All human beings have a basic need to connect with others. But we don’t always do so effectively. The way that we attach to those around us is usually learned in childhood from how we formed attachments to our parents. For the avoidant attachment style, those early bonds were anything but secure and the reason for doomed adult relationships.
The term “attachment” refers to the bond that forms between an infant or child and their parents or primary caregivers. It’s an interaction of communication and response that builds physical and emotional closeness as infants rely on others in order to survive.
When the relationship with our caregiver is positive, it provides a secure sense of security and trust that the caregiver will always be there for them to understand their needs and feelings. It makes a baby and child feel like they have a safe haven of comfort when they are experiencing emotional distress.
What babies and children learn from their parents and caregivers becomes the blueprint of their worldview and how they behave in relationships.
[Read: Attachment styles theory – The 4 styles and the 19 signs and ways you connect to others]
There are two different types of attachment styles—the insecure attachment and the secure attachment style.
A secure attachment develops when a child can connect to others in a healthy manner.
Learned early on, the person with a secure attachment felt safe in exploring their world, knowing they could venture out and return to find their parent’s safety and unconditional love.
The insecure attachment style is not the same. For the insecure attachment style, they desperately want to form bonds and feel connected, but they aren’t sure how to get their emotional needs met.
Often habitual, the behaviors they use to form bonds with people get them the exact opposite of what they want and need emotionally. [Read: Why being addicted to someone is not the same as being in love]
The attachment theory was formulated and tested by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
It was Bowlby who theorized that the attachment behaviors of infants when separated from their parents are a form of survival instinct while Ainsworth created an assessment technique called the Strange Situation Classification to see how attachments vary between children.
All attachment styles refer to the kind of thinking and behaving in relationships. Avoidant attachment is a type of insecure attachment. The main characteristics are avoiding feelings, emotional closeness, and intimacy.
Children with an avoidant attachment style often develop the belief that other people aren’t reliable, trustworthy, or caring. In infancy, they quickly learned that they must meet their own needs because their parents and caregivers are not responsive to them. This form of childhood trauma is called “attachment trauma.”
As a result, children with avoidant attachment may feel the need to protect themselves. As an adult, they usually have behaviors that allow them to meet their own needs without having to have connections or help and support from other people.
According to studies, about 30 percent of people today appear to be avoidant attachers. [Read: How a fearful avoidant attachment style keeps you from harmony]
All humans have survival instincts, but we also have a lot more needs beyond that. Everyone needs affection, love, empathy, and affection. If an infant isn’t treated with empathy and love, such as being soothed, held, talked to, and played with, then they think that they aren’t worthy of positive human connection.
Obviously, this is emotionally devastating, and so to protect themselves, they disconnect from the need to feel loved and connected. They are not in touch with their feelings, desires, and needs. So, they avoid expressing emotion – or even feeling it – and only rely on their own abilities.
Like all attachment styles, avoidant attachment occurs in infancy and early childhood, but it continues well into adulthood. This can lead to life-long mental health problems, too.
This style can lead people to be overly independent and self-reliant. They also will probably avoid intimate relationships or at least have a lack of emotional closeness.
This style also makes someone feel unworthy. Because they have low self-esteem, it also can lead to social anxiety and even depression.
As we discussed, developing an avoidant attachment style is dependent on the emotional availability of the parents and caregivers. The parents aren’t absent from their child’s life and don’t necessarily neglect them in general. [Read: Is someone pushing you away? 23 signs, why they push, and what to do]
However, the caregivers do tend to avoid expressing emotions and intimacy. They also don’t really pick up on the child’s emotional needs either. Instead, the parents are reserved and tend to avoid the child when he or she reaches out for emotional support, affection, or reassurance.
If a situation because more emotional, then the caregivers tend to become more distant the more it escalates. They might feel overwhelmed by the child and want to leave the situation. This is when the child understands that they are not emotionally available to them.
When a child expresses their need for emotional closeness with their parent, they feel like a door is slammed in their face. They don’t ever get it. [Read: Being raised by narcissists – 18 harmful ways it affects your life]
Not only do the parents not express their own emotions, but they also might not tolerate and discourage the child from expressing themselves too. And this isn’t just limited to negative emotions. They also discourage the expression of any positive emotions too, such as happiness, excitement, or joy.
If a child does express these negative emotions, the parents can become angry and try to stop the child by telling them to suck it up and get over it. The parent expects the young child to be more reserved, serious, and independent. These are very unrealistic expectations. But nonetheless, they have them.
The reason the parents act this way toward the children is that they also have the avoidant attachment style. Their parents probably raised them that way, and so that’s why they accidentally pass it on to their children.
