Avoidant Attachment Style: What is it?
Avoidant attachment is an attachment style a child develops when their parent or main caretaker doesn't show care or responsiveness past providing essentials like food and shelter. This is based on Attachment Theory by John Bowbly.
An avoidant child develops an internal working model as being unworthy of love and care.
Infants with an avoidant attachment style may also have faced repeated discouragement from crying or expressing outward emotion. Resulting in a sense of self-reliance and independence.
According to psychalive.org:
Even as toddlers, many avoidant children have already become self-contained, precocious “little adults.” As noted, the main defensive attachment strategy employed by children with avoidant attachment is to never show outwardly a desire for closeness, warmth, affection, or love. However, on a physiological level, when their heart rates and galvanic skin responses are measured during experimental separation experiences, they show as strong a reaction and as much anxiety as other children. Avoidantly attached children tend to seek proximity, trying to be near their attachment figure, while not directly interacting or relating to them. In one such experiment, the “Strange Situation” procedure, attachment theorist Mary Ainsworth, observed the responses of 1-year olds during separation and reunion experiences. The avoidant infants “avoided or actively resisted having contact with their mother” when their mother returned to the room. According to Dan Siegel, when parents are distant or removed, even very young children “intuitively pick up the feeling that their parents have no intention of getting to know them, which leaves them with a deep sense of emptiness.”
Avoidant behavior can be common and may prevent your (or your partner's) ability to communicate and trust one another. But it could be helpful to find out why you or your partner has this attachment style – and perhaps work on it!
Often, avoidants don’t even know they have an attachment issue and this can often lead to other forms of conflict within a relationship if not dealt with properly. Later in life, however, these pattern of behaviors may develop into coping mechanisms by avoiding closeness and intimacy to prevent anxiety.
If you know someone with an avoidant attachment style it's helpful to take the time to understand them better. It could be that at first they appear distant and aloof, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they don’t care about you.
What are some signs you have avoidant attachment style?
You might be wondering, what are the differences between a secure attachment style and insecure attachment styles?
Individuals who are securely attached show admiration, gratitude and respect for their relationship partners. Additionally, securely attached individuals tend to be more prone to seeking help when necessary.
In contrast, those with avoidant attachment style struggle to understand their own emotions and need reassurance from others. So, they may find it difficult to deal with stressors such as loss, separation, illness, or death.
Avoidants may also experience difficulty trusting others due to past trauma.
Are there different kinds of avoidant attachment?
Yes. Like many behaviors, there's a spectrum and range when considering types of attachment.
There are three main categories of avoidant types: fearful, dismissive, and preoccupied.
Fearful Avoidant Attachment: A fearful-avoidant attachment style occurs because an individual has learned to trust other people. Insecurely attached individuals tend to rely on others for support. If something goes wrong, they don’t want to lose anyone else. So, they try to keep things going smoothly at all costs.
Dismissive Avoidant Attachment: Dismissive attachment refers to not wanting to take responsibility for anything. People who suffer from this kind of attachment style blame everyone around them for problems instead of taking ownership of what happened.
Preoccupied Avoidant Attachment: Preoccupation involves obsessively thinking about past experiences. The focus here isn't so much on avoiding rejection as it is on reliving painful memories over and over again.
Common avoidant attachment traits
Here are some common traits associated with avoidant attachment:
Avoidance is characterized by fear of abandonment.
People with avoidant attachment style are often anxious about being rejected.
They have difficulty trusting others.
They may be overly concerned about their own safety.
They may find it difficult to show affection or intimacy toward another person.
How avoidant attachment can harm relationships
Unfortunately, avoidant attachment styles can become cyclical.
For example, Parents who have avoided attachments with other people often become overprotective towards their children. They want to protect them from all possible dangers so they will never be hurt again. This causes problems because it makes the child feel that they cannot trust anyone else. If a child feels alone and isolated and this may lead to anxiety disorders later on in life.
Avoidant attachment can have negative effects on the way we treat others. We tend to ignore our friends' feelings and needs if they don’t fit into what we think should happen.
