Avoidant Attachment, Part 1: The Dependence Dilemma

Two partners sit on opposite sides of sofa looking away from each otherEditor’s note: This article is the first in a two-part series. See Avoidant Attachment, Part 2: The Downside of Preservation.

We’re in a relationship, and we feel nothing. Or we gather an ever-growing stockpile of resentment, invoking various strategies to escape intimacy without actually rejecting our partner or escalating into conflict. Does this sound familiar?

While romantic relationships may start off with blissful ease, the dependence of connection can eventually feel threatening. We might feel as if their needs are overtaking ours. We may have less time to relax or get things done in the presence of others. We have to hold our guard against judgment or rejection, and we may come to yearn for bodily regulation, free from social threat, in the safety of alone time.

We can’t assert ourselves, because we worry our needs trigger those around us, increasing and amplifying their needs. The most direct path toward self-regulation requires disengagement from others. So as their needs amplify, we withdraw, maybe even shut down, knowing engagement only increases threat of conflict.

Authentic connection may feel unsafe in this conditioned reality of social threat. It isn’t possible for us to lean on an Other, and intimacy is not allowed. Dependence has come to equal imprisonment, and conflict means the demise of self-agency, which to some, may feel like the death of Self. While saying, “Don’t see me,” we resent those who do not see us.

In our more resourced moments—maybe during time alone, when our bodies are calm—we may desire connection, recognize patterns of limited relationships, admit to loneliness, or even regret about the ways we’ve pushed others away. We may be curious how we can become more emotionally available to those we love. It may be the case that we only feel softness and desire for connection in retrospect, when our bodies feel calm and regulated, when resources feel replenished. We feel love only in its absence.

Avoidant Origins

If neglect leads to obliviousness and oppression fosters freeze/dissociation, then we are left with two options. Either we do not know our emotions exist or we actively separate from the discomfort of them, walling them off so they do not exist in our perceived reality.

If reflection teaches us about ourselves, neglect presents a null mirror, leaving us less aware and without language for internal experience. Oppression often removes any permission to speak or assert ourselves. We might feel more comfortable in our minds when we are solving problems and finding value and purpose in that. We may even seek out problems that need solutions, chaos that seeks refinement, or relationships that confirm our belief we cannot depend on anyone because their needs are too great.

When we experience consistent disconnection (oppression or neglect) in childhood, we often feel easily engulfed by the emotional needs of others. We may desire space and freedom to meet our own needs without having to track or navigate theirs. We have learned through childhood experience that our presence—our emotions, our needs, our mere existence—is a burden. So we contain these things. We internalize and enforce counter-dependent rules in ourselves and in others.

We are drawn toward the illusion of connection, often describing our ideal partner as one that “gets” us in such a way that we need not put any effort into explaining, that we need not become vulnerable. This level of attunement is both the missing experience of empathy we lacked in childhood and the mirage of our attachment journey.

When feeling helpless to meet the needs of others, we often use strategies to disengage the attachment systems of those around us, perceiving their escalating emotions as a growing threat (especially when accompanied by facial or other physical expressions of anger that remind us of early life oppression). But this might look like withdrawal and can feel like abandonment to the people we love, who may find themselves walking on eggshells to avoid exposing us to emotions that trigger our feelings of oppression or helplessness (in much the same way that we attempt to avoid triggering their attachment reactions).

Seclusion and Delusion

Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, suggests that we on the avoidant side tend to conceptualize the world in terms of individual systems rather than social/interactive systems. (“I take care of me. You take care of you.”) While we may occasionally function well in pairs or groups, the transition into those settings can feel threatening, and our resistance may present an ongoing challenge in relationship. We live lives more solitary, even in a romantic partnership.

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We are drawn toward the illusion of connection, often describing our ideal partner as one that “gets” us in such a way that we need not put any effort into explaining, that we need not become vulnerable. This level of attunement is both the missing experience of empathy we lacked in childhood and the mirage of our attachment journey.

As a defense, we often remain intent on naming the absence of empathy, even seeking confirmation that our partners are not providing such a basic human need. We might say, “This doesn’t feel like love.” Or, “I want to be loved, not needed.” More likely, we’ll say nothing. We’ll simply resent this relationship in which we feel unseen and unknown, resent partners for not picking up on our signals, for not providing the empathy and acceptance for which we yearn, the positive reflections we never received.

While any extreme attachment posture creates challenges when navigating romantic relationships, those on the avoidant end of the spectrum often feel helplessness in response to external emotion (“You’re supposed to contain your emotion. If you can’t contain your own, I can’t contain it for you.”), reacting instinctively in ways that inhibit intimacy. Eventually patterns of broken relationships and unmet needs may be recognized, and the belief that love is not actually possible may be the result.

The Freeze State: Hiding and Hoarding

When fight and flight are not viable options, we move into freeze. We avoid detection and conserve resources.

That urge to disappear, to become small and quiet—that’s freeze. In decreasing presentation of Self, we decrease risk of being seen. We preserve our chances of survival. For those on the avoidant side, being seen may feel unsafe. But this creates internal conflict.

