‘Acting Out’ = Attachment Behavior in Disguise?

Last evening was one of ‘those’ evenings. I didn’t really know why, but I found myself picking fights with mom and dad, deliberately tried to drive especially mom up the walls, was clingy and hostile at the same time and basically did my best to cause chaos and be a nuisance.

Now you see, my mom has two ways of reacting to that. One is that she acknowledges the behavior and my feelings and keeps doing what she’s doing. The other is that she stops what she’s doing, calls me on the behavior and we end up sorting it out. Trouble is: I really hate both ways when I’m in this mood.

When I am in this mood, I aim for drama and escalation and people finally showing their “true colors” and mirroring my feelings of chaos and dissatisfaction. So what I aim for would look something like this:


Me: You’re doing that wrong, don’t do that wrong!

Mom: I’m not doing that wrong.

Me: Yes, you are! Do it right!

Mom: Lola, only because it’s not the way you want it, it’s not wrong! Things don’t always go like you want them to!

Me: No, things NEVER go like I want them to! Nobody ever considers me! I hate you! You’re despicable and a shit mother!

Mom: That’s no way to speak to me, you’re hurting my feelings! Go to your room!

Me: Your fucking feelings don’t matter to me! You hate me, that’s what! I’m done being your daughter!


Only that’s never what happens. Which is really, really good, mind you, but I hate it while I’m in those terrible moods. Anyway, what really happens is either:


Me: You’re doing that wrong, don’t do that wrong!

Mom: I’m sorry you’re feeling like it’s the wrong way.

Me: No, you’re not sorry! You just don’t care.

Mom: Now that’s hard, feeling like I don’t care.

Me: Go fuck yourself. (And I retreat, because I am annoyed that she’s so damn unwilling to fight with me. 😉 )


Or it ends like this:


Mom: Honey, you sound like you’re in a really unpleasant mood.

Me: I’m not in a bad mood, you just suck, that’s what!

Mom: I think we should go and find ourselves a nice calm spot to figure out what’s annoying you so.

Me: I don’t want to go anywhere!

Mom: That’s alright. Here’s as good a place as any. What’s bothering you?

Me: That you are doing it wrong!

Mom: How come that’s so difficult for you today, that I’m not doing it the way you think is right?

Me: ‘Cause it’s WRONG! Don’t you listen to me or are you really this stupid?

Mom: You sound like you are really this upset, Baby, that’s what I hear.


Can you see how it’s not exactly edifying to pick a fight with my mom? My attempts to insult her fall flat, all it gets me is mom being nice and concerned about how I feel. And she’s not just saying nice things with a sarcastic tone or something, she actually means it. I have no clue how she does it. But so much for spreading drama. Anyway, that’s how we ended up talking last night. I had been holding myself together pretty well after feeling like I had suddenly lost myself. I had been waiting it out, tried to brave it and stay optimistic. But it had taken a toll on me and suddenly I found myself crying, wanting for everything to just be okay again. And we ended up figuring out that that was probably why I had ended up picking fights and trying to drive everyone crazy: to show how I was feeling, to alert my family to my misery and to get someone to do something about it, because I was getting to the end of what I could cope with.

Mom pointed out to me that this is attachment behavior: Seeking comfort and help when I can’t cope, wanting to connect with someone to make it better. Misguided attachment behavior, because it seemingly aims at the opposite, at distancing me from everyone, ruining the relationship and upsetting who I love, but deep down attachment behavior nonetheless.

That got me thinking. At least once I had calmed down again. I think there really is a bit of truth in what she said. When I think of the times when I act out, it’s almost always a misguided way of communicating how my feelings to others, an attempt to cue them into doing something, to make something happen that I hope to be helpful, even when there is some really twisted thinking underneath it all. The message is still: “Look, I’m not well, do something, change it”. That IS attachment behavior, in a way.

So what the next step would probably be: applying that knowledge. I mean if it’s attachment behavior, then it’s probably a good idea to find a less misguided way to say “Look, I’m not well, can you help me?” than to try and pick a fight and cause chaos. At least in theory. In practice, how do I get from attachment behavior in disguise to open attachment behavior when I’m emotionally upset and feel like spreading chaos? I have no idea. But I hope a little awareness for what’s really going on is going to at least help a bit.

Confusing. But I’m a little better today.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lostservice22
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 16:01:45

    you cannot do anything about a problem until you admit it is there. that is the first step with dealing with any issue. You may not know yet what to do about it but at least now you are trying to be aware of it.
    I know this last year I have been dealing with similar issues. my boyfriend called me on picking a fight just to fight. and you know what he was right because that was the kind of interaction i had been used to for years with my ex husband. I can’t say we have not had any fights since he pointed this out to me but I do know that I have been much more aware of why I am fighting with him and even if I do start a fight I quickly find the real reason for my anger or hurt and most of the time it is not his fault or my fault and all I really want is affection.
    since you are trying and working on this problem it will get better it will just take time. I know that sucks as advice but at least it is a future worth working for.