If someone does something wrong, we might not even notice it. We might even try to make things better instead of telling them how they made us feel.
The effects of avoidant attachment can be severe and long-lasting and can lead to relationship problems. Feelings of anger may arise when an avoidant comes across as insincere or lacks empathy.
People with avoidant attachment usually do not express themselves well. Because they fear rejection, they rarely share their thoughts and opinions about anything.
Instead, they just listen to what everyone says without saying much back. As a result, they can end up being very quiet and shy around new people.
How avoidant attachment can affect your life?
In a romantic relationship, a partner may get angry when they feel rejected by someone with an avoidant attachment. They may either lash out or become introverted. Fear of intimacy, lack of eye contact, bottling up negative emotions and other avoidant behaviors are not uncommon.
To the partner with an avoidant attachment style, the believe they love their partner more than themselves. But since their perception has led them believe that loving means giving everything away, the emotional bond may also lead them to resentment too. This is why an avoidant partner may lash out against others.
How to cope with avoidant attachment
The best way to cope with avoidant attachment is to understand where it comes from. Then, you can work on changing it. For example, if someone tells you that they don't care about you, ask them why.
Ask questions until you get answers. Don't let go until you figure out whether their words mean "I really don't care" or "I'm just saying I don't care."
What kind of person would most likely exhibit avoidant attachment?
A person who was neglected early on in their childhood may develop avoidance attachment.
Those with an insecure attachment style often avoid intimacy and may have had a difficult childhood. It's important to recognize unhealthy patterns of interaction and think about ways to improve them by either starting new habits or seeking out help via professional counseling.
Those who have experienced a frighteningly negative reaction from a parent at a young age can develop an attachment disorder as they get older.
Many people with certain types of personality disorders also deal with anxiety, which makes it difficult for them to form new relationships because those fears are so deeply ingrained in their lives--especially those who have been abused as children or adults, usually more than once.
In some cases, these individuals may be addicted to drugs or alcohol linking them even tighter to the past making it impossible for change to happen without professional help.
What does avoidant attachment look like in adults?
In an article titled, "Avoidant Attachment: Understanding Insecure Avoidant Attachment," by Joyce Catlett, M.A. adults with avoidant attachment styles may be identified by the following:
When faced with threats of separation or loss, many dismissive men and women are able to focus their attention on other issues and goals. Others tend to withdraw and attempt to cope with the threat on their own. They deny their vulnerability and use repression to manage emotions that are aroused in situations that activate their attachment needs. When they seek support from a partner during a crisis, they are likely to use indirect strategies such as hinting, complaining, and sulking. Read more at psychalive.org
From the outside, the patterns of behavior with an avoidant may look like a lack of interest in other people. It might seem like the individual has a tendency to be aloof, or lack desire in a stressful situation.
It may also appear that they are fearful of being hurt by others, which can lead to problems with physical closeness and intimacy.
These attachment patterns can also compound into larger problems as personal boundaries can become larger issues in a dysfunctional relationship.
What are some ways to overcome avoidant attachment?
The emotional experience of long-term relationships requires healthy communication. Seeking professional counseling is one of the most effective ways to overcome attachment behaviors.
While there are many different methods to overcoming avoidant attachment, here here are three that can start improving the quality of your relationships today:
First, learn to accept yourself first before trying to change any part of your personality. You need to know that there is nothing bad about you. It's okay to be imperfect. Accepting yourself helps you to stop comparing yourself to others. Once you realize that no one is perfect, then you won't compare yourself to others anymore.
Second, practice self-care. Make sure you eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, sleep enough, etc. These habits help you stay happy and positive. Also, spend time doing activities that you enjoy. Doing fun stuff keeps you motivated and gives you energy.
Third, seek the help of a professional therapist that specializes in overcoming attachment styles and the response you're conditioned to having. A good therapist will teach you how to deal with difficult situations like those caused by avoidant attachment style.
An experienced therapist may be able to show you how to improve your relationships and social skills.
If you or your partner could benefit from counseling, we invite you to reach out to Evolve Therapy today.