We may have been born with an innate drive to connect and lean on others, but survival has overridden attachment, though the drive for attachment remains active. The yearning to be seen and loved is countered by the drive to become small and invisible to threats. When safety is the underlying goal, hiding becomes nuanced, entangled in everyday behaviors that others may not even recognize.

Many of us practice any number of these avoidant strategies, but this doesn’t mean we are limited to them. We also carry anxious and secure strategies, right along with the avoidant ones. The challenge lies in recognizing the strategies we default to and working to develop our tool belt of alternatives.

Scarcity is a common perspective between anxious and avoidant attachment styles. The anxious side views interpersonal connection in terms of scarcity. (“I can never get enough. It’s always disappearing.”) The avoidant end tends to view time, space, and other resources in terms of scarcity. And when resources are viewed as individual possessions rather than shared, conservation often dictates competition and resentment. (“My time is not our time. We can’t both get needs met at the same time. When I’m with you, my needs will not be met.”)

A Menu of Strategies: Distract, Deflect, Disengage

While those on the anxious end of attachment often use strategies to amplify and draw attention, we on the avoidant end lean toward the opposite. We actively diminish and contain our reactions in order to avoid detection and negative attention. For those organized around the expectation of continued oppression, negative focus can feel unbearable and unresolvable.

We tend to do whatever is necessary to avoid judgment and rejection, which means a low tolerance for blame or responsibility (and decreased likelihood of apologizing or acknowledging our own faults). While partners may perceive them as premeditated, these survival behaviors are often subconscious and automatic.

Beyond more obvious avoidant strategies like not speaking, physically isolating, chasing alone time and saying “No” by default in order to maintain space and physical regulation, we may utilize a wide range of more subtle strategies to conceal our needs and perceived inadequacies and ensure we avoid attack/judgment/rejection:

  • Deflecting or distracting: We redirect attention away from what we consider our flaws. This often presents as “shifting blame” if we tend to put the spotlight on someone else when we feel blamed or judged.
  • Scapegoating or gaslighting: We dismiss or invalidate perceptions/emotions. Invalidating reality, we tell others they should not feel a certain way. Others around us may notice a lack of congruence between our words and nonverbal expressions when we deny our emotions in order to avoid conflict. (“You’re wrong. I’m not feeling that. I’m fine.”) As a result, our loved ones may question themselves, feel pathologized, take on blame in an effort to preserve relationship, and/or cease their behavior.
  • Placating: We give them just enough to claim we satisfied their request and then shift the blame (deflect) to them for not accepting this as enough.
  • Fixing: We offer pragmatic solutions instead of being with them in their emotions (for fear they will realize we do not know what to do and reject us), then blame them (deflect) for not accepting our solutions.
  • Disowning fear: We let partners carry the relational fears and pursue and initiate so we never risk rejection.
  • Avoiding commitment: We keep a foot out the door in any relationship. We may also reject preemptively to avoid being rejected. We may even hoard resources (emotional, financial, etc) in preparation for the rejection we believe to be inevitable.
  • Rationalizing: After pushing others away, we create narratives to explain why we cannot move closer to them. This often leaves us confusingly oblivious to our own strategies and the fact that we’re making things up as we go along.
  • Passive aggression: Because a direct expression of emotions feels too vulnerable and leaves us wide open for attack/rejection, we attack in subtle, deniable ways (such as using silent treatment to get attention instead of saying we feel hurt).
  • Perpetual deniability: “Did that hurt? I didn’t mean it that way.” “I never said that.” “You’re imagining it. That’s just your fear.” (See gaslighting and passive aggression above.)
  • Justification versus assertiveness: We justify our needs instead of stating them and asking for support. Rather than admitting we need time alone, we say we need time to work to avoid hurting a partner who feels easily abandoned.

Within this process lies invalidation of Self and Other. Over time, the shaming inherent in these strategies can change those around us. As they lose their light, they may initiate less, which may make them feel safer (less confrontational) to us. But what this also means is that they may be growing closer to the point of rejection that we expected all along. In this way, by rejecting their bids for intimacy, we create what we fear and expect: rejection by those closest to us.

Many of us practice any number of these avoidant strategies, but this doesn’t mean we are limited to them. We also carry anxious and secure strategies, right along with the avoidant ones. The challenge lies in recognizing the strategies we default to and working to develop our tool belt of alternatives. If you aren’t sure of how to begin, a qualified and compassionate counselor can help.

References:

  1. Kinnison, J. (2016, October 18). Type: Dismissive-avoidant attachment style. Retrieved from https://jebkinnison.com/bad-boyfriends-the-book/type-dismissive-avoidant
  2. Sattin, N. (2015, December 29). 19: Recipe for a secure, healthy relationship with Stan Tatkin. (2015, December 29). Retrieved from http://www.neilsattin.com/blog/2015/12/19-recipe-for-a-secure-healthy-relationship-with-stan-tatkin
  3. Tatkin, S. (2012). Wired for love: How understanding your partners brain can help you defuse conflicts and spark intimacy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jeremy McAllister, MA, LPC, therapist in Portland, Oregon

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tiana

    Tiana

    February 2nd, 2018 at 3:55 PM

    Where is the line between introverted and avoidant? For me, “We can’t both get needs met at the same time,” rings really true. I love my friends, but I can’t get socialization and relax at the same time. I feel all their emotions, and it’s exhausting. How much “me time” is too much?