Here are some other parental behaviors that may help create an avoidant attachment style in their children. [Read: What does it mean to be emotionally unavailable? 19 signs and fixes]
-Refuses to acknowledge their child’s cries or other signs of fear or distress
-Tries to repress their child’s display of emotion by telling them to grow up, toughen up, or simply to stop crying
-Shames the child for expressing their emotions
-Unrealistic expectations of a young child’s independence
-May not meet the child’s physical needs like hunger, touch, or safety
-Doesn’t show empathy to the child
-Outright rejection of the child
-Parent might be antisocial or very depressed
-Making fun of a child’s problems
-Being annoyed at a child experiencing a problem
-Not addressing the child’s medical issues
-Avoiding physical contact and touch
[Read: How to be emotionally available – 17 ways to open up to love and life]
There are two different types of avoidant attachment styles—the dismissive avoidant attachment style and the fearful avoidant attachment style. For the person who possesses either of these ritualistic ways to attach, it can be a bumpy, arduous, and self-destructive ride through a tumultuous relationship.
A person with the dismissive-avoidant attachment style attempts to keep their partners at arm’s length, never letting them in emotionally. They distance themselves from people. Because they keep their partner isolated from their emotions, they often take on the role of parenting them, because of their need to hold onto “pseudo-independence.”
The dismissive avoidant attachment is usually concerned with only their own needs, both basic and emotional. They aren’t very concerned about the people they form relationships with. [Read: A guide to grow up and face life like an adult]
The notion of pseudo-independence is just an illusional construct. Inside every human being, there is a need for connection. As hard as the dismissive avoidant attachment style tries not to need it, they lead more isolated and inward lives, usually keeping even those closest to them far away.
The dismissive-avoidant type insists they don’t need to love anyone nor do they have a need to receive love. They use defense mechanisms to push people away and avoid intimacy so they remain invulnerable.
They are also capable of shutting someone down. A dismissive-avoidant strips away all emotion and doesn’t react to someone highly emotional who tries desperately to break through their wall.
If threatened by someone’s rejection, they likely react without caring. Saying things like “I don’t care” to shut others down. They protect themselves from hurt. [Read: How self-respect affects you and your relationship]
This attachment style is in a constant state of flux. They work tirelessly to keep their emotions in check and not to get emotional until they can’t anymore.
Guided by fear of attachment on both ends, when they feel someone pulling away, they cling harder, seeking to get their emotional needs met. When they get too close, they withdraw and push away, fearing vulnerability.
Not capable of avoiding their own anxiety about attaching to someone, they appear unpredictable and moody, always in a high state of alert. [Read: 13 steps to letting go of relationship insecurity and learn to let love in]
Although working under the belief that they should reach out to others to be close to them, when they get close to someone, they pull away. This leads to the continual push and pull that frustrates and confuses their partner.
Attachment styles are the way that we all try to get our emotional needs met. For the fearful attachment style, there is no organization of thought for how to get what they need from those they are attached to. So, they continually send mixed signals with no plan of action for getting what they need from others.
People with fearful avoidant attachment style tend to be in very dramatic and chaotic relationships as adults with extreme highs and lows. They have a terrific fear of abandonment.
And they also struggle with intimacy. Because they fear vulnerability with others. Sometimes this fear keeps them in unhealthy relationships or staying in abusive ones. [Read: A step-by-step guide to get out of an abusive relationship]
People of any age who have the avoidant attachment style might also show generalized symptoms of anxiety and depression. Here are some other signs of this attachment style.
Because they never got any physical affection from their parents, it makes them uncomfortable to touch other people. So, they avoid touching or hugging as much as possible.
Eye contact is a very personal and intimate behavior to have with another person. They don’t like feeling that deep connection with others. [Read: What does eye contact mean to a guy? Is he a subtle flirt?]
They never really had a sense of control during their childhood. So, this could manifest in some unhealthy eating disorders.
They always had to rely on themselves during childhood, so they don’t see the point of asking others for help. It actually makes them feel uncomfortable.
Because they don’t like to touch people, they don’t like being too close in general. So, they might sit far away from people to keep a physical distance. [Read: Do guys like to cuddle? 19 truths you never before knew]
Because they are uncomfortable with physical and emotional closeness, they perceive anyone who wants this to be needy or clingy. They might try to push these people away.
Not only did their parents not encourage the expression of emotion, but they also discouraged it. So, they might not be in touch with their emotions at all. If they aren’t, they can’t show them easily.
They never received help from their parents growing up. So, they don’t know what it’s like to get help from anyone. Therefore, they often refuse it. [Read: Selfish people – 20 ways to spot and stop them from hurting you]
If someone who loves them tries to give them emotional support, they tend to reject it. They struggle to feel comfortable and don’t even know what to do with it.
