Books carry and provide different meaning for every reader and this depends on the connections that the reader develops from these books relative to their own life.
A romantic novel may be an interesting read and a good way to pass the time and stretch imagination for the casual reader, while for a different reader the same book may be more than a casual read. It may be a way to process their notions and ideas about love. For such a person that romantic novel is more than just a book. It is a way to reconcile inner ideals with the content in the book.
In this article I’ll cover emotional attachment to books with the hope that you learn more about it and know it well enough to be able to spot it in your reading habits.
With that said, let’s get the heart of the burning question.
Can you be emotionally attached to a book?
According to psychology; emotional attachment is the emotional bond that is developed through repeated interactions with a person, an object or a thing. The main cause of this attachment is the emotional significance of that particular person, object or thing to the emotionally attached person.
When you repeatedly read a book and develop a deep personal connection with it whether positive or negative, you may become emotionally attached to it. As a matter of fact; research shows that people have a tendency to develop emotional connections to books that carry personal significance to them. For example, someone may become attached to a book that helped them get through a difficult time.
People that are emotionally attached to books may find themselves reading a book more than once to feel the particular emotion that it provides to them.
With that said, let’s get into some reasons why you may become emotionally attached to a book.
Why People Get Emotionally Attached to Books
Below are some of the reasons why people get emotionally attached to books. There are many reasons for emotional attachment to books but I condensed it down to five main reasons from which other reasons usually stem.
Emotional Engagement with books
Human beings are primarily driven by emotions. Our emotions are the guiding principle as well as the buffer between the universe and us.
As a result, everything that we do has emotion attached to it. For example; we eat to not feel hunger, as such; hunger is a negatively charged phenomenon while eating is positively charged.
Reading as a source of emotion is no different; when we read books we invest emotion into the activity and depending on how much of an emotional need the book fulfills we may or may not become emotionally attached to it.
The amount of emotional engagement that is given to a book by the reader will partly determine whether they become attached to the book or not.
Let’s use the example in the introduction of this article; a romance novel may simply be a way to pass time for person A, they may read it passively with limited emotional engagement and investment. Person B on the other hand may have varied experience with love and may look to read romance novels as a way to relive some of these moments and activate certain feelings that they find pleasant and rewarding. Person B will naturally be more emotionally engaged and invested in the content of the romance novel.
With that said; sometimes the cause of an emotional attachment to a book can be the result of a hyper engagement and investment in the content of the book to the point where you lose your sense of separateness with the book. The line between fiction and reality disappears.
Another reason why people become emotionally attached to books is because they become attached to characters in the book. To explain this in full, lets lift a paragraph from David Forbes’ “The Neuroscience of Empathy, Compassion, and Self-Compassion” Book.
“When we read fiction, we engage in what psychologists call ‘theory of mind’ processes, in which we try to understand and predict the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of other people. This process involves the activation of a network of brain regions involved in mentalizing, or attributing mental states to others, including the medial prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction, and superior temporal sulcus. When we become emotionally attached to fictional characters, we activate these same brain regions, as well as regions involved in emotional processing and reward, such as the amygdala and ventral striatum. This activation of brain regions involved in both mentalizing and emotion may help explain why we can become so deeply invested in fictional characters and their stories.”
At the most basic level, we all respond to the same emotions in a variety of different ways. Depending on personal experience we may relate more to specific emotions than others. This is why people attach to characters that fit their particular situation.
This attachment to characters can essentially manifest to an attachment to the whole book.
Identification with stories
When we read a book we not only identify with characters in it but we also relate and identify with the events that make up the storyline itself.
Strong attachments to a storyline can easily become the source of attachment to a book. Like psychology explains, emotional attachments come from the relationship developed between the person and the object of attachment. More directly the significance of the object to the person attached to it.
Identification with stories is usually a result of good writing and it is fair to place most of the blame on writers. Good writing can capture even the smallest emotion that could easily turn out to be the most important emotion for a reader who ends up getting attached to the book because it is relatable.
