Table of Contents
- What Does it Mean to Be Clingy?
- Why Do People Get Clingy?
- 9 Tips to End Clinginess Forever
- #1 Find Out if You Really Are Clingy
- #2 Dig Down to the Root Cause
- #3 Understand Your Attachment Style
- #4 Let People Feel Free
- #5 Create an Inspiring Life
- #6 Don't Idolize Your Friends
- #7 Respect Boundaries and Establish Your Own
- #8 Diversify Your Social Groups
- #9 Avoid Hierarchies of Friends
- How to Not Be Clingy Over Text
- How to Not Be Clingy In a Relationship
- The Clingy Takeaways
A shocking recent study revealed clinginess as one of the biggest relationship turn-offs.
Feeling clingy or needy for attention can stem from a lack of self-esteem or a fear of rejection. If you’ve been clingy in the past or felt someone clinging to you, you know how detrimental it can be to a longer-term friendship or relationship.
Fortunately, there are many simple self-awareness and personal growth strategies to free yourself and others from clingy behavior. Here are 9 ways to end clinginess forever so that you can maintain balanced, healthy connections with others.
What Does it Mean to Be Clingy?
To be clingy is to stay highly close or dependent on someone for emotional support and a sense of security. Clingy people may feel desperate to latch onto their friend or partner and depend on them for constant check-ins, updates, and responsiveness to all needs.
The signs of clinginess may be unique to different relationships and cultures. Not everyone will consider the same things to be clingy, but these are the most common clingy behavior “red flags”:
- Constantly asking for reassurance (Do you really love me? Are you sure you’re my friend?)
- Fear of being alone
- Feeling very insecure
- Obsessively worrying that people don’t like you or don’t want to be around you
- Putting friends on a pedestal or thinking they are perfect
- Feeling jealous when friends or partners hang out with other people
- Radically changing tastes when around new people (acting so much a “social chameleon” that you do not show up as who you truly are)
- Stalking someone’s social media
- Texting lots of messages at once
- Calling someone several times a day
- Demanding to know where someone is or who they are with
- Compulsively checking for text messages from a friend or partner
- Feeling panicked when someone doesn’t respond
Why Do People Get Clingy?
Many people use clinginess as a coping mechanism to feel more secure. They keep their friends or romantic partners as close as possible to reduce the possibility of cheating or jealousy.
Clinginess can come from deep inner insecurities that stem from childhood:
- Fear of being alone
- Abandonment issues
- Childhood trauma
- Poor modeling of healthy secure attachments
- Unavailable or avoidant caretakers
Clinginess can also result from patterns of adolescent or adult behavior:
- Craving attention
- Craving closeness
- Lacking self-confidence
- An absence of social skills
- An inability to “read” people
- Lack of self-identity or purpose
- Fear of rejection
- Wanting someone to “complete” you
9 Tips to End Clinginess Forever
Clingy people often seek something in others to help them feel complete, secure, or in control.
Ending clinginess requires digging down beneath the surface to excavate the hidden reasons behind your desire for intense closeness and dependency.
Here’s how to end clinginess once and for all so that you can feel free to love and enjoy people without depending on them for your sense of security.
#1 Find Out if You Really Are Clingy
Sometimes clinginess comes down to personal preferences. Different people are OK with varying levels of closeness based on their attachment styles and upbringing.
Every person, culture, and situation has a different way of defining what “clingy” is and what is not. To find out if you are clingy, directly ask for people’s opinions in your life. You can also observe how they respond to you in different situations.
Action Tip #1: If you want to confront clinginess head-on, start chatting with a trusted friend or family member.
You can ask your friend a few of these questions to help uncover whether or not you are clingy:
- “I’ve been doing some self-reflection, and I realized that sometimes I can be kind of needy for attention. Are there any social cues I’ve missed from you or others trying to tell me that I’m being too needy?”