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    February 14th, 2018 at 11:03 AM

    There’s nothing wrong with ‘me time’. It’s a good and healthy thing. We all need time with Self and with Other. We’re just looking for increased flexibility between the two – a sense of confidence and control either way. “When I’m with people, I’m okay. When I’m alone, I’m okay.” For those of us with more avoidant strategies, the challenge lies in transitioning to people time without attacking those around us for the burden (which is often just saying, “You’re not going to like me as I am right now, and I don’t have the energy to pretend I’m anything else, so it’s easier to just be alone.”) We do a lot of preemptive rejection to avoid getting rejected ourselves. Life gets a little easier when we start just being honest with everyone about our need for alone time. So we can show up to a party for half an hour and just admit that’s our limit and expect our friends to understand and love us at our limits. We tend to expect a lot of rejection that actually doesn’t happen. The weird thing is that the more we communicate the more we begin to realize we’re actually accepted as we are. It’s a realization that will never happen until we speak up to share our thoughts and feelings.

  • Dee

    Dee

    February 5th, 2018 at 10:26 AM

    This is me to a T! :/

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    February 14th, 2018 at 11:07 AM

    Thank you, Dee. It won’t fit everyone so well, and not everyone will want to claim it. Taking ownership is a positive step.

  • Greg

    Greg

    March 27th, 2018 at 1:28 AM

    The first line of your article fits me perfectly. In my first few dating situations as a young man, I quickly noticed that I didn’t develop any feelings for the other person, and usually distanced myself from them after a few weeks. I knew at the time that I wasn’t like my friends who fell in and out of love constantly in our 20’s. Now 43, I’ve never been in long term relationship and haven’t had an interest in or a desire to date in years. I love my independence and peace of mind (relationships generate far too much complexity), and I rarely feel lonely even during prolonged periods of introversion. I don’t really empathize with others, and often find them emotionally disorganized (a nice way of saying they’re often a “mess”). Although I do have a great group of friends that I travel the world with. The thing that surprises me is I figured out that I was dismissive/avoidant very early in life (didn’t know it had a name at the time) and surmised I was happier on my own, but in reading articles like yours and other writers, I’m seeing that some dismissive/avoidants actually end up in relationships and try to make them work, despite the fact that it goes against our nature. I’m really surprised they were able to move past the initial dating phase into a committed phase. The few partners I’ve had usually detect my indifference very early during dating and go away. Truthfully, sometimes it was more ambivalence and not true indifference. Anyway, it has been very educational reading a lot of the published material on attachment, as I was completely unaware this was a studied topic. I’m really looking forward to learning more. Thank you for writing on this subject!!

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    March 28th, 2018 at 1:45 PM

    Hi Greg. It sounds like you’ve come to a conclusion that is not uncommon on this avoidant end — that this is just our nature. You have organized around that and found many resources to support you in this way of living. As you mention, it does bring a peace of mind to know we are safe in the systems we’ve created. Yes to the relational ambivalence (not indifference)! That is so much part of the ongoing, repeating experience. Is it safe? Is it not? Is this how it’s supposed to feel? Am I missing out on anything? Am I going to get trapped in some conflict that will never end? Do I actually feel anything? So, yes. I just wanted to validate the ongoing challenge and the sense of relief in choosing to step out of the dance. And I’m wondering if the fact that you’re curious (or even fascinated) by the topic may suggest there are still parts of you wanting your attention. Or maybe not… Best wishes to you…

  • A.

    A.

    May 28th, 2018 at 3:03 PM

    Any advice for repairing a (dating) relationship once the avoidant has sh** down? We were seemingly madly in Love for 8 months despite my partners willingness to admit his discomfort at the thought of marriage. Then he suddenly experienced a very emotional situation with his daughter and his job became very stressful right around the same time. Despite his claims of love, he has totally withdrawn and broken up with me. It’s been a month and I’ve tried reaching out a few times. He is responsive and friendly, but will not initiate contact. He seems content to match my effort of communication and we even met up for coffee once, but he won’t inititate. Any suggestions on how to help repair the relationship ornjust admit defeat and move on?