They tried to get close to their parents growing up, but they rejected them. So, they fear getting hurt by others if they get too close. As a result, they tend to withdraw when someone tries to get close to them.
Their parents conditioned them to take care of their own problems. When stressed, someone with an avoidant attachment style doesn’t let their partner help them solve their issues. They want to do it on their own. [Read: 24 sad signs and consequences of emotional neglect in a relationship]
Because they take care of their problems by themselves, they expect others to do the same. So, when their partners need help from them, they typically won’t let them.
While they can get into relationships, a lot of people with this attachment style prefer to be single. If they are in a partnership, then they want to feel independent and free as much as possible.
When they are in an emotional situation that would make it difficult for others to keep themselves together, they appear to be calm and cool. They don’t express that they might be distressed by anything. [Read: How to reduce stress – 17 fastest hacks to a calmer and happier life]
Being emotionally close makes them very uncomfortable. Their partners might feel rejected and take this personally.
They are so used to avoiding emotions that they either aren’t aware of what they are feeling, or they just suppress them. It’s unlikely that they will express much emotion – either positive or negative.
To them, complaining is pointless. The expression of frustration was never met with anything positive when they were children, so they avoid doing it as adults too. [Read: 23 Signs and why he is afraid to fall for you and scared to commit to love]
They are not very good communicators. So, when something is bothering them, they will not come out and directly tell anyone. Instead, they’ll just sulk or hint about it.
Their childhood was not really filled with a lot of fond, warm, and fuzzy memories. So, they might have blocked a lot of it out and not remember much from their childhood.
Everyone fears rejection to some degree. But people with avoidant attachment style fear it even more than the average person does. So, they tend to “shut down” to avoid it. [Read: How to handle rejection without making a fool of yourself]
They like to have their own space. Feeling smothered is a horrible feeling for them, so they like to do their own thing whenever possible.
Their parents are not always kind or available to them, so they don’t have high expectations of people. They think that people will always disappoint them.
They didn’t get their needs met very well by their parents while they were growing up. So, this might lead them to be overly focused on themselves in adulthood, and not on other people’s needs. [Read: Are you selfish in the relationship? 19 signs you’re being a user]
Now, you might be wondering how avoidant attachment styles manifest in relationships. Let’s break it down and talk about the anxious-avoidant type first.
When you’re in a relationship with an anxious-avoidant person, it isn’t easy. In fact, some of these people have little or no interest in romantic relationships. Because of this, they have a higher tendency to only have casual relationships.
The reason they prefer casual relationships – or even hookups and friends with benefits – is because they don’t have to become emotionally close to their lovers. These kinds of “relationships” make it easy for them to keep their distance. [Read: Anxious personality – 7 reasons to date an anxious person]
If and when they do enter into a more serious or committed relationship, they tend to become fearful and anxious. They don’t like it when things get too personal, so they can have the tendency to withdraw when it does.
Overall, those with anxious attachment have a fear of emotional intimacy. Most people would probably describe them as a commitment-phobe.
The ironic thing, however, is that they might simultaneously desire and fear close relationships. They might even try to escape the relationship even when it is healthy and secure. [Read: How to know when to give someone space – 19 signs they’re sick of you]
Because of this, as adults, they are more likely to have unhealthy, unstable, and even abusive relationships. They crave intimacy but are anxious when it becomes too meaningful or lasts too long.
This could be because they have a fear of abandonment. They also don’t want to be controlled in a relationship either. This can make them avoid meaningful connections because their moods often fluctuate.
When people are in a secure relationship, the two partners take time to get to know each other. They explore their fears, likes and dislikes, values, and much more.
But when an anxious avoidant is in a relationship, they feel like they are being pushed outside of their comfort zone by sharing their thoughts and emotions. [Read: 18 Emotions you shouldn’t feel in a healthy relationship]
When this happens, they don’t know how to deal with it. And their typical response is to shut down or withdraw from the relationship – either partially or completely.
People with the dismissive-avoidant attachment also try to avoid emotional closeness and intimacy. They are also uncomfortable with physical contact and try to limit it to sexual touch. The reason they do this is that they want to maintain a “safe” emotional distance from their partner.
They also tend to value the friendship aspect of a relationship, but the romantic and emotional part distresses them. Love, passion, and commitment are not something they are typically looking for.
They can also be perceived as loners. They might prefer to be isolated from other people and could even be seen as anti-social. [Read: Are some people meant to be alone and single? 18 signs you’re that one]
If they are faced with a separation or a loss of some sort, they might dismiss it and refocus their attention on other things. Or they might withdraw and attempt to deal with it on their own without emotional support from others.
They also hate being vulnerable. As a result, they repress their emotions whenever they do let themselves feel something. If they do decide to seek support from their partner during a stressful time, they are likely to be very indirect about it by complaining, hinting, or sulking.