- “I care about people a lot, and sometimes I think I can be too much. Do you think I am too intense at times?”
- “How much communication feels good for you at this point in our friendship? Will you let me know if I am ever texting or calling you too often?”
- “I know you’re busy and don’t want to take up too much of your time. Do you need some extra space or is our level of interaction at a good point for you?”
Action Tip #2: If you feel awkward directly asking someone their opinion on you, you can take the observation route instead.
Check to see if your friends are giving off any of these signals that you may be a little too clingy:
- They avoid or cancel plans
- They don’t mention other friends or acquaintances in front of you
- They seem exasperated annoyed when you ask for repeated validation
- They say “I need some space”
- When you express your worries about your other relationships to them, tell you to “stop thinking worst-case scenario” or insist “they’re just busy”
- They try to hang out with you in groups
- They try to create more distance between your friendship
If you realize that you are being clingy in a relationship, there is no need to panic or feel ashamed. Instead, dedicating some time to focus on your personal growth can help uncover why you feel so attached to people in your life.
#2 Dig Down to the Root Cause
Clinginess is most commonly an outward symptom of a deeper issue.
Clinginess is a signal calling attention to something about yourself you need to fix.
Clinginess is usually a result of your own need for certainty or validation.
Unfortunately, insecure clinginess can result in a toxic cycle of neediness. You may feel afraid of judgment, so you reach out for more support and validation from your friends. This could make them pull away from you, leading you into a downward spiral.
One way to break that cycle is by taking your responsibility into your own hands instead of relying on others to “fix” you.
Action Tip: If you want to get to the bottom of your clinginess, begin with a few reflections and journaling prompts. This exercise is a great starting point, but you may need a professional therapist or counselor to help sort through messier emotions that you don’t feel equipped to handle on your own.
- Clear your area and start with a piece of blank paper.
- Take a few deep breaths and then read each question below.
- Write the first answer that comes to mind.
- Don’t judge yourself or edit your answers. Simply jot them down and move to the next.
- Remember, nobody will ever read this and you can even scrap the paper when you are done. This is simply a reflection exercise to help address subconscious feelings you may have repressed.
Helpful questions to ask when trying to get to the root cause of clinginess include,
- How do you define a healthy friendship or relationship?
- What does intimacy mean to you?
- How do you nurture the people close to you in your life?
- Are you afraid of being alone? If so, why?
- How do you feel when someone you care about is too busy for you at the moment?
- What fears arise when people don’t respond to you right away?
- What does good communication look like?
Think you might be dealing with some deeper issues? Consider reaching out to a counselor or therapist to get some help. Mental Health America has a great resource to find the help you might need.
#3 Understand Your Attachment Style
Attachment styles describe how people behave and interact with others based on their upbringing and relationships with their childhood caregivers.
Psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth first developed the Adult Attachment Theory in the 1950s and it has since been refined and elaborated by psychologists around the world.
Basically, their theory can help you better understand why you may act certain ways in your adult relationships with other people.
Researchers have identified 4 major types of attachment that come from certain childhood experiences:
- Secure: Secure attachment comes from healthy childhood experiences with caretakers who were present and available to meet their needs. They typically feel secure and protected in their adult relationships and are less prone to “needy” behavior.
- Avoidant: People with an avoidant attachment may seem emotionally available, reluctant to share intimacy, and dismissive of others. They have difficulty reaching out in times of need and are almost the opposite of “clingy”. Often, they seem to attract clingy people because they tend to withdraw when others try to get close to them, sometimes resulting in the vicious cycle of clinginess we described above.
- Ambivalent: People who were raised with unavailable or inconsistent caregivers may have a more anxious or ambivalent attachment. They feel anxiety about whether or not people really love them and maybe preoccupied with the actions, words, or schedule of others, leading to “needy” behavior.
