What Causes Someone to Be Clingy to a Loved One?

Anxious fear can be one of the reasons people are clingy toward loved ones.
... Marili Forastieri/Photodisc/Getty Images

Clinginess is typically off-putting, but there are many reasons why people cling to others. Clingy people may fear that others will abandon them, or they may have a relatively innate and resilient attachment style that manifests in clingy behavior. Regardless of where this type of behavior comes from, learning about it helps you better relate to clingy relatives or partners. When you know the possible causes, you can then use that knowledge as a stepping stone to helping others overcome clingy behavior and relate to people in healthier ways.

1 Attached at the Hip

People who are clingy towards loved ones may have a particular attachment style. Those who have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style tend to look for others to make them whole. In what relationship and parenting expert Lisa Firestone calls an "emotional hunger," people with this attachment style seek safety through being clingy, according to an article in "The Huffington Post" entitled "Is Your Attachment Style Hurting Your Relationship?" When they use this clingy behavior, they create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their clinginess may push others away, leading to increased feelings of insecurity, thus spurring on more clingy behavior.

2 Scared Without a Security Blanket

Fear is a strong motivator, and when tied to loss or abandonment, it explains why some people are clingy. Being afraid of losing important intimate relationships is reasonable, but clingy behavior may indicate fear that extends past this reality. In the "Psychology Today" article "Clingy Intimacy," Mark Banschick, M.D., who authored "The Intelligent Divorce" series of books, points to the reality that trauma in childhood can resurface in later relationships. This process leads to some people becoming more clingy out of an effort to avoid abandonment. For instance, a girl may have lost important family members as a child, so when the fear of abandonment arises later with friends, she may try harder to keep them close out of fear of losing them.

3 Poor Boundaries

Someone's clinginess may come from a poor awareness of boundaries. There are many different ways that boundaries manifest for people, but those with poorer boundaries tend to find themselves enmeshed with others. Clingy people under this umbrella may feel as though it is okay to be attached to others most or all of the time. Without attachment to others, these people may feel anxious or lonely, as they see relationships with loved ones as the defining characteristic of themselves.

4 Same Old Story

How people view relationships can spur on clinginess in them. This idea borrows from narrative therapy, a form of counseling that focuses on the "stories" clients use in their lives to gain meaning and that also inform pathology. If someone feels as though he must always be with his girlfriend or that it is bad to do things separately, he is defining his life by a "story" that promotes clinginess. In order for him to be less clingy, he must create a new story in which he does not have to be attached to girlfriend all the time.

S. Grey has a Master of Science in counseling psychology from the University of Central Arkansas. He is also pursuing a PhD and has a love for psychology, comic books and social justice. He has been published in a text on social psychology and regularly presents research at regional psychology conferences.