Many of them choose not to get into relationships because they fear rejection. They don’t want to acknowledge anything negative that is going on and may tune out of a conversation that they find uncomfortable. [Read: How to respond to a rejection and do the right thing even if it hurts]
They also might be quite selfish at times. For example, they might be overly focused on themselves and what makes them comfortable. Because of this, they will commonly ignore or disregard their partner’s feelings and needs.
When their partner wants to talk about difficult things, they find themselves unable to share their thoughts and feelings. Instead, they might resort to arguing or becoming distant and aloof.
They also appear to have a high opinion of themselves while they have a negative cynical attitude toward other people. This apparent high self-esteem is a defense mechanism that protects them because, in reality, they have low self-esteem. [Read: Dating someone with low self-esteem – what it’s like for both of you]
Because of this, they might get angry when they think there is a threat to their self-esteem. For example, they might feel that way when another person fails to support them or affirm their over-inflated self-image. They are afraid of being “exposed” as a “fraud.”
As you can probably guess by now, the avoidant attachment style is not always easy in relationships. A person like this can be very challenging to be in a partnership with because of everything we have discussed thus far.
If they are in a relationship with a securely attached person, their partner might be more patient with them than if they were with another insecurely attached person. Even so, the securely attached person will still have a difficult time understanding them. [Read: How to show empathy and learn to understand someone else’s feelings]
If you find that you are in a relationship with an avoidant, then it can be difficult. So, here are some tips for how to work together as a couple to create a supportive relationship and help them turn their attachment style into a healthy attachment.
The first and most important thing to do is to realize that your partner is being avoidant because they think it’s necessary for their survival. It’s important to be patient and give them time to learn how to share their feelings and express themselves in new ways that they don’t perceive as safe.
Your partner probably has different values and thought processes than you. So, try to understand their perspective and compromise to meet their needs.
Try to accept them as they are and give them a sense of safety by showering them with reassurance and affection. [Read: The meaning of love – what does true love feel like beyond words?]
They had to learn not to be needy when they were children in order to please their parents. Therefore, your partner probably doesn’t share their needs, and they might be confused when you do. They think that people are supposed to take care of themselves, so ask them what their “needs” are.
When you don’t feel supported or validated by your partner, it can be frustrating. Even so, you should avoid the temptation to control their behaviors to get your needs met. It could backfire on you.
They feel sensitive about being controlled because they are so used to being independent.
Avoidant partners often need some alone time every day. They might even feel shameful about that. So, beat them to it and offer alone time to them before they say they need it. This makes them feel more accepted. [Read: 17 signs of a supportive partner who encourages you and your goals]
Because they probably spent so much of their childhood alone, they can get lost in their activities. So, don’t just pop in for a chit-chat, even when it’s just through texts or calls. This might annoy or startle them. Let them take a minute to refocus.
There will be times when your partner isn’t available for you sexually or emotionally. So, just remember, it’s not you – it’s their own issues.
Don’t take it personally and accuse them of not caring about you. This will cause them to feel shame, and then they will distance themselves from you.
Since our attachment styles form in infancy and early childhood, unfortunately, it’s too late to “prevent” it in adulthood. The only way you can prevent someone from having avoidant attachment is in your own child. [Read: 9 ways to quit attracting unhealthy relationships]
When you have children, you just need to make sure that you satisfy their emotional needs. You need to prove to them that you are always there for them and make them feel safe, as well as loved and cared for. Being a good, nurturing parent is the only way to prevent this attachment style.
The way a person develops their main attachment style is the way they learn early in life through their parent or caregiver. Although habitual and often done automatically and without conscious thought, there is a way to change unhealthy habits keeping you in emotionally tumultuous relationships.
The best way to treat this is to seek therapy from a trained professional. A therapist can help you dig deep into your subconscious mind and uncover the reasons you are the way you are. Then, with strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy, you can be treated and become comfortable with intimacy and feelings of closeness, as well as in managing your own emotions. [Read: Relationship therapy – 25 clues to know if it will help your romance]
The first step to overcoming the avoidant attachment style is to first be aware that you have it. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. So, this is the most important thing you can do if you want to change your attachment style.
Once you admit it to yourself, then it’s possible to alter your behaviors for a fulfilling relationship with a secure attachment and find a new way of relating to others. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to figure out what works for you and what works against you. If you want to find peace in your relationship, then it might be your attachment style to blame.
[Read: Emotional attachment – 25 reasons and signs of healthy and unhealthy love]
Take a good hard look at the way you form bonds and the signals you send. Is your method of getting your emotional needs met working for or against you? Then assess if you have an avoidant attachment style.
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