- Disorganized: Typically people who experienced childhood trauma or unpredictable caretakers have a disorganized or anxious-ambivalent attachment. They may lack coping strategies for dealing with life’s daily challenges and as a result can be unreliable, inconsistent, or even fearful of close friendships or relationships.
Anyone can experience a tendency toward clingy behavior, but ambivalent and disorganized attachment styles are more likely to feel needy in their friendships. This could be because they did not experience secure love or nurturing from their childhood caretakers.
You can use this information to analyze the underlying psychology that you bring to relationships and work to adjust accordingly.
For example, if you discover that you lean more toward an ambivalent attachment style, you may want to work on getting clear about communicating your needs in specific relationships.
It could help to regularly tap into your existing support system or use spirituality to practice detachment from controlling others. You can also begin to recognize when you’re displaying anxious behaviors and research how to lean more toward secure attachments.
Speak to a mental health professional for further guidance on your attachment style.
Action Tip: Take our Attachment Style Quiz and watch the video below to get an idea of how your childhood experiences have affected your adult relationships. Understanding your attachment style(s) can be very useful for delving into personal growth, self-love, and building a foundation for more security in your relationships.
#4 Let People Feel Free
Attachment and clinginess can make people feel trapped or suffocated by your presence.
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
This ancient quote from Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh is a great reminder that love and friendship can exist without overtaking your life. It is vital to share connections with people without feeling too attached or possessive of them.
If you care about someone, it is essential to let them know by spending quality time with them and expressing gratitude. However, monopolizing someone’s time or maintaining constant communication could make them feel cornered or smothered.
If you want the people you care about to feel free, remember to give them the space they need to thrive.
Action Tip: You can help create more freedom in your relationships by dedicating special alone-time for yourself. Mark an hour in your calendar this week specifically for “me-time.” Turn off your phone and use this hour to do your favorite hobby, take a walk in the park, or practice a self-care ritual. Alone time is linked to greater confidence, higher emotional intelligence, more creativity, and greater emotional stability in challenging situations.
#5 Create an Inspiring Life
If you want to stop feeling clingy, fill your schedule with more hobbies, lessons, projects, and friendships. The fuller your life is, the less time you have to worry about whether or not people are thinking of you.
Sometimes clinginess can come from boredom or low-lying anxiety.
If you don’t have enough things to preoccupy your mind, you may check your phone every 5 minutes, hoping your friend or crush texted you.
This is problematic on multiple levels:
- You are preoccupied with what other people are doing rather than focusing on what you are doing.
- You feel disappointed when nobody has contacted you (because they are probably busy with their own lives).
- You waste your time in cycles of worry that they don’t like you anymore, resulting in lower self-esteem and potentially more clingy behaviors (for example, texting them 5 more times in the middle of the day expressing your concern that they haven’t responded).
- You may become annoying to the other person.
- You give off the vibe that you are not working on anything interesting for yourself, which could make you be perceived as boring and result in fewer social interactions.
In psychology, this is based on the Scarcity Principle: people are magnetized to things that are available in limited supply. Companies use scarcity and exclusivity to sell thousand-dollar designer bags or limited edition cars.
Those brands are rare and hard to get. Therefore people want them more and are willing to pay exorbitant amounts to acquire them. It’s basic supply and demand.
Psychologists have also found that people who play “hard to get” are more desirable to prospective mates. Why is that?
When your time is available in unlimited supply, your friends may feel that they can hang out with you at any moment; therefore your interactions are not as “scarce” or unique.
Your attention becomes more of a commodity than a designer brand.
On the flip side, when you live a full life with more inspiration, hobbies, and things to talk about, your time is more precious, and your friends could want to spend more time with you.
You could unintentionally start displaying clingy behavior by making yourself overly available to your friends or significant other.
Don’t misinterpret this as being mindlessly busy for no reason. Instead, try to seek out new hobbies, passions, or a deeper purpose for your daily activity. You may accidentally fall into clingy or needy behavior if you have too much time on your hands.