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    May 28th, 2018 at 7:09 PM

    A., Unfortunately, this is a common experience. It sounds like he is functioning normally for someone with avoidant strategies moving through a period of stress and coming toward a year in relationship (time for all of his attachment stuff to start kicking in). He is withdrawing, conserving energy, not risking initiation, not revealing much. He may (or may not) want to be drawn out, then feel on-the-spot and shut down when you attempt to draw him out. You might ask him what he needs, and for some on the avoidant end, just the word ‘needs’ can trigger counter-dependent strategies. He may just be doing his best to handle all of his own stuff without burdening anybody – which of course does not serve to bring either of you closer to intimacy. Those on the avoidant end have been know to flip into pursuit mode when necessary. And, while not always the case, waiting on someone with avoidant strategies may mean putting your life on hold for months or years without any change or clarity.
    A potential strategy for you…
    Communicate your needs directly, give ongoing permission/invitation to hear his, and (though you’ve had 8 months together and the relationship may feel like it has so much potential) live your life as if he is not available, and communicate this to him as well so he doesn’t think you’re just out there waiting for him. Find and do things you love to do, either on your own or with other friends/family. He will either feel relief and let you go or feel regret and pursue (or at least communicate more). Whether or not this relationship goes anywhere, it is important in general to focus on self care and to maintain consistent support (friends, family, support group, therapist) outside of any romantic partner. Best wishes…

  • James

    James

    July 19th, 2018 at 1:26 PM

    Thanks for writing. I resonate with much of this and have been involved in a very difficult relationship of 2.5 years. My main difficulty is that I have been half in and half out of this relationship for the entire time. I have cheated and put my partner through very much stress and discomfort. I’ve hid many feelings and often let my feelings of ambivalence out in unhealthy ways, such as during arguments. My partner has stayed with me through all this out of love. I have been doing what probably feels to her like the bare minimum, but for me, feels like so much to just stay with her; I attribute my ambivalence and “need” to run away as coming from her negative character traits. I have trouble trusting her side of stories and constantly wondering what she did wrong. I tell myself that this is from all the times she has made me feel bad, even before we started dating and knew each other as friends. While she does have her own issues, I drive myself crazy wondering whether my own ambivalence is due to avoidance issues, or genuine compatibility or personal safety issues…

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    July 19th, 2018 at 5:51 PM

    Hi James. Thank you for the honesty and openness. For so many, it comes down to this ambivalence — and as you’ve articulated so well, the confusion of never knowing where to aim the blame, never knowing why it feels so hard to commit. We build all these narratives to explain to ourselves, and sometimes they feel fully real, and then sometimes we’re actually in the relationship and things feel like they’re going okay. And just using the word attribute shows you’re already aware of this and do not always trust your own interpretations. We all need safety, and relationships tend to shrivel in the absence of trust for either self or other. For those of us that know we’re avoidant, that becomes just one more point of ambivalence – knowing that we never (or rarely, or at least ‘not yet’) feel fully in, that the idea feels foreign or impossible. You’ve just articulated the common conundrum. Now the next and harder part is making choices, knowing that none of them feel like a win, knowing many of us pull away from the choosing for fear of hurting anyone, making an irreparable move, getting too close to our own dissociated feelings of abandonment if actually ‘abandoning’ someone. This is the stuck place. A good couples therapist can help sort this out, providing more objective reflection and even external feedback around compatibility, and creating space for both parties to speak their truth from their heart, to see and be seen, feel and be felt, differentiate from attachment patterns, and communicate in new ways. Best wishes…

  • buffy

    buffy

    July 20th, 2018 at 6:15 AM

    I have a “secure” attachment style with some avoidant tendencies (when I take attachment tests I’m in the Secure quadrant near the avoidance axis). My partner is pretty solidly in the avoidant quadrant (when I take the test for him, which I realize isn’t ideal). We have been together for 11 years while living 50 miles apart, but we work together and live together about half the time. I am pretty sure that my ability to disappear to my own house (I have a kid that I have 50% custody) has allowed us to last this long. However, now my kid is graduating and the expectation is that I’ll move into his house (this seems CRAZY). My questions are: are we asking for serious trouble if I move in? How do I get him to listen to and digest this attachment stuff? (we are both scientists, but he has no interest in exploring this type of psychology.) He is classic avoidant: never had a long term relationship before me (he was in his late 40’s when we met). I met all his criteria for dream girl status back then, but of course now real relationship issues have forced him to realize that I can’t read his mind (this still upsets him). He loves me, but is often annoyed with me. I have often thought he’s just too dismissive (and not affectionate), but then remember that because of my own avoidant tendencies, that I can feel suffocated with people who have affection needs. Most men in my past have thought that I was not very affectionate (and kind of cold), but my current partner doesn’t think that AT ALL (compared to him, I’m practically needy (but I’m not)). It’s somewhat comical that I know him better than he knows himself! thank you for even reading this!

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    July 23rd, 2018 at 12:50 PM

    Buffy, I’m hearing the part of you saying you’re in for serious trouble — which will likely mean some rough waters and may not mean the demise of the relationship. While ideally the relationship would feel a bit equal, a more likely scenario is that one of you will take on the role of initiating conversations, of being the drive for the relationship, and it sounds like you’re already there. If neither of you take this role (even though it’s a role with some inherent conflict), it’s likely you’ll both start to feel like you’re just roommates, that there is no romance or drive. You already have a lot of awareness. So use that. What would happen if you were just clear and honest about your side — your fears of committing when he is not willing to invest time in learning about how to be in a relationship? This unwillingness or rigidity is, of course, is normal on the avoidant side. And he may, as you mentioned, carry the fantasy of someone that can just read his mind and nurture the relationship forward without any assistance from him, and he may just carry so much shame about not knowing what to do that it feels easier to just not try. So deciding and asserting your own boundaries is your part. If you need him to invest in learning, the next step is just being very clear about what you need, even when that means conflict. You have a lot of good insights and legitimate concerns, and though part of you may really value being seen as the affectionate one, you are also worthy of some investment and clear communication. Best wishes…

  • buffy

    buffy

    July 25th, 2018 at 10:36 AM

    Thank you so much for your insights. This is incredible advice and I will have to re-read it throughout the year leading up to my move to the new city. thanks again!