    • Lola
      Jan 23, 2013 @ 16:14:51

      Thankfully I’m very much aware it’s there and it’s a problem I need to work on. I wish I knew why instead of admitting openly to wanting help and comfort and affection, I pick a fight instead. I mean I guess it’s perfectly normal to want reassurance and comfort and all that, but when this urge to pick a fight overcomes me, I just want to be destructive instead.

      I’m glad you find it easier now to find the real reason for your hurt and anger and realize that what you actually want is affection. That gives me hope. 🙂

  2. nobodysreadingme
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 16:42:17

    I used to have a girlfriend who was firmly convinced it was all going to end anyway, so she’d pick fights just to be able to say ‘See? Told you this was all crap.’

    • Lola
      Jan 23, 2013 @ 17:01:54

      *whistles and looks the other way*

      What can I say… I am quite familiar with the sentiment. That’s kind of my reason for picking fights, too. To force my mom to show how much she sucks and how much our relationship really sucks, because in those moments I’m afraid that it’s true. I’m aware I’m doing it and that it’s unhealthy, though. Even when I can’t stop myself in the situation. But maybe this fear that maybe the whole relationship IS crap after all, maybe that’s what’s keeping me from being a bit more direct about the comfort and affection that I really want, even when it doesn’t seem that way while I’m at it. Hmmm… food for thought. Thanks.

  3. prideinmadness
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 17:17:47

    Ha ha ha! I laugh because I can relate! My partner is always saying, “I tried to talk to you the way you said and you still freaked out!” And then I pause and swear to myself because it’s true. When I’m in a rage I will hate everything you do.

    There is probably some or a lot of attachment behaviour in my own rages. It is extremely misguided and even though I know this and have strategies I usually first go straight to the fuck you, i hate you, you hate me but please make me feel better, make what I’m feeling stop because I can’t. EXHAUSTING! I still try to just not get angry but that’s impossible.

    • Lola
      Jan 24, 2013 @ 05:58:27

      When I’m wound up to the point of being upset, I also go down the destructive route first and so far find myself unable to get off it. Until something clicks in my head and then I’m all “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it, please don’t hate me, I’m so horrible”. Lots of reassurance and relationship-strengthening later, I’m fine again. I wish I knew how to figure out how to go straight to that, but there seems to be something in the experience of going through the anger that I can’t just skip. Confusing. :-/

      • prideinmadness
        Jan 24, 2013 @ 15:54:41

        It’s going to be tough but it can happen. I did it this morning so I know it’s possible :p The problem I then find is at times hen my anger is controlled I feel like I’m giving in. This may require constant navigation and effort but you gotta do what you gotta do.

        • Lola
          Jan 24, 2013 @ 19:40:45

          Yessss, giving in!! That’s exactly how just backing down would feel to me, too, so I keep on being nasty instead of just giving in! Gosh, I wish I would be able to see that there’s not really anything to win or lose in those situations. :-/

          • prideinmadness
            Jan 25, 2013 @ 03:32:42

            But there is! We create that! It’s probably a type of self sabotage or something. The reality is, even if we do “lose” it’s not the end of the world and it shouldn’t always be about winning.

            • Lola
              Jan 25, 2013 @ 08:01:24

              That’s true. It’s not like we really win much if we win anyway. A strained relationship doesn’t seem like that much of a win of to me, at least. LOL (But of course I see that way differently while I’m angry.)

            • prideinmadness
              Jan 25, 2013 @ 14:11:01

              But I still love winning lol no matter how small it is :p

            • Lola
              Jan 25, 2013 @ 14:39:07

              I think that’s the problem with me, too. Can’t stand the thought that the other person might win when I’m in that mood. I’m all like “no, I won’t give you the satisfaction!!!”.

  4. AmendaT (@AmendaT)
    Feb 11, 2013 @ 11:43:35

    I think I understand that to a certain extend. Once, I told someone dear to me that I’m only angry at those I love. It’s true, in a sense. I don’t feel the need to be angry with those I don’t care somehow. Weird, I know 😉 So I tend to be a rather peaceful person when I’m with strangers or distant acquaintances but in truth I have quite a fiery temper. That’s how I sometimes ended up hurting those I love instead of loving them, in a verbal way. I’m very grateful that they didn’t take it badly though. It’s hard for the lepord to change it’s spots but I’m determined to paint them into strips 😀

    • Lola
      Feb 14, 2013 @ 09:26:13

      I can relate very well to that! And while I agree that it’s hard for the leopard to change its spots, just look at animals like the arctic fox who can go from brown to snow white! It’s got to be possible to go from spots to stripes then! 🙂

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