Action Tip: If you want to be less clingy, fill your time with more work, research, activities, and trying new things. Check out our guide on 40 Productive Things to do When You’re Bored.
#6 Don’t Idolize Your Friends
Putting someone on a pedestal means you begin to admire them so much that you can’t see their flaws or think they are perfect. You may elevate them in your mind, adore everything about them, and do anything to be in their presence.
This most commonly stems from feeling inferior. An inferiority complex is defined by thinking you are lesser than others. When you idolize friendships, you may begin to think of them as better than you, leading to more feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.
Idolizing a friend or lover may look like this:
- Thinking they are perfect or flawless
- Seeing them as “larger than life” or better than you
- Feeling desperate to be around them
- Having a hard time noticing their flaws
- Wishing you were more like them instead of embracing your own uniqueness
- Copying them
- Trying to dress or act like them
- Crafting your identity around being friends with them (for example, when you are talking to other people, you are quick to bring them up and brag about them as a core tenant of your life)
- Doing anything you can to make them happy
- Sacrificing your own time or well-being for them
While you may be friends with some incredible people, avoid putting them on a pedestal by remembering that they are only human. You can look up to them for inspiration, but you must remember not to idolize them as “better than you.”
Action Tip: Think of 5-10 things you genuinely admire about your friend either out loud or on paper. Next, write down 5-10 things that people love about you or like about yourself, specifically things that make you utterly unique from your friend. It may help to think of what someone you love would say about you.
This could include your intellect, voice, talent, physical attributes, or personality quirk that you enjoy about yourself. It can often be hard to remember your strong points, especially if you are prone to self-criticism.
Speaking or writing things outside your head can help you look at them more objectively. Use this list to remind your friend is not “above you” or better than you. You both bring unique attributes to the table.
#7 Respect Boundaries and Establish Your Own
One of the most challenging things about clinginess is the feeling of crossing your boundaries and those you care about. Understanding how to set boundaries is crucial for ending clingy behavior altogether.
Boundaries are essentially the “rules” of interacting in your relationships. If you don’t understand your friends’ boundaries, it can be hard to know whether or not you are being clingy.
Clear boundaries define healthy relationships that everyone involved understands:
- How often you want to communicate (text, call, or in-person)
- How frequently you see each other
- What types of topics you avoid discussing
- When each person needs time to themselves
- How you interact with each other
Action Tip: Learn how to Set Boundaries and brainstorm 5-10 boundaries you’d like to discuss with your close friend or significant other. For example, you may only want to hang out once per week on Sundays. Sharing this boundary will result in fewer feelings of clinginess because you won’t constantly be waiting for the next time to see them.
#8 Diversify Your Social Groups
If you notice yourself starting to cling to one specific person, consider getting out of your comfort zone and expanding your social group.
There are many benefits to maintaining a diverse network of friends:
- More opportunities for personal growth
- Exposure to different ways of thinking and living
- Unique conversation topics
- More networking and professional development
- Avoid fixating on one person
Every time you go out to a new place, start a new job, attend a Meetup, or sign up for a new class, you are putting yourself in a situation to meet new people. Take advantage of the opportunity to expand your friend group so that you don’t feel so clingy to one person.
Action Tip: Learn the science-backed tips popular people use to attract more friendships. Put them into practice in new social situations to diversify your friend group.
#9 Avoid Hierarchies of Friends
“Best” friendships can be incredibly nourishing and exciting because they allow for a depth of connection.
However, categorizing your friendships can also be a sign of clinginess. You may feel attached or possessive over your “best” friend, perhaps getting jealous when they hang out with other people.
Instead of seeking “best” friends, avoid creating a hierarchy of friendships.
Instead, think of your friends as unique individuals who each play different roles in your life.
One friend may be your gym buddy, while your other friend is who you like to cook with. Thinking of one individual as your “everything” friend could be a warning sign of clinginess.