  • Ecila

    Ecila

    July 30th, 2018 at 8:01 PM

    Thank you for this article. I broke off a relationship of almost 14 months with a man I’m still deeply in love with who had been avoidant towards me for 10 out of those months. I recognize my own anxiety attachment, and has been working on it over the past year. Over time he wanted more and more alone time. And hated the fact that I even called him on the phone every day. Later on he avoided intimacy in the worst possible way–rejecting any and all sexual contact with me. When I finally confronted him about this some time ago, he told me he’s simply not sexually attracted to me anymore, although he claimed he still loves me deeply. So I finally asked how he feels about me, and he told me he doesn’t know. He’s not sure if I’m the right person for him. After learning that, I know it’s no longer viable to keep going… He’s in a very difficult part of his life right now where he’s financially struggling, and it’s been going on soon after we got together. I sensed the avoidance occurred strongly after that happened, though I kept reassuring him that he can depend on me, but he refused to do so. He’s had trauma of his father rejecting him when he asked for help and his ex-girlfriend made him feel small after she helped him out financially. That’s why he no longer asks for help from anyone. He has this attitude that he’s not looking for a handout, and hates people who do. But I feel like it’s a misappropriated anger, because in relationships it’s about mutual support. I think he slowly allowed our relationship to die. I feel so broken knowing that there’s nothing more I could do, and that he also doesn’t believe there’s anything he could do to make it any better. He refuse all suggestions of therapy. He admits he does feel a deep connection with me, and the reason why he didn’t want to break up with me is because he feared that I would never talk to him again. I’m so hurt right now so I told him I can’t be friends or on talking terms with him immediately. It will take some time for me to get over this feeling. I don’t know what’s the best course of action. I want to believe there’s still hope that sometime in the future we can be back together–he suggested that as a possibility. But I don’t want to fall into the same pattern and cycle of pain and rejection, only for us to breakup and get back together again.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    July 31st, 2018 at 5:46 PM

    Hi Ecila. It sounds like you’ve been through a very confusing relationship with no way to win. You’ve encountered the counter-dependence in him – the part that does not believe he can lean on anyone, believes people should be self-sufficient and not burden each other. It also sounds like you did actually do all you could do. You can’t force him to go to therapy. You can’t force him to accept support. And whether he hides to protect you or himself, the results are the same. It’s so confusing when your partner is confused, and if you have anxious attachment, that is the most triggering place to be — inbetween, never sure, no security, abandonment always waiting to happen. When you’re setting some boundaries around talking with him – around being pulled back into that triggering space – you’re advocating for you. You’re honoring yourself internally, which in itself can feel satisfying in the long run and can build internal trust as you give yourself the message you never got: “No matter what, I’m staying with you. I’m not going anywhere. We’re doing this together.” Best wishes…

  • Peter

    Peter

    August 3rd, 2018 at 6:36 AM

    Thanks for the article!

    6 weeks ago the girl [26] that I [27] was seeing broke up with me. We had been dating casually for 6 months and I really liked her. Shes sweet, pretty, smart and fit and we had a great chemistry in my opinion. In some way she really reminded me of myself aswell.

    4 months in I was to go on a 3 week solo trip to South America that I planned before I met her. The last friday we were together we had the best night ever. Romantic picnic with some wine and great sex afterwards. Next morning she looked really happy and said I was the sweetest guy ever and and said she was gonna miss me a lot.
    I was on top of the world and thought we were getting ready for something more serious after I got back from my trip.

    When I got back I tried to meet up so we could see each other but she kept saying she was busy. We slept together for the first time again, after more than 2 weeks since I got back. In the morning I said we should talk about where this is going with us, because im kind of confused and dont know if she still likes seeing me since she seems kind of avoidant. However, when I see her in person she is really happy to see me and we have a great time. She agrees to talk about it next time we see eachother because she has to meet a friend in 30 min.
    A week later she finally agrees to come over. She tells me she doesnt feel enough for me and we should break up because I deserve someone who truly wants to be with me and she cant give me what I want. She says this with a great sadness in her eyes and leaves right after… Im left confused.

    I just couldn’t figure out what had happened since that great night we had before I left for my trip. Why was all interest suddenly gone? At first I thought she met another guy in the meantime, but that wasn’t like her and mutual friends confirm that didnt happen.

    I still have a weakness for her but since she was so clear about not seeing a future for us I accepted her decision and didn’t try to fix it. Since that time I have seen her a few times through mutual friends and she keeps looking at me with the eyes that girls have when they’re attracted to you. This confuses me more because I thought we were done.

