a healthy relationship, both partners have space to be themselves and pursue their own interests. A clingy partner can seem to be a bottomless pit of neediness, and can make even the most loving, attentive partner feel like running away.

Attachment Styles

In some cases, apparent clinginess is merely a difference in attachment styles. According to psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, your attachment style is the way in which you form bonds with other people. Secure attachment is a low-avoidance, low-anxiety style. People who securely attach feel good about themselves and others. They believe that connection is important but do not need a partner to complete them. Both dismissing-avoidant and fearful-avoidant people actively push others away. The difference is that dismissing-avoidant people see others as unworthy of their attention, while fearful-avoidant people see themselves as unworthy of love. Those with preoccupied attachment also see themselves as unworthy, but feel driven to make a connection. They require frequent validation from their partners. The further apart your attachment styles are, the more likely one person is to view the other as clingy.

Past Issues

Sometimes clingy behavior is driven by past experiences. Childhood trust issues, according to Dr. Mark Banschick in a Psychology Today article, sometimes drive neediness. Most children learn that when a parent leaves for a time, he always comes back. Abuse and neglect, as well as a long list of more mundane experiences, can prevent this lesson from taking hold. A child who suffered severe separation anxiety sometimes grows up to become an adult with abandonment fears.

Mental Health Disorders

In some relatively rare cases, clinginess can be indicative of a mental health disorder such as dependent personality disorder. If you or your loved one suffers from this disorder, the behavior will be far more extreme than ordinary clinginess. People with dependent personality disorder have difficulty making even mundane decisions without tremendous amounts of input from others. They turn over responsibility for their lives and are preoccupied with the fear of having to do things alone. If you are concerned about your symptoms or those of a loved one, seek advice from a qualified mental health professional.

Changing Behaviors

In many cases, clinginess becomes a habit. To change clingy behaviors, the person must first realize that the behaviors are a problem. You can point out these behaviors to your clingy partner, but make sure to do so in a loving, nonthreatening way. If you are the clingy one, make an effort to stop allowing your life to revolve around your partner. Nurture your friendships, hobbies and aspirations. Pay attention to your behaviors and consider how your partner might perceive them. Sometimes, the allegedly clingy partner is not the problem. Both people need to invest fully in the relationship for it to succeed. Sneaky, manipulative behavior, such as lying or avoiding the other person, tends to trigger clingy reactions in even the most secure partner. Fully assess both partners’ actions and relationship skills before placing the blame on either person.