How to Not Be Clingy Over Text
Texting has made communicating with your friends more effortless than ever. Still, it can also give a false illusion that everyone is available all the time. Clingy people want attention and validation from their friends right now. Secure individuals tend to recognize that people have hectic lives. Therefore they may not respond on time.
Instead of constantly reaching out on your own, practice these guidelines for avoiding clinginess over text:
- Don’t constantly text first
- Alternate invites. Invite them sometimes, but also wait for invites from them (avoid inviting yourself or always being the inviter)
- Avoid sending multiple texts at a time
- Keep texts short
- Wait a little while to respond to texts
- Plan for a phone call or hangout instead of dumping large volumes of information in text message
- Turn off audio text notifications on your phone
- Avoid constantly checking your phone for texts
Action Tip: If you feel the need to impulsively text your friends out of boredom or a need for attention, distract yourself with something interesting like watching a new TED Talk, perusing your favorite social media channel, or reading a book about your favorite topic.
How to Not Be Clingy In a Relationship
A 2021 study found that clingy behavior is the biggest turn-off in romantic relationships. The survey of over 1,400 young adults in their twenties and thirties reported 78 difficulties they’ve experienced in relationships.
Clinginess and neediness rang in at the top of the list, ahead of fading passion, bad sex, and even infidelity!
No one wants to be the clingy one in a romantic situation. People are psychologically more attracted to those who are “hard to get.”
But persistent media representation of intense “give you everything” types of relationships can lead to unrealistic ideas of romance. It is simply impractical and unproductive to spend every waking hour yearning for another person’s attention.
Modern notions of love portray someone as “completing you” or becoming “your better half” in the media. Hollywood often romanticizes feeling broken and lost until you find this perfect person that somehow completes you.
First, recognize this pattern in the media and explore why it may not play out well in real life. This perspective can be incredibly damaging to romantic relationships.
A healthy, secure attachment style is founded on boundaries and mutual desire.
If you want to avoid clinginess in a romantic relationship, work on communicating those boundaries and practicing your independence:
- Set clear communication boundaries (when you text, how often, etc.)
- Openly express your needs
- Independently explore your own hobbies
- Make time for other relationships in your lives
- Decide how often you want to see each other (relationship counselor Garrett Coan advises the “70/30” rule: the most harmonious marriages spend roughly 70% of their time together and 30% apart)
- Grow your own self-confidence
For two people to come together as a strong relationship, they need to be rooted in their confidence, security, and life path.
Once you learn how to stand on your own and love yourself for who you truly are, you can bring that love into a relationship without risking needy or clingy attachment.
The Clingy Takeaways
If you’ve found yourself being clingy in any friendship or relationship, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Clinginess is a common phenomenon amongst people with certain attachment styles, insecurities, and behavior patterns.
Fortunately, you can stop being clingy by practicing a few mindset and habit shifts:
- Ask people if you are “too needy” or intense; clingy behaviors often manifest as a dependency, fear of loneliness, or seeking validation.
- Clinginess is a signal calling attention to something about yourself you need to fix. Examine your insecurities and work to improve your self-esteem.
- Living an entire life of hobbies, work, and diverse interests leaves little time for clinging to other people. Replace boredom with productive activities.
- Take a quiz to learn your attachment style and help uncover how your childhood may shape your adult relationships.
- Avoid idolizing your friends. Putting people on a pedestal only hurts you in the long run.
- Clear boundaries around time and communication are like the “rules” of a relationship to help maintain your independence.
Remember that clinginess is a no-win situation. It doesn’t benefit you or the other person. It can often wind up pushing them away and making you feel bad about yourself.
Almost everyone experiences minor insecurities in their interactions with other people. After all, you are only human. Everyone is wired to want love and acceptance. Still, it is crucial to balance your relationships with others with your love for yourself.
Learn How to Love Yourself in 17 Ways to start your journey away from clinginess toward more internal fulfillment.