• By Rachel @EmotionEnhancement

The Avoidant Attachment Style


Also known as the island, someone with dismissive-avoidant attachment style highly values self-sufficiency and independence. In childhood, one or more of their parents (or caregivers) was completely rejecting or unresponsive to their needs. Alternatively, they suffered from enmeshment and were used to fulfil their caregivers' emotional needs. They have learned that others are not reliable and uninterested in their needs, therefore they decided that it is safer not to need anyone else. They had to repress feelings and needs to survive.

However, this childhood coping strategy does not work in adult relationships. Studies have shown that those with avoidant attachment are less satisfied and happy in their relationships. The main goal of an avoidantly attached person is to keep their relationships at a distance (this is often a subconscious goal that they are not aware of). These individuals learned to repress emotions to feel safe. This is one of three insecure types of attachment style. Studies have shown that under stress an avoidant individual will resort to the behaviors that they are trying to repress, which are in fact closer to that of an anxious attachment style. One of the key books on the subject of attachment is Attached by Amir Levin and Rachel Heller:

"researchers distracted the avoidants by giving them another task to perform - like solving a puzzle or responding to another cue - while a word recognition task was going on. In these situations, the avoidants reacted to words related to their own attachment worries ("separation," "loss," "death") just as quickly as other people did. Distracted by another task their ability to repress lessened and their true attachment feelings and concerns were able to surface"

Distancing strategies

  • Constantly searching for one perfect person or someone better, even when already in a relationship.

  • Views partners as a restriction to their freedom, often feel trapped and takes every opportunity they can to do things on their own.

  • Secretive and vague.

  • Flirting with others or introduces a third party into the relationship.

  • Often workaholics or obsessed with a hobby.

  • Deactivating strategies include minimising the benefits of a relationship. Focuses on the imperfections of a partner.

  • Pulling away after periods of closeness when the relationship seems to be going well.

  • Not responding to partners bids for attention. They want to ensure their partner is aware that they are responsible for themselves.

  • Gets into relationships with people that they know they cannot be with long-term. This could be as the person is married, long-distance relationship etc.

  • Avoids physical closeness.

  • Will not ask for or accept help.

  • Not being fully present when a partner is talking to them. This could be through daydreaming, thinking about something else, watching TV etc.

An avoidant person struggles to recognize when their need for independence is getting in the way of their ability to have a close happy relationship. They have grown up with the view that they don't need anyone, they can't trust anyone or that their needs are not important and other people will not want to meet them. Avoidant attachment is also referred to as dismissing as even positive occurrences in a relationship will be ignored or diminished to allow the negative points to be focused on.

They have difficulty reading their partners emotions and therefore are less likely to provide sufficient emotional support. If they see a partner in distress, they are more likely to become defensive and withdraw rather than staying to comfort the partner.

Searching for the one or longing for an ex

This allows the avoidant person to convince themselves that all the problem is with the current partner, that they are not good enough. They then do not need to look at or address their own behavior. They are prone to forget all their annoyances with an ex-partner when substantial distance from the ex-partner has occurred. The threat of intimacy is no longer there so feelings of adoration will return. Often they will try and re-enter relationships with ex-partners creating toxic hot and cold relationship patterns.

Avoidantly attached people will often date a partner they initially think is amazing then will suddenly start feeling that the person is wrong for them, and focus on a bad habit that they suddenly find intolerable. They will then feel the need to step back, often feeling suffocated when in fact it is the distancing/deactivating strategy kicking in. Rather than examining the uncomfortable feelings, they decide the person must not be the one and pull away. This cycle will repeat with each new partner unless they are able to recognize that this is their own issue. Sharon Martin describes further on her PsychCentral article What Is an Avoidant Attachment Style and How Can I Change It?

"They’re often kind, helpful, considerate, perfectly lovely people, but if you get too emotionally close they’ll become uncomfortable. Panic can ensue causing the avoidant person to flee (break-up, avoid, ghost, argue, or otherwise push you away). Deep fear of abandonment, when triggered will spark fierce independence and moving away from relationships. In comparison, when people with an anxious attachment are faced with fear of abandonment, they’ll try to move closer, frantically seeking reassurance and clingy more tightly to their partner."

How an avoidant can move to secure attachment

An avoidant person can change if they are able to look inward and learn how to stop pushing love away.

Identify deactivating strategies: Take your time and do not jump to conclusions that a relationship is not right for you. If you thought the person was great to begin with then suddenly find yourself obsessing over small imperfections, you can learn to move past this discomfort. Always look for an alternative perspective on what you may initially perceive as negative behavior from your partner. Make sure you have all the facts and keep in mind that a partner will generally have your best interests at heart. Keep a gratitude diary, focus on good things a partner does.


Work on your weaknesses: You already understand how to be independent. Focus on ways you can support a partner and rely on them to help you. Part of this involves asking your partner what they need from you and learning to express what you need clearly.


Practice expressing your needs and revealing more of yourself: Slowly start to reveal more of your thoughts and feelings. Often just revealing that you feel uncomfortable with closeness will set the stage for open honest conversation. If you have difficulty accessing your feelings try writing your thoughts for 5 minutes a day, writing down whatever comes to mind and paying attention to sensations in your body. Then try revealing a thought or feeling a day to your partner. Getting in touch with your feelings will enable you to start recognizing what you need from a relationship and being able to communicate this. If you need more space to feel comfortable at the beginning of a relationship you have a right to request this from a partner, often you can come to a compromise to keep them reassured whilst you are taking space. If you need reassurance in a particular way from your partner to make you feel safer, you have a right to express this need.


Stop focusing on third parties: Whether this be an ex-partner or fantasy the one that will magically resolve all your issues. Allowing someone to get truly close to you without comparing them to others is the only way you will know if you are compatible.


Do activities with your partner that will distract you in a good way: Avoidants actually find it easier to fall in love when they are distracted as their guard is down. Go to new places together, learn a new skill together or do something active.


Seek out relationships with secure people: An anxious person may seem like an attractive proposition at first as they will be willing to do more of the leg work. However, your distancing strategies will heighten and draw out their anxious characteristics. They will likely become much needier and demanding, which will cause you to feel very uncomfortable and suffocated.

If you would like to learn more about the different attachment styles, you can visit the Attachment Styles page here.


References

Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, Attached - First released 5 January 212

Sharon Martin, What Is Avoidant Attachment Style And How Can I Change It, PsychCentral blog - https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2017/03/avoidant-attachment-style-change/

Jeb Kinnison, Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level - https://jebkinnison.com/2014/08/16/avoidant-emotions-repressed-beneath-conscious-level/

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