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To the Person I Hurt Because of My Ambivalent Attachment Style

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To the person I hurt because of my ambivalent attachment style:


“Hey would you like me to drive you to your appointment?”
“Do you want some help with cleaning?”
“I could look that up for you!”


“Naw, I’m good.”


She was in fact not good.

I know the above scenarios have played out in our relationship, and its likely left you feeling confused, rejected or even hurt — I’m sorry. I know it regularly occurs, and I want you to know I don’t do it on purpose.

• What is PTSD?

To tell you the truth, as it’s happening I often don’t even recognize it. Sometimes after the fact, I do figure out I should have said yes, and I wonder why I didn’t.  Other times it sort of floats over my head like some insignificant small talk and I don’t even realize how my response could be hurtful.

I want to explain why this happens and offer some suggestions.

I have what’s called an ambivalent attachment style. The good news with that means that sometimes I do accept support, in fact I very much long for close and understanding connections. I can also get a little too attached! Sometimes I do say “yes” to your offers of help, and I can also be very helpful in return. I like the way this feels… until something inside of me doesn’t.

I have an ambivalent attachment style, due to having had past trauma. While I’ve not necessarily shared the details, you know that I’ve had difficulties in my life that gave me complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It’s all related.

I think if I could just describe that part to you, you may be able to understand my seemingly counterintuitive dismissals. This isn’t necessarily easy for me to talk about, and it’s probably not easy to read. Regardless, I’m willing to try to explain, and I hope you can try to understand.

As a young person experiencing trauma, I was also outright groomed into not speaking about it due to the threat that it was “all my fault,” “I’d get in trouble” and “I’d lose everything and everyone I knew.” I was very small, and I took those coercions quite literally.

Therefore I came to the conclusion that I should entirely reject close connections, because if I did open up about even the smallest details of my thoughts or emotions — I believed it could lead to me saying the things I didn’t want to say — which in turn, would in my mind, have shattering consequences. So I became very independent, and as you well know that continues to this day.

It was a painful way to live, and like any other child – trauma not withstanding — I had plenty of things I wanted to share and talk about. I didn’t though, and the longer I kept myself closed-off, the harder it got to attempt opening up.

I did eventually get help. In my early 20’s a large portion of my therapy sessions consisted of 40 minutes of me nonstop crying while attempting to share even the littlest bit of something. To say I’ve come a long way is an understatement.

Please try to be patient and compassionate with me. Try your best to understand that it’s not about you — it’s not that I don’t like you or trust you — this occurs inside of me in a way that is automatic. The irony is there is actually a very good chance our connection is getting stronger and better, and sadly that triggers me into a retreat.  I don’t mean to do it; my subconscious and my nervous system are trying to keep me safe. Please know this can come and go like waves.

The suggestion I’d like to share is that it can help to give me time to think about offers of assistance. If I don’t have time to think things over and if I feel that an immediate response is needed, there’s a good chance the automatic “no” will show-up.  I was once offered a trip fully paid — it came as a surprise, and I legitimately was about to say no — when I remembered perhaps I’d better ask for an hour or two to think about it. Which I did, and then I said yes. I share that example because I want to illustrate this shows up even in situations that should bring out an ecstatic yes.

You could start off with something like; “you don’t have to answer me right now or maybe you can decide in the morning.” This gives me time to catch up to the fact that we are in the present, I’m safe, and I do want your help.

Similarly it can be very comforting to me to see that I have choices and options. In that moment, it could be that one type of support feels like too much but another feels more manageable. Likewise it could be that I’m quite overwhelmed with symptoms that in my mind don’t mix well with being in the public or that I’m too tired to get dressed. Take into account that there could be multiple things going on in the background. And of course just like any average human, I may say “no” to things now and then for perfectly healthy reasons.

Try not to feel too discouraged and please don’t give up on me. I do need support and I want to connect with you. I didn’t obtain this form of attachment through accident, it was adaptive and it’s not my fault. I’ve been working very hard at this for a long time now, and will continue to do so. I do recognize the things you try to do for me, and even when I can’t accept them, I am grateful that you see me. It likely means more than you know.

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

Originally published: December 4, 2021
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