Fiction novelists study human nature and can write in a very interesting way. They can rattle up and command emotion from the reader making it easy for them to get attached to the storyline or characters in a book. Mind you, these people write these books to hook you in and leave a lasting impression so you may become a fan and keep on buying their work.
Our innate need as human beings to move in packs and find which group of people we belong to is one of the reasons why we identify with people and stories.
For example, a person that was once incarcerated in harsh environments can most likely relate to a Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” because the author describes a similar situation he was in with great detail and depth. And such stories are deeply relatable to people who’ve been in similar situations of massive emotional torment and anguish.
Comfort in books
For some readers, reading books can be a way to find comfort, solace, or inspiration in difficult times, or to connect with others who have experienced similar emotional challenges.
Comfort above all else is one of the things that leads to emotional attachment to books especially for introverted people that remove themselves from society and live in isolation. Such people could look to confront their emotions and life on their own. For such people books can play a key role.
Books can provide them with a connection to people via reading about them whether in fiction or non-fiction. In turn, they can build a bond with not only books but with the act of reading itself.
For people who draw inspiration from books, reading them takes on a peculiar power. Reading these books can be an emotional power source of inspiration that they can routinely draw from when they need to.
Some people find solace in books and such people usually have strong emotional attachments toward books that give them the emotional protection they need from the outside world. For such people, the specific book is not only words on a page. It is an alternative reality.
Processing difficult emotions
Throughout the course of your life you go through a variety of situations, some bad and some good. Let’s face it, some situations are so deep that they are hard to forget, they may linger in the mind. You may have found a productive way to process them; sadly this is not the case for everyone..
People who use reading as an escape and a way to process emotions will usually read a lot of self-development to understand how they feel and process emotions that may be heavy on their mind.
When such reading beings to fill the void and becomes the way to process emotions, what follows next is the emotional attachment to the particular books that offer the remedy.
Book hangovers vs Emotional Attachment to Books
These two concepts are often mistaken as meaning the same thing but t they do not. A book hangover and emotional attachment to books are related concepts, but they refer to slightly different experiences.
An emotional attachment to books refers to a deep personal connection that a reader feels towards certain books or authors. This connection is often based on the reader’s personal experiences, beliefs, values, and emotions, which they find reflected or resonated in the books they read. Emotional attachment to books often gives the reader some sense of comfort, solace, or inspiration that they get from reading and re-reading certain books.
A book hangover, on the other hand, refers to a more temporal state of emotional exhaustion or confusion that a reader experiences after finishing a particularly impactful book.
This state can be characterized by a lingering feeling of attachment to the story, characters, or themes of the book, which makes it hard to move on to other books or activities.
A book hangover can also be accompanied by intense emotions, such as sadness, joy, or nostalgia that are triggered by finishing the book.
Emotional attachments to books are more long-term while a book hangover is a short-term state of emotional attachment and exhaustion that follows the completion of a specific book. Book hangovers usually only last a couple of hours to a couple of days.
Some Signs of Emotional Attachment to books
Re-reading the same book several times is probably the most apparent sign that a reader may have developed an emotional attachment to a book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s natural to re-read books may be once or twice to truly grasp its concepts but doing so repeatedly may be a symptom of deeper psychological attachment to the book.
For someone with such an attachment, re-reading the book could feel like visiting old friends.
Emotional attachment to book can sometimes be noticed with the way a person treats the physical book itself.
Excessive marking in the book such as notes in margins, underlined passages, dog ear pages etc. can all be a sign of a psychological emotional attachment to a book.
Can’t stop talking about it
It’s not odd for readers especially extroverts to share and talk about a book they like, but if it is all they talk about then chances are they have developed some form of obsessive behavior such as an emotional attachment to the book.
Strong reaction to a book
Reacting strongly toward a story in the book usually reflects the reader’s personal identification with the book and is usually a sign that they have some strong emotional ties to the book.
Book hangovers that don’t go away
Traditionally book hangovers are not supposed to last more than a week. They are supposed to drown out in a day two after finishing a book. A Reader with an emotional attachment to a book will usually experience prolonged book hangovers to the point where they have to re-read the book to get rid of the hangover.
