Dear 100 Hour Board,
I would describe my attachment style as “secure.” Unfortunately, I seem to attract friends whose attachment style is “insecure” or “anxious.” I am able to maintain healthy friendships with most people I meet, but the ones with insecure attachment styles need an ending supply validation and reinforcement. Often, they do not respect the boundaries I set for my own mental health (I can only hang out once a week. If you want to hang out, you can’t show up at my door-you need to call me in advance. If I tell you I can’t hang out, that means you can’t come over to my house. I like to spend evenings with my spouse, so please do not “surprise kidnap” me and try to take me out to eat. Etc.) I am unable to keep up with their demands for my time and energy. I often end these friendships because I feel smothered. I feel bad because I know this only reinforces their anxiety, but I don’t know what to do.
How can I stop attracting people with insecure attachment styles?
If any readers are unfamiliar with attachment theory, go ahead and follow the link. It's helpful to know especially when you're in college, making friends and trying to date. Here's how I think it works.
1) Attachment to other people invariably requires risk or uncertainty.
2) That often inspires anxiety, especially in individuals who are prone to insecurity.
3) Aside from a healthy or secure attachment style, attachment styles describe how a person might manage or respond to that anxiety.
An avoidant attachment style tends to withdraw, remain aloof, avoid attachment even if they like the person. An anxious preoccupied style might hyper-focus, need reassurance, and freak out when you don't text them right away. We might more readily associate insecurity with anxious preoccupied behavior, but it's important to recognize that both anxious and avoidant come from a place of insecurity. They are both attempts to control what can't be controlled (the behavior and feelings of other people).
Having offered my understanding of attachment theory, I want to also add my disclaimer. There's a lot of nuance in attachment theory. It is most effective as a set of terms we can use to describe behavior in a given moment. That is to say, we can't hold people to one attachment style. People will exhibit different styles at different times in their life, or at the same time in response to different situations and feelings. Sometimes one person will bring out certain aspects of another person's attachment patterns.
Now for the advice:
I think it's pretty simple, just hard and frustrating in practice. You're going to have to discourage them, but only to the level of their intrusion. I think most of us are trying to avoid afflict any unnecessary pain, and so when we don't want to see someone we match our rejection to the request. If we're not on close terms or they're asking us to do something very casual, we just say we're busy. If we're busy enough times, some people pick up on that and stop asking. But sometimes that's not enough, and your level of rejection has to escalate. That doesn't mean it needs to be any more harsh, but it does need to be increasingly clear. If they don't make an effort to respect your corrections, your obligation to their feelings decreases. The scale goes all the way from "Hey, I'm really busy and I'd like you to call first." to saying "I don't want to see you, don't come back here again." all the way up to "I'm getting a restraining order, this behavior is threatening." Is this making sense? Basically, be nice but be safe. Escalate if you have to.
Convincing discouragement often requires good micro-communication. This is such an important skill for finding trustworthy friends, keeping yourself safe, being a safe person for other people, and being an empathetic friend. It's the ability to read an individual, assess their intentions and mood, and then respond to that assessment through body language, tone, and word choice. It's a series of subtle red- and green- lights. The way you worded your question suggests some unknown vibe that draws insecure attachment styles to you. If that is happening, it's a communication occurring on this micro level that you aren't aware of. I think a lot of those subconscious communications are borne in attitude. So perhaps try to assess yourself, what attitudes you hold that might be welcoming to these types of people, and how that might be communicated subliminally. I don't mean that any of it is your doing, just there might be some opportunity for control in the future.
If you're reading people right, you can sense their attachment style early on and adjust your social cues accordingly. This could help insecure attachment style individuals understand expectations from the start.