We don’t just want to be loved. We need it. Yet, love can hurt more than any form of pain–especially when it comes to attachment wounds.
An attachment wound can occur early in life as a result of attachment trauma or can happen in an adult relationship if you feel as though your partner lets you down when you really need them.
Attachment wounds can shake our foundations, making us question our inner beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world. But despite the impact attachment injuries can have, it’s reassuring to know that we can heal from an attachment wound.
To answer all of your questions on attachment wounds, this article will cover:
An attachment wound—also known as an “attachment injury”—is a breakdown or disruption in an intimate relationship, often caused by the feeling of being betrayed or abandoned. It relates closely to attachment trauma, as attachment wounds occur as a result of experiencing attachment trauma in childhood. However, the two differ, as attachment trauma is the continual disruption of an early attachment bond, whereas attachment wounds typically involve a single event.
But attachment wounds don’t only stem from childhood. It’s possible to experience an attachment wound in adulthood, too. Usually, such attachment wounds occur in adult relationships when one person betrays the trust of the other, or deserts them in times of need.
In adulthood, attachment injuries are particularly common in romantic relationships because of the intensity of the emotional connection and trust between partners. It’s important to understand that perception factors into the formation of attachment wounds: If one person perceives that the other has betrayed their trust or left an important need unmet–even if the other person doesn’t see it this way–the attachment wound will likely still develop.
There’s no one way an attachment wound can occur in a relationship. Many events may lead to an attachment wound. Some common examples are:
It’s important to note that these experiences will feel different for everyone. Infidelity, for example, might be an extremely painful attachment wound for some, but perhaps not for others. Rather than being about the painful event, attachment wounds are more about whether the person perceives them to be significantly damaging to the attachment bond.
The partner’s reaction also has a large impact on the attachment wound the injured partner experiences. For example, if they are remorseful, apologize, and share a genuine reason for acting in a hurtful way or not being able to be present (whether emotionally, physically, or both), this may alleviate the intensity of an attachment wound. However, if the partner withdraws from or avoids talking about the incident, this could exacerbate the hurt and betrayal the injured partner feels.
The way someone experiences an attachment injury may depend on their prior attachment experiences. For example, if the injured partner is insecurely attached, this may increase the distrust and distress they feel towards other people. In contrast, if the injured partner is securely attached and previously experienced a secure bond with their partner, an attachment wound could potentially spark the very beginning of a relationship breakdown.
However, there appear to be some commonly occurring causative and resulting symptoms that many people with an attachment wound face, including:
At this point, it’s important to distinguish attachment injuries from the normal highs and lows of relationships. Attachment injuries don’t occur simply because you don’t spend enough time together or if you do more chores than your partner. We can think of attachment injuries like relationship traumas—they are deeply painful experiences that harm the attachment bond between two people because the basic needs of the partner to be supportive, responsive, and attentive aren’t met.
Healing from an attachment wound takes time, patience, and perseverance—it won’t happen overnight. But the journey is well worth it. By following these three ways to heal from an attachment wound, you can improve your attachment security and keep your relationship strong and healthy.
Let’s think of attachment wounds as a physical injury for a moment. What’s the first thing you do after you injure yourself? If it’s a cut or graze, you’d clean it up and put a bandaid on it. If it’s a break or dislocation, you’d go and get it checked out by a doctor. You’d take care of yourself to ensure you heal—our response to an attachment wound should be the same.
Attachment wounds can hurt us, leave us feeling low, and significantly impact our self-esteem and confidence. Therefore, after any attachment wound, prioritizing self-care is vital. Self-care for an attachment injury may not look the same as it would for a physical one. However, the basic premise is the same. Examples of self-care are:
These self-care practices will nourish your mind and body and may give you the headspace you need to process and reflect on your attachment wound so that you can move on.
If you’ve experienced an attachment wound, practicing healthy relationship habits is more important than ever. Continuing the physical injury metaphor—if you don’t put a bandaid on a cut or graze, you run the risk of hurting that same area again. When you bandage it up, you protect it from infection and from further injury.
The same can be said for attachment wounds. If you take the necessary care, you’re less likely to reopen the wound and harm it further. While self-care is a fundamental part of this, so is practicing healthy relationship habits.
Open communication creates emotional safety in a relationship, allowing you both to express your thoughts, feelings, and worries without feeling further judged or injured. Creating emotional safety through open communication also enables you to share your deep-seated insecurities and vulnerabilities, which can further strengthen your bond and help you resolve conflict in healthier ways.
Additionally, trust is an essential relationship foundation to rebuild after an attachment wound, as it will likely have taken a hit when the injury occurred. You and your partner can improve trust in your relationship by sticking to your word, keeping your promises, and using your actions to demonstrate your trustworthiness. Remember, actions speak louder than words when it comes to trust.
And finally, set clear boundaries. Boundaries are a vital feature of any relationship but play a particularly important role after someone has experienced an attachment wound. The reason for this is because boundaries help to make the relationship feel predictable (in a good way)–ensuring that everyone in the partnership feels safe. What’s more, boundaries make people feel more comfortable in the knowledge that their personal limits will be respected.
Attachment wounds can stop couples in their tracks and block any more new, positive interactions happening. When this occurs, it can be difficult (but certainly not impossible) to come to a resolution without professional help.
A counselor or therapist can help you explore the extent of the damage to the relationship from an attachment injury and also address deep-seated attachment issues that may stem from childhood. Furthermore, a couple’s therapist could support you and your partner to better understand each other’s perspective and improve your communication skills so that you can practice all of the healthy habits we talked about above.
If you’ve been deeply hurt in a relationship, chances are you experienced an attachment wound. Many scenarios can cause an attachment wound in adulthood, such as infidelity or a lack of support from your partner. However, the extent of the damage these experiences cause may depend on your attachment style and your partner’s response to your pain.
It’s important to know that, no matter how much pain you’re feeling right now, you can heal from an attachment wound. Putting yourself first with self-care and practicing healthy relationship habits so you don’t experience further injuries can help to heal attachment wounds. And if you need a helping hand, seeking guidance from a licensed mental health professional will help get you back on the mend.
Remember, you couldn’t control the hurt, but you can control what you do about it.
Andriopoulou, P. (2021). Healing attachment trauma in adult psychotherapy: The role of limited reparenting. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 23(4), 468–482.
Halchuk, R. E., Makinen, J. A., & Johnson, S. M. (2010). Resolving attachment injuries in couples using emotionally focused therapy: A three-year follow-up. Journal of couple & relationship therapy, 9(1), 31-47.
Johnson, S. M., Makinen, J. A., & Millikin, J. W. (2001). Attachment injuries in couple relationships: a new perspective on impasses in couples therapy. Journal of marital and family therapy, 27(2), 145–155.
Human Performance Resources by Champ. (2020, March 2). Overcoming attachment injury and move forward stronger. Uniformed Services University.