    To go back a bit… My previous relationships would always end after a few weeks, because I couldnt connect well and they never knew what I thought, and I never put enough effort in. With this last girl I decided to change my behaviour and try to be really open and initiate more contact, even though it took me a lot of effort and didnt feel natural to me. I thought that it is required for a relationship and if I practice it more I might get comfortable with it over time, just like forming a new habit.

    Last week I stumbled upon the concept of Attachment Styles and suddenly everything clicked for me. My entire life fell into place. All the dating problems I have had, my relationship with my parents, siblings and friends. Whatever I read about Dismissive-Avoidants it described me 100%. It felt like I was wandering in a dark cave my entire life, and suddenly someone turned on the lights.

    Suddenly the girls behaviour made a lot of sense aswell. We explicitly stated that we would be casual at the start of our relationship. After our romantic night we got really close and I think that made her really anxious and thats why she started to deactivate with me. Also my pushy initiating behaviour might have pushed her off.

    Im really excited now to start working on myself to get a more secure attachment style. Being aware of the ‘problem’ is always the first step, and catching myself when I start to use deactivating strategies is a good way to become conscious. However im not sure if I should share my findings with the girl which I still like. On one side there might be a possibility to pick up our relationship when we are more aware of eachothers needs. On the other side Im scared that her avoidance is more deep than mine and that she cant give me what I need as she stated before, and that I will continue to be hurt by her avoiding behaviour. I might be better of finding a new more secure partner myself.

    Do you have any tips or suggestions that might help me with getting more secure? And what about the girl situation?

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    August 15th, 2018 at 12:15 PM

    Peter,
    While it’s understandable to read her as avoidant, I’m wondering if she may actually be more secure. The guilt for avoidants often leads them to keep going even when they’re not fully in it. The fact that she sat you down and said you ‘deserve someone who truly wants to be with’ you suggests a more secure strategy: being honest and forthcoming when the relationship does not feel like it is working — or the focus on what is best for both in the long run versus just one partner. Just an alternative perspective… The fact that this last girl bothered you so much suggests you may have been successful in letting out your internal anxious attachment (as the foundation underlying avoidant attachment). Just that says so much about how capable you are. You put yourself out there and risked vulnerability, and in the process you felt closer and ultimately more open to getting hurt — which in terms of intimacy is essential. It sounds like you’re well on your way to becoming more secure. You’re doing your research. You’re out there taking risks — taking initiative, sharing more about yourself, revealing your emotions before someone else draws them out of you. It sounds like you got a bit caught off guard by the anxiousness underneath, which can be reduced through connection and witnessing (validation, permission, reassurance) of internal emotion – either by friends or internally with yourself. Best wishes…

  • Mary

    Mary

    August 9th, 2018 at 3:11 PM

    I’ve been in a relationship for almost 18 months with an avoidant. We are so much alike personality -wise and love each other deeply. We are not exclusive, however. We started out great, but after about 6 months, he has had trouble desiring to be intimate with me, although he can have sexual escapades with virtual strangers. (He says it’s “just sex” with them and he’s afraid of getting too close to me.) I get my feelings hurt and break it off, and he becomes a sobbing mess and comes running after me. We really are best friends…I just wish he could trust me and not freak out at the thought of having sex with me. I’d like a complete relationship with him….not just a buddy. He’s very affectionate and enjoys cuddling, etc. he was married for 26 years and admits he had trouble with his ex in the same way. He also pushed away a girlfriend a couple years ago. He admits he has a problem and wants to change. Is this hopeless???

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    August 15th, 2018 at 12:31 PM

    Hi Mary,
    I’m hearing both the hope and the fear in what you wrote, as well as the pain in his rejection and confusion in his dramatic change of presentation (from avoidant to anxious). It sounds as if he has some awareness, perhaps met internally by resignation or complacence. Unfortunately, unless he feels ready to risk change (which would be shown by actions versus words) or reveal anything he hasn’t yet shared, your relationship options with him may remain limited to either ‘roommates’ or ‘buddies’. Best wishes…

  • SNK92

    SNK92

    September 1st, 2018 at 5:45 AM

    I’ve been with my spouse for 9 years, married for 8. I have recently discovered this info on attachment styles and I am definitely avoidant (dismissive avoidant). He is anxious. I always knew it was partly both ways—he’s needy and clingy but I’m distant and after the ‘honeymoon phase’ we’ve struggled. Due to some blended family issues we separated for awhile. Things got really ugly and I eventually completely cut contact. Last year (~18 month separation), we decided to reconcile. The neediness and critical traits resurfaced and we started counseling in January. We both really liked the counselor at first and she is the reason that I’ve been able to dive deeper into my own “stuff”. Even though I’ve been in individual therapy several times over the years. As we started digging into his stuff, he walled off, he was not being honest in counseling (not lying but not being open/honest about feelings). He decided last month he didn’t want to go anymore.

    Did I mention we’ve lived apart during this separation?

    Now, we’re stuck again but not in counseling and he’s pushing to move back in together. I again know my hesitancy is two-way; I would be more than happily to be married, in a committed relationship, living apart. I know this is not a realistic option for US. Fine. But also, he’s been voluntarily homeless for the last year. He pays a lot in child support but still, he nets a couple thousand dollars a month and could at least find a room to rent. But he’s refused, wanting to “save his money”. He blew up at me this week over our lack of progress. And made a statement tat when he’s “sleeping in hotels and cars” he feels abandoned” (his primary issue affecting himself and our marriage is his abandonment issues). I feel like I cannot agree to move back in without sorting out these other issues first. I feel like I’m being used because he didn’t try to find a place to live once we reconciled because he was just waiting on me. But I also know that my default is to create distance. And I’m in a loop. I’m not sure if he’ll go back to counseling.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    September 5th, 2018 at 11:03 AM

    Hi SNK92. It sounds like you’ve been in and out and up and down in this relationship. I’m hearing the frustration in watching him skip over these chances to take care of himself — an act which might feel like setting you free — either to pursue or move away without guilt. He may be aware and taking advantage of that guilt. Or he may just see no point in investing in a place to stay, signing a contract that he’ll have to break if you two get back together.
    The guilt factor can be big on the avoidant side. It’s often connected with people pleasing, avoiding conflict, and/or over-empathizing with his abandonment. Many people embedded in insecure attachment (at either extreme) struggle with balancing the needs of self and other. While it may look easy from the outside, choices require commitment and energy expenditure when resources feel low and change requires their use. At the end of the many years, often orchestrating change and hoping the other person will make the choice, the choice remains yours to make. This is your life, and these are your boundaries to set. The kindest path lies in honesty and clarity in all communication — even if it’s articulating confusion. Even if you feel unable to make the choice, the more he knows about you (intimacy = ‘into me see’) the more information he has to make a rational, informed decision on his side.

  • Lulu

    Lulu

    September 5th, 2018 at 1:23 AM

    Thank you for this article. Everything you said is what my boyfriend is doing to me. He shares very little and would sometimes go aloof or would drown himself with work. He is very indirect and I can see that he is not happy with a lot of things but will never communicate with me. He likes the idea of having a girlfriend but never wants to make time. He always says to me that we have all the time in the world and I need to be patient as he is sorting a few things out. The idea that people will always leave is being deeply engraved in his heart every single day. He does not want to discuss the future, whenever we have a conversation it is never about us but rather about other things happening around us. He is overly private and is sometimes not comfortable if his friends are in his bedroom and is always looking out for threats. As an anxious person I often feel like he does not need me and would blame myself whenever things don’t go right.
    I really want him to see what he is doing to himself and maybe seek professional help but it is not easy.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    September 5th, 2018 at 1:40 PM

    Hi Lulu. I’m hearing a lot of awareness around him. You’re seeing his struggle to communicate externally, his desire for something that resembles a relationship – or at least one that is available on his terms. You may feel sometimes like a placekeeper to him, taking on the role of the partner and at the same time not really feeling like a partner and rarely feeling the security of commitment. Real intimacy may feel like something unobtainable as he keeps conversation on surface topics and attempts to avoid any chance of conflict.
    I’m also hearing awareness of your own side – fears that dominate, lack of trust in self, and willingness to carry the blame.
    These situations get very confusing, because each side lives in their own world and perceives situations very differently. Perceptions fall into question and self doubt arises. For you, it sounds like love and need are entangled or interchangeable, where for him, need and love may not equate, so in his world he can love you without needing you. And he may want to feel loved by you versus needed.
    The difference in a secure relationship is sometimes this simple: whatever feels important for one side is important for both. Your need for connection and security is real and valid. It may be very different from his needs, and still remain completely legitimate. And while he may feel overwhelmed by it or not know how to meet it, therapy can provide a safe, supportive space to experiment and practice meeting one another without threat of abandonment or escalation. And, if he lives on the avoidant end, the idea of therapy and intimacy (being seen and judged) can feel threatening, so it may not be an idea that he feels safe for him. Sometimes the best approach for making requests from the anxious side is to view them as seeds that need a little time and space to grow. It’s important to be clear about what you want and also to allow gentle non-urgent space for his legitimate reactions. Best wishes…

  • sam

    sam

    September 12th, 2018 at 11:06 PM

    Thnx for the article. I haven’t seen much written on the phenomenon of avoidants chasing (appearing anxiously attached) and then completely, almost instantly reversing when perceived commitment happens. I have friends, and have dated partners who have done this. They themselves have a very hard time understanding their attachment types because of this. They view their chasing, and anxious emotions, as indications that they have had real love and can have deep feelings. Not recognizing that these feelings are a symptom of distance, and disconnection, ironically. I wish this were more commonly named and recognized. It really hurts people.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    September 13th, 2018 at 5:00 PM

    Hi Sam. Thank you for your comment. And, yes, I agree, it’s a very important phenomena for people to recognize, and it sounds like you’ve been on the receiving end of this when someone’s access to emotion in early stage relationship draws them away from you toward the new ‘finally perfect’ relationship. And, if it happens, perhaps both validating and hurtful again to see them follow similar patterns as that relationship progresses… Thank you for sharing so others can know. Best wishes…

  • Zooey

    Zooey

    October 23rd, 2018 at 4:21 PM

    This article nailed my issues. I’m forty now and have never held down much of a long term relationship. I tend to attract really nice secure men who put up with a lot of my antics, but ultimately I push them away. And yes, I do turn and chase once they try to leave, or, in the very beginning when I have not “gotten” them yet, I may seem more like I’m anxious. Once they commit, I turn into the worst avoidant type you describe. What really breaks them is that I also go off sex. (Is this common? I see very little written about this.) This then creates a massive issue, of course. I never do the breaking up, and yes feel really hurt once they do leave. The best relationship I had was a four year very long distance one. I saw him once every couple months or more for a weekend or a week. I didn’t develop the avoidance symptoms until it was almost time for me to move to his city and then I turned into a monster. It was perfect for me until then: daily phone calls and texts and emotional support but none of the crowding and annoying habits and fear of being controlled that usually drive me nuts. I am on a new relationship now, and even though I KNOW I do this, it’s almost like something else is controlling me, I literally cannot stop myself from being distant and aloof and annoyed by every little thing, like his chewing noises. My inner voice chides me and tells me to be nice and to have empathy, but like others have said, I suddenly feel nothing for him. I am all charming and delightful and fun at first and then once the claws are in, I withdraw. I am not introverted like it seems many avoidant people are, although I do like to spend massive amounts of time alone because it is more relaxing, and I use that as an excuse to not spend time with him. I am also pretty clear on the cause. I would imagine it’s because my father died in front of me when I was ten, and then my mother was very depressed through my teen years because of all that and was often disengaged. But somehow KNOWING all this doesn’t allow me to stop. I swear to myself I will stop and then I don’t. But most of the advice is to become aware of it as a first step, and I am already. I can put a break on certain behaviors of mine, through willpower, but I really can’t stop the physical aversion to touching them that often accompanies it. So like someone else wrote above, I am starting to resign myself to “just not being good in a relationship”. I travel constantly, and have lots of friends, but have bouts of deep loneliness, so then I seek a new partner, hoping I just haven’t found the right one. Each new time, I think, ok, this time it will work. Then it doesn’t. So I do feel like I should throw myself into the travel and work and activities I love, and keep up my good social life and be done with it. But then there’s the creepy feeling I am going to die all alone with no one who really loves me… and I don’t see a way out! I am writing for any suggestion from you Jeremy, and also so that anyone else reading it who may feel similarly exhausted by their own behavior knows that they are not an aberration, or if someone is acting like this to you, realize it’s not personal, your partner probably can’t help it, and probably is suffering as much as you are. It helps me to read other people’s posts who have the same problems. Thank you.

  • Ads

    Ads

    November 6th, 2018 at 4:54 PM

    With respect I think you might be describing more BPD than AvPD, but Jeremy would be the better one to answer.

  • Kiki

    Kiki

    January 16th, 2019 at 4:17 AM

    Hi, Can Anyone recommend a therapist in Sydney who specialises in Avoidant Attachment issues?

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    January 16th, 2019 at 8:19 AM

    Dear Kiki,

    To search for a therapist outside of the U.S. and Canada, please click visit https://www.goodtherapy.org/international-search.html and select your country. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy or deals with specific concerns you can use the filters to narrow your search.

    If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, feeling suicidal, overwhelmed, or in crisis, it’s very important that you get immediate help! Information about what to do in a crisis is available here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy Team

  • Kit

    Kit

    February 17th, 2019 at 7:10 PM

    Hi James,
    I have recently gone through a break up, and a lot of this article resonates with the behaviour of my ex-girlfriend. My ex has been entirely self-sufficent for 3 years prior to meeting me, and had only had 2 prior relationships, neither of which were emotionally close. We had quite a strong emotional connection, and my ex put emphasis on our bond very quickly, and I was put on a pedestal. I was told I was the love of her life and her feelings for me seemed very intense and real. She expressed that she felt discomfort in how much of her life she was able to share with me (she had quite a turbulent upbringing) and expressed often that she felt very vulnerable and uncomfortable with how deep her feelings were. Throughout our entire relationship this was the only cross word we had ever had with one another.

    I had an anxiety attack one evening, which was in part due to how quickly our relationship progressed, and I got a bit snappy. Three days later I was broken up with over what seemed to be a very emotionally overwhelmed text message, with reasoning being that she “did not want a relationship where she felt on edge and she was saving us a lot of pain by ending it now because she foresaw a lot more opportunities for my anxiety.” It came across as very pre-emptive and fearful without any real rationale beyond that one evening where things were a little uncomfortable between us. At the time I invited her to talk about it in person because I felt she may have jumped to some incorrect conclusions – but this was perceived as pushy, and she blocked all avenues of communication with me.
    I expressed the willingness to want to understand what went wrong for her and how I can reassure (it has been around a month since we last spoke), especially due to her avoiding tendencies. Any suggestions?

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