Reliving the book
Another tell-tale sign that someone is emotionally attached to a book can be them trying to relive the book. They may want to visit physical locations in the story. They may feel like they’re stepping into the world of the book by visiting these locations and experiencing them for themselves.
Why people like books that make them cry
Books are emotionally charged and we read them to feel emotions.
The same way people like sad songs to cry to, they also like sad books to cry to. Why you may wonder? I’ll explain below. The main reason I wanted to add this part in is because I want you to understand the role that emotions serve to human beings.
Human beings want to feel something in everything they do; for example they crave relationships because they want to feel love, they crave having children because they want to experience what it feels like to have and belong to a family and so forth.
The main reason why people like books that make them cry is to use them as a medium to release emotion. This release of emotion is called Emotional catharsis.
According to a study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, “people who cry during movies or novels tend to report feeling better after the experience, suggesting that the tears may be an important part of a larger process of emotional release and catharsis” (Graesser et al., 2011).
From this study we can see how human beings thrive on emotion and why it’s so easy to get emotionally attached to books.
Let’s cite another example.
According to a study published in the journal Poetics, “emotional experiences while reading fiction are frequently social in nature, as they often involve a shared
experience among readers who may be physically distant from one another” (Miall & Kuiken, 2005). When we share our emotional reactions to books with others, it can create a sense of connection and belonging that can be deeply rewarding. With that said books that make us cry may also foster a sense of relation and shared experience which makes us feel more human.
Examples of Emotions That Books Could Make You Feel
Writers are very intelligent in the way they deliver written works partly because it is their job to evoke emotional reactions from the reader and partly and possibly more importantly because they have to leave a lasting impression on the reader.
Books can invoke feelings of injustice and have us rooting for the underdog which is human nature to do. Such feelings can strongly solicit our imagination and make us think deeply about issues.
Usually such books are enjoyed by people who like to be mentally challenged, so perhaps an emotional attachment to a book can also be formed by our need for intellectual stimulation and the ability of a book to deliver that scratch to the itch.
We read books about war and watch human nature at play; we pick sides, rationalize why we pick that side and become emotionally engaged into a book.
As such books serve more than entertainment in the hearts of people, they’re something much more. It’s therefore important to understand the service that books offer us in the form of emotions for us to understand a topic like emotional attachment to books.
If you want to delve deep into understanding human emotion check out how the reading of fiction helps us enhance our understanding of human nature.
Another example of an emotion that books make us feel is fear. Both fiction and non-fiction have the power to evoke fear within us. For example non-fiction books describing the rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence and how it is going to take over human jobs can evoke fear in the reader. Nonfiction books can also do the same in the way a story or plot may be written.
You’d think human beings would not become emotionally attached to books that evoke negative emotions like fear, but that is not the case at all. People can become emotionally attached to books that evoke negative emotion just like they could become emotionally attached to a positive one.
Such complicated human relationships are the reason why emotional attachment to books exists.
Anger is another example of an emotion that books can draw out in a reader. For certain authors, doing this can be intentional while it may not intentional for others because human beings are difficult to predict. A romance novel can inspire love in others just as easy as it could inspire longing and the need to fill a void in others.
The ranging emotions that come with human beings are completely subjective and people could just as easily attach themselves to a book that brings them fear as they would to a book that gives them security.
For example, a book that evokes fear can be helpful in that it can help people avoid danger, so while it may be evoking fear in them, it could do also be offering solutions to threats and people could become attached to it for security.
But who may find security in a book? The answer is human beings. Comfort and security are psychological states; people will gravitate towards anything that provides these feelings/emotions no matter how insignificant it could be.
Hope, Joy and Motivation
Positive emotions like gratitude, joy, and hope can motivate you to pursue your goals and seek out new experiences. Gratitude can help you become more grateful for the things that you would normally take for granted and as such could make you a better human being that others appreciate.
A book teaching you gratitude could therefore become a positive energy source and you would likely become attached to it.
Books that evoke joy within you can help you become more vibrant and positive toward life; for this reason you could feel the need to re-read a book to relive the feeling that you once drew from it.
Finally, books that motivate you could change your attitude toward life and help you keep going even after failure. The impact of this could life changing for the better so it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise that you build some form emotional attachment to it.
Human beings like I’ve continuously described in this article want, more than anything, to belong and feel human. Emotions guide how we feel and belonging means; knowing that our feelings are and have been experienced by others.
Being able to fit in with others and not being the odd person out and makes us feel more human.
You could be feeling sad and end up reading a sad book that allows you relate to a character or story. This would reinforce a feeling of relation to others. In other instances reading a sad story could make it apparent that others have it worse than you do which could evoke positive emotions and a deep appreciation for your life.
This is one of the reasons why people have their go to books when experiencing specific emotions. The value in these books is the significance of the content to the reader’s situation. As such, the need to go to the said book to find solace would result in an emotional attachment to the book.
The 4 Negative Effects of Too Much Reading
- Anxiety and distraction from pertinent life responsibilities and challenges that need resolve
- Disconnection from the real world due to the use of reading as an escape
- Self-absorption and narcissistic tendencies due to prolonged escapism and isolation from people and the real world.
- Emotional attachment to a book could become a habit that could be difficult to break.
- Too much reading can isolate you and end up negatively affecting your relationship with others (Learn more about how reading affects your relationship with others)
How to Emotionally DETACH From A Book
Here are some things you can do to get over books that you become emotionally attached to.
Understand why you need to be always buried in a book by figuring out how that particular book makes you feel and what those feelings do for you.
Are you hiding from something?
Do you feel the need to disconnect from the world?
Asking yourself these questions can help you get to the root of the problem and develop a solution to kick your emotional attachment to books as well as resolve the real issue.
Stopping any sort of addition or obsession cold turkey is not the easiest thing to do. But it can be effective and beneficial to you.
Consider putting the book away and not reading it for at least a couple of months. This can help you break the bond that you may have made with the book. You can consider watching a TV show or movie in place of reading the book.
It’s never easy to let go of a good book but sometimes you just need to put it away right after finishing it rather than revisiting it long after you’ve finished it already.
Shifting your attention to something else and engaging in a different activity or focusing on a different thought other than reading can help break the pattern of emotional attachment to books and allow you to move on.
Give the book away
You can also give the book away or donate it to charity or you can sell it to a book store. Most book store owners will welcome any addition to their existing collection of books. If you’re not looking to part with the book then you could consider borrowing it out to a friend after explaining to them that you’re trying to sever your attachment to the book.
Any friend will be more than happy to help you get over a book and will gladly accept the book even if they don’t read much.
You can also consider journaling how you feel about the book. There’s really no particular way to journal because we are different and so are our experiences and situations.
The best advice is just consider being as honest as possible about the feelings and emotions that the book stirred up within you.
You could then try to resolve their foundational problem or real problem by getting to the root cause of the attachment.
For example, if you recently got out of a bad relationship, a romantic novel could insight feelings of loneliness because you identified with the notion of finding your soul mate and falling in love with them.
Read something different
Another great way to get over a book is to jump into another book. It’s easy to feel like re-reading a book you just read and this only reinforces the attachment you have with it, it’s wiser to jump into another book and focus on that one till it’s done.
This can help you separate yourself and allow your mind to fall in love with something else.
This leads me to my next point.
Follow the author
Half the time we fall in love with the author’s way of writing and one effective way to rid ourselves of the obsession with that one book is to read something else by the author.
For example, this one time I read a book by Dan Brown called Origins and I got attached to the book at the time. What I didn’t realize is that the rest of Dan Brown’s catalogue is just as good as that book. Once I read something else by him I was able to get over the initial book I got hooked on.
Reading something else by the author can be a great pattern breaking move to free you from a particular book.
Emotional attachments to books happen a lot and such attachments are a result of behavioral reinforcements derived from reading that result in a cue and reward system. The cue is usually the need to read in order to derive an emotional reward such as comfort, motivation, hope, solace, security and a myriad of other emotions.
To put his into context we can use the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the book called “Flow” where he states:
“Reading can create a sense of flow, where we become fully immersed in the experience and lose track of time. This can be a deeply